Commerce Presbyterian Church, Commerce, GA
June 22, 2014
Summer Rest and Stillness
I have selected two Biblical passages which speak of rest and stillness:
The passage from Genesis, the creation story, in which on day 7, God Rested.
And the passage from Luke which paints the scene of Mary sitting at Jesus’ feet.
We begin with Genesis (a play on words):
God was busy about creating all that is in six days, and on the seventh..God rested.
Does it surprise you that God rested?
What do you envision when you think of God resting?
What did God do that day?
Go to the golf course?
Spend a morning in church?
Walk in the majestic sanctuary of the great outdoors perhaps?
Stroll along any of the recently created pristine beach shores…ahhh
On Day 7, God rested.
Maybe God did nothing...for an entire day…
I wonder if God rested just on that one day, as it was God’s last chance.
It would only be a matter of time before the troubled human creatures would begin to bombard God with never ending petitions and problems.
So, after passionately creating days 1-6, On Day 7 God rested.
One of my teachers, Church of Scotland Minister, J. Philip Newell suggests God resting reflects a notion that stillness is part of ongoing creativity. (All Newell references are from his book, The Book of Creation, Chapter 7)
Creativity is linked to rest.
In the story of Creation we find a pattern of activity and rest:
“there was evening and there was morning...the third day...”
“The energy and creativity of the daytime emerge from the dark stillness and restfulness of the night”. (102)
The Celtic tradition seeks to find meaning and understanding by listening to and following the rhythms and patterns of nature:
We know these patterns....
Night is followed by day
sleeping by waking
Winter’s stillness, followed by spring’s energy and blossom.
A still seed when planted, followed by an emerging tomato plant, that eventually produces large juicy tomatoes, we hope.
Plants and creatures seem to understand the patterns of rest and vitality...seem bound by them in some ways
How well do we 21st century humans--created on Day 6, along with cattle--
How well do we sync with nature’s patterns of rest and stillness?
What is our attitude toward rest as a society?
In many ways we seem to resist it:
- We have access to energy and light 24/7.
- Interestingly, as a global society we consume over 2.25 billion cups of coffee every day;not to mention any variety of the latest and greatest energy drink.
Is rest encouraged?
I certainly try to encourage my two year old to rest during the day. It’s getting more and more difficult these days as she’s discovering how much she might miss out on if she takes a nap!
With the five year old...forget it, days of napping are long gone!
As an adult, I find it unusual to be encouraged to get some rest….
Some time ago I visited a Monastery near where we lived in New Mexico; and upon my arrival in the morning, the guest master asked if I cared for a room in order to lie down and rest...
Taken aback by the suggestion, I quickly declined the offer....
I had things I had to do....I didn’t have time to rest…
On Day 7, God rested..
The story of the sisters Mary and Martha, in which Mary sits in the presence of Jesus while Martha is busy ensuring the guests are properly taken care of speaks of the internal conflict within each of us: how ought we best utilize our time.
When to work and when to just be still in God’s presence..
It seems that Mary, sitting in the presence, choose the best use of her time....
But, even though Jesus favors the actions of Mary, how do we frequently respond to this story?
Responsible Martha, the hard worker, should have gotten a little more credit….
Mary sat at the Lord’s feet, being still and present.
Just as with rest, I find it quite uncommon to find space to be still and quiet in our daily lives...even in our places of worship and prayer.
What happens when you sit for just a few moments in silence?
What’s happening to our children who are constantly bombarded by so many distractions, so much stimulation?
Some years ago, my wife’s teen-aged cousin came to spend the night with us. At that time, cell phones weren’t quite as ubiquitous as they are now, and Trasie and I didn’t have a television.
Her cousin was shocked we didn’t have a TV.
When it came time tosay goodnight, he nervously asked, “hey craig, can I put something on the computer?
I don’t know how to fall asleep without something going on... if it’s silent, all I have are my own thoughts...and I don’t want to go to sleep with those.....
If we fail to establish regular practices of stillness and rest our creativity will be either exhausted or shallow.
Our countenance, instead of reflecting a vitality of fresh creative energy that is sustained by the restorative depths of stillness, will be listless or frenetic.
He points out, “A lack of rest is destructive of nature’s goodness.
Like evil, it destroys rather than creates.”
He says we often fool ourselves into thinking we don’t have time to rest or be still.
Newell tells a Celtic story of Mary and the Christ-child journeying through the Isles off the shore of Scotland.
On one of the island roads they meet a milk-maid, whom Mary asks to hold the child so that she may rest a while. The milk-maid declines, claiming that she has ten cows to attend to.
Further along the road they meet a second milk-maid,
who agrees to hold the child for a time.
She sings a lullaby to him and succles him to her breast.
Although she has twice as many cows as the first milk-maid, she finishes her day's work in half the time and with four times as much milk!” (Newell: 104).
What would happen in our society if we told stories like this to our children as a way to encourage rest and stillness?
A bit of hyperbole, but a clear message about how important it is to just be in the Presence of God…
and counterintuitively it suggests that proper rest can bring about significant productivity.
On Day 7, God rested...Mary sat at the feet of Jesus.
It wasn’t long ago when most stores were closed on Sundays.
My father tells of his experience growing up when the he and his siblings could not even play cards on Sundays…
I don’t know how parents were able to cope with the kids bouncing off the walls.
Perhaps some of you experienced homes where rest was encouraged on Sundays.
This attempt to observe Sabbath in this way, when stores were closed and no one could do anything, comes from a strict interpretation of Sabbath from our friend, theologian John Calvin.
I wonder if we’ve gone a bit far in the other direction, where resting for a day is more and more uncommon..
I do find it difficult to dedicate an entire day to just resting as God did on the seventh day, but a helpful aspect of the Celtic tradition is that, unlike Calvinism, the emphasis is not on set apart times of rest, or so called "holy" days that are distinct from every other day and place.
Rather, a type of restful awareness in everything that we do is what’s encouraged.
It is about holding a stillness of perspective in the midst of busyness.
It is about being alert to the light of the sun in the midst of morning work or to the mystery of the moon at night.
It is about tasting the goodness of God in the fruit of the earth and the love of God on the likes of another.
It is about knowing that in all things we are 'surrounded by eternity.'
Newell says, When we are able to have inner stillness; stillness in the midst of activity.
We are able to gain an awareness of God while living is unfolding…
less caught up in worry and more caught up in the beauty of life.
My life has taken on a significant twist over the past year.
I went from the “important” and “busy” work of being a solo pastor in an active and time consuming congregation…
to now, doing the work of a home-maker, a stay at home dad, while my wife pursues the very busy work of doctoral studies at UGA.
One of my major new tasks, besides keeping them well fed and alive, is being present to and with my five year old and my two year old,
This can be terribly difficult for me to do.
Instead of engaging them in play, I often find my mind wandering…
- to “more important” things I should be doing
- to “more engaging” things I could be doing...
This happens this even though I recognize the fleeting reality of this beautiful stage of life...my girls are only getting older, and soon, they will no longer want to play with daddy quite as much...
All of our relationships are precious….
all of lifes moments unique…
how might we simply be present to life’s beauty?
On Day seven, God rested. Mary sat at the Lord’s feet.
Quaker theologian Richard Foster shares an experience of finding stillness and rest in his book, Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home (p.94-95).
he writes: While on a group retreat to the Pacific coast,
“during a morning break, I found a canoe and paddled over to a tiny island. Beaching the canoe, I began exploring the fir-covered outcropping. When I reached the crown of the island, I discovered a small wooden platform someone had built and an old weathered chair that sat atop it like a lonely sentinel.
Easing myself into the chair, I sat back into the warm sun and drank in the stillness of land and sea and sky.
The trees were absolutely motionless—tranquil testimonials to the majesty of God.
The songs of chickadee and blue jay did not break the silence but only continued it.
I paddled over to this lovely spot not to pray,
only to explore.
Sitting there, however, I recalled [my wife’s] good-bye words: “I want you to come home refreshed!”
Soon I found myself praying simply, “Refresh me, Lord. Refresh me.”
It was not hard to wait in silence—that entire outdoor sanctuary seemed hushed in reverence.
What next surfaced to my conscious mind was:
“I want to teach you Sabbath Prayer.”
I leaned forward in anticipation—I was far from sure what Sabbath Prayer was, but I was eager to learn.
“You will have to lead me, because I don’t know what I am supposed to do,” I responded.
Then came the words, “Be still…Rest…Shalom.”
That was all. Those words and no more.
For some moments I sought to enter into the experience of each word. The encounter was wonderful, but I was also aware that time was slipping by.
I became concerned and thought, “It’s nearly noon. People will begin to miss me and wonder why I’ve stayed here so long. I’d better get back for lunch.”
The same words were spoken over me: “Be still…Rest…Shalom.”
They seemed to calm my spirit, I returned to a quiet attentiveness.
After a while, however, my mind became agitated by a kind of hyperresponsibility: “The next session will begin soon,”. “I need to be there. Besides, everyone will really begin to be concerned about my absence.”
“People may be thinking that I tipped over in the canoe, and right now they’re probably discussing whether to mount a rescue effort!”
The same words served to discipline my mind:
The final temptation, however, was the most alluring.
I began thinking to myself,
“This experience is absolutely wonderful.
I must capture this moment for the future. But how?
I won’t remember everything happening to me here?
Where is some paper? I must write it all down!”
Again: “Be still…Rest…Shalom.”
All the more focused, I settled back into Sabbath Prayer.
In a short time it seemed like “the Presence in the midst” ended, and so I made my way back to the group, which, as you probably guessed, had scarcely noticed my absence and was going right on with the day’s schedule.”
A way to affirm our faith in God is to be still and rest in God’s presence.
In our rest we imitate God our Creator,
In our stillness we imitate Mary who sat, without worry, in the presence of Jesus.
The Psalmist’s prayer is simply: Be still and know that I am God.
A common practice in the Celtic tradition is chanting.
If you will allow me, for our affirmation of faith, I would like for us to chant this passage together, just three times.
As you seek rest and stillness this summer, you may find, as I have, this is a wonderful way bring this about in the midst of our busy lives...perhaps as part of your daily meditations, or even as you engage a daily activity.
After going through the chant three times we will hold a bit of silence,
and then the music will begin cuing us to sing our last hymn.
The way we are going to chant the Psalm is with the entire phrase then take away a word or short phrase, each time and we will follow the pattern of our breath to pace our rhythm.
So it will start with: Be still and know that I am God.
Then: Be still and know that I am and hold the last word until our breath runs out.
Then: Be still and know
Then: Be still.
And Finally, just: Be...and hold it out.
Are you ready? Let us begin:
Your charge: Be still and know God is with you.
And A celtic Blessing:
Bless to me, O God,
Each thing mine eye sees;
Bless to me, O God,
Each sound mine ear hears;
Bless to me, O God,
Each odour that goes to my nostrils;
Bless to me, O God,
Each taste that goes to my lips;
Each note that goes to my song,
Each ray that guides my way,
Each thing that I pursue,
Each lure that tempts my will,
The zeal that seeks my living soul,
The Three that seek my heart,
The zeal that seeks my living soul,
The Three that seek my heart.
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.