I was so honored when Pastor Lorie asked me if I’d like to preach again before I move. For those of you who don’t know, I am moving, today actually, to pursue a master’s degree in Peacebuilding and Conflict Transformation in Vermont. So when Lorie asked me to preach, I excitedly agreed. I began looking at the lectionary texts for this Sunday and praying over what the spirit might be putting on my heart to speak about. Often, when I agree to preach or give a talk, I have an idea already taking shape in my head and often it’s about peacebuilding or activism or righteous indignation surrounding some current oppressive system. But this time, I did not have anything already stirring.
And then two weeks ago I went backpacking with some friends from WPMF. High on the ridge of a mountain, where the cloud coverage laid heavy upon us and the rocks slippery below us, I fell and hit my head. Panic and tears ensued as I repeatedly clutched the side of my head, asking, “Am I bleeding? Am I bleeding?” Thankfully I was not and my friends helped me out of my backpack and onto my bottom and gave me water as I rested. I felt nauseous and in pain but was mostly in shock at what had just happened and incredibly grateful that the fall had not been worse. We continued hiking that day and the next. The following day I discovered I had suffered a concussion.
The remedy? Rest, and lots of it. And not just the “take it easy,” “don’t exert too much energy” rest but the “lay prostrate in a dark room, avoid computers, texting, tv, reading, concentrating, stimulation” rest. And this lasted nearly all week last week– the week I was to be writing my sermon and finishing up at my job and packing to move and planning my last minute wedding in August. But all I was supposed to do, and, indeed, all I really could do, was rest.
And it came to me that that was what the spirit wanted me to speak about today: resting– finding, creating, and cultivating those moments of holy rest in our lives. The work we do as the body of Christ, especially these two congregations of Calvary UMC and WPMF, is such necessary, beautiful, powerful work, that it is imperative that our bodies and spirits receive the nourishment they need to continue living out the Spirit’s welcome, Jesus’ call to social justice and peace, and God’s kindom here on earth.
In her book, Sacred Rhythms: Arranging our Lives for Spiritual Formation, Ruth Haley Barton explores the need for sabbath, a holy rest, that is threefold: resting the body, replenishing the spirit, and restoring the soul.
Now my rest these past weeks have been mostly about resting the body, giving my brain a break from working so hard, allowing my exhausted body to heal. And I often find that in my life I do not take these physical rests unless mandated by a doctor or unless I physically cannot get out of bed or make my body do what it needs to do or unless I feel like I have some good reason or excuse– “I worked really hard this week,: “I’ve been sick,” “I have a concussion.”
Somehow it seems that explaining to others why I feel the need to rest is necessary for legitimizing it. And the same goes for spiritual, mental, and emotional rest. I feel like I need to reason it to others, as if it is not something that we all deeply need in our lives. As if rest, restoration, replenishment is not something that each of our bodies, minds, and spirits require in order for us to be nurtured, healthy, and vibrant.
I reread several Scripture passages about rest and renewal this week, some from this Sunday’s lectionary texts. I had read and heard all these passages before but they came to me fresh and new as I was healing from my concussion. I read one after the other, in different translations and versions, each speaking to me in different ways and I’d like to share them with you this morning.
I invite you to listen intently, closing your eyes if you wish or listening in whatever way you receive best, as I read both passages three times, each in a slightly different version, starting with Psalm 23:1-4:
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
God makes me lie down in green pastures,
God leads me beside quiet waters,
God refreshes my soul.
The Lord guides me along the right paths
for God’s name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me. (NIV)
YHWH you are my shepherd–
I want nothing more.
You let me lie down in green meadows;
you lead me beside restful waters:
you refresh my soul.
You guide me to lush pastures
for the sake of your Name.
Even if I’m surrounded by the shadows of Death,
I fear no danger, for you are with me.
Your rod and your staff–
they give me courage. (Inclusive Bible)
God, my shepherd!
I don’t need a thing.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows,
you find me quiet pools to drink from.
True to your word,
you let me catch my breath
and send me in the right direction.
Even when the way goes through Death Valley,
I’m not afraid
when you walk at my side.
Your trusty shepherd’s crook
makes me feel secure. (The Message)
And, now, Matthew 11:28-30:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
“Come to me, all you who labor and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Here you will find rest for your souls for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
“You’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” How many of us long for that in our daily lives, in the midst of our routines and commitments and strivings? How often do we prioritize rest the body, replenishing the spirit, and restoring the soul? We so often ask, how can we rest when there is work to be done? Who will pick up the slack where we left off? If I don’t do this, speak out, act, who will? How can we be silent in the midst of all that is going on?
I do not equate a holy rest with silence or slacking off but rather as an important part of soul tending. The work that we are called to do as the body of Christ, to feed the hungry, clothe the poor, care for the sick, visit the prisoner, welcome the stranger, extend the hand of friendship, requires moments of holy respite to renew ourselves. If we are burned out and weary we cannot possibly offer the hope, joy, and love the world deeply needs when our own souls are parched for lack of nourishment.
In Donald Clymer and Sharon Clymer Landis’s book, The Spacious Heart: Room for Spiritual Awakening, the following story is told:
“In July 2009, the Mennonite World Conference (MWC) was held in Asuncion, Paraguay. Among those in attendance was an indigenous Guarani man who had traveled from his remote village in Chaco to Asuncion, the capital of Paraguay, for the first time in his life. He came by bus, a nearly four-hour ride from his isolated village. Upon arrival, he was found sitting by himself in a corner. After nearly an hour had passed, a group of curious church leaders, wondering why this normally sociable man was so quiet, approached him to ask him if he needed anything. ‘No, I don’t, thank you,’ he said. ‘It’s just that the ride from my village to Asuncion was so fast and and furious that I am sitting here waiting for my soul to catch up with the rest of me.’”
I love that illustration: “Waiting for my soul to catch up with the rest of me.” As a person who is led by passion and emotion, most of the things I fill my time with are things that I care deeply about and things that better my community, my church, my world. And that is great. But it also means that as my schedule fills up and I make less time for rest and renewal, my soul stops being the guiding force of my work and, instead, the work carries on with my weary soul lagging behind, ragged and burnt out.
Several nights ago I was talking with my fiance about the the things I need to do before I move and I was telling him how my sermon just wasn’t quite coming together. “Oh Megan,” he said, “Most people would not have picked the Sunday they were moving to preach.” And he’s right. Sometimes my fervor and passion leads me to make decisions that may be a bit ill advised. But praise God she is not done with me yet and continues to teach me and mold me. I actually found that resting all week last week was in fact just what I needed most and all the things I was worried about were still able to get done, with the help of my wonderful family and church family.
I want to share a large excerpt from an essay by Wayne Muller entitled “Whatever Happened to Sunday” that I found poignant when preparing this sermon:
“In the relentless busyness of modern life, we have lost the rhythm between action and rest. As the founder of a public charity, I visit the offices of wealthy donors, crowded social-service agencies and the small homes of the poorest families. Remarkably, within this mosaic there is a universal refrain: ‘I am so busy.’ I speak with people in business and education, doctors and day-care workers, shopkeepers and social workers, parents and teachers, nurses and lawyers, students and therapists, community activists and cooks. The more our life speeds up, the more we feel weary, overwhelmed and lost. Despite our good hearts and equally good intentions, our life and work rarely feel light, pleasant or healing. Instead, as it all piles endlessly upon itself, the whole experience of being alive begins to melt into one enormous obligation. It becomes the standard greeting everywhere: ‘I am so busy.’ We say this to one another with no small degree of pride, as if our exhaustion were a trophy, our ability to withstand stress a mark of real character. The busier we are, the more important we seem to ourselves and, we imagine, to others. To be unavailable to our friends and family, to be unable to find time for the sunset (or even to know that the sun has set at all), to whiz through our obligations without time for a single mindful breath — this has become the model of a successful life.
“Because we do not rest, we lose our way. We miss the compass points that show us where to go. We lose the nourishment that gives us succor. We miss the quiet that gives us wisdom. Poisoned by the hypnotic belief that good things come only through tireless effort, we never truly rest. And for want of rest, our lives are in danger.”
Often the biggest reason we do not rest and restore our bodies and souls is because we do not make time or feel like we have time to do so. But there are other reasons. Perhaps we do not rest because we have a compulsion to be perfect. Perhaps we are afraid that if we stop “doing” we will have to start sitting with the difficult thoughts we are trying to keep at bay. Perhaps we feel like we are failing if we admit the need to rest, as if needing rest is a weakness and not part of being human. Perhaps we fear what we may discover about ourselves or our vocation. Perhaps we fear silence. Perhaps we feel there is too much to do and not enough others to pick up where we left off.
Rest is not just ceasing from all activity and stimulation while this may sometimes be what is most needed. But a holy rest can entail participating in activities “that renew you and bring you joy.” It can mean contemplative praying, it can mean taking a mental health or spiritual retreat day to tend to the needs of your soul, it can mean going for a run to clear your mind, sitting in the park, playing with your kids. It can be as simple as taking some time to breathe. Look around you right now. We are worshipping our Creator in the midst of creation! What a beautiful space to rest and listen.
It is in these moments of holy rest and replenishment that we receive nourishment for our souls. It is in these moments that, if we are open and ready to receive, we will sense the spirit speaking to us. And I use the word “moments” because, at times, that is all we can muster. When there are kids to care for, hurts to heal, and responsibilities to tend to, sometimes we can only pause for a moment in the midst of it. But our soul needs these moments deeply.
I’ve been practicing listening to my body and these past few weeks have been an abrupt awakening in that practice. I’m amazed at times by the correlation between stress and trauma in our lives with pain in the body and vice versa. Our souls, minds, and bodies to not act independently from one another– they are all integral parts of the whole that require equal tending and care. A holy rest nourishes all three.
What is preventing you you from taking moments of holy rest? What is keeping you from to listening for what the spirit is speaking into your life? Are you waiting for life to force you into a space of rest? Or, if you have created the time and space for rest, how can you deepen it? How can you live into that rest and renewal more fully?
Listen to Jesus calling you, earnestly seeking you, saying, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.”