I am writing this post from an old farmhouse in the country. It is quiet, save for a barking dog in the distance. A cool breeze is blowing through the trees. The green trees, yellow wheat fields, and light blue skies are like a painting, vibrant with life. A mourning dove is saying farewell to the day. In short, the vista around me is beautiful, restorative, and restful.
I had planned to write this post on the topic of shame. I may yet write that post, perhaps in the Fall. For today, the theme of shame feels too heavy. There is much, of course, to worry about. Just a brief review of the day’s news is enough to bring one to tears – or to inspire one to action. Working to understand and heal a hurting world is a good thing of course. We must also, however, take time for rest.
I recall a conversation some years ago with my colleague, Cayla Charles. We were developing new workshop material related to anti-racism. Over the course of our conversation, we tried to articulate the key principles associated with addressing issues of racism and any other “ism” we may be seeking to transform. As we reviewed the challenges associated with transforming hard isms, Cayla offered that we must include “rest” in our list of principles. After all, both she and I had encountered leaders whose efforts to transform their congregations or the world around them had left them exhausted, broken, and sometimes even profoundly bitter. In short, they were burned out. Both their work and their being suffered.
Rest is an under-sung virtue, different from self-care. While self-care is a good thing, self-care itself can feel like another item on one’s to-do list: Get to the gym; try a new recipe; book a spa weekend… Rest is something of a different order. It is neither self-indulgent, nor focused on self-improvement. It is stepping back and bowing out for a designated period of time. It is the act of self-emptying from the burdens and cares of the world – and more importantly from the ego compulsions so easily associated with helping to heal the world. It is taking time to feel the sun on one’s face and the grass beneath one’s feet. Rest is gratitude for the gift of being alive. Rest is deep spiritual renewal. It is taking time to breathe foregoing the need to accomplish anything. In a sense, rest is allowing ourselves to see that building a better world or congregation is not up to us alone. We can bow out and others can carry on well without us (and sometimes even better without us!). Rest reminds us of our rightful place as one among many.
In 1999, when I left my job in Manitoba and moved to Ontario, my colleagues gifted me with the book, Sabbath, by Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. With this gift, my colleagues encouraged me to take time for rest and renewal before starting into a heavy workload here in Ontario. It has been a very long time since I read this book. In all honesty, at the time, my appreciation for rest was more theoretical than practical. I understood the need for rest but did not really take time to practice it. I was, after all, still in my 20s and driven to “suck the marrow out of life.” In contrast, Heschel writes: “There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.”
Heschel is right – though I would add that the time to “be” is not the same as the time to “give” and to “share”. Too often, we fill our downtime with more doing, even if this doing is full of goodwill. Time to be, to slow right down, to be fully present to the silence of the day, to be alone with ourselves, and to be attuned to the presence of God around us – all of this is necessary if we are going to lead in any meaningful way in this world. Whether we package our resting moments into a designated hour each day, one day per week, or one month per year – or something different altogether – rest renews us, allowing us to return to the tasks we have been given with new insight, energy, and humility. May you find time for deep and meaningful rest this summer!