“Angeling” Our Rest
Sabbaths 2001 by Wendell Berry Matthew 11:25-29
On this, the seventh day of creation, God does something extraordinary. On the seventh day God sees all that God has done, and then God rests. On purpose.
Then God hallows this day, makes it special and separate and holy, of God. At the end of the sixth day, just yesterday, after God made the cattle and the creeping things, God made humankind in God’s image, God blessed us, and saw that it was very good. But this day, the day of rest, God hallows. God makes it holy. Rest as valuable and holy is so beyond our cultural understanding and experience that we tend to dismiss it outright. Rest, Sabbath, that’s for other people, not for hard working, fiercely independent, hard scrabble people like us Mainers.
And yet, this day of deliberate stillness is as valuable a part of God’s ongoing creativity as any other aspect of God’s self. A seventh of all that went into creation, a seventh of all that came forth from creation – is rest. Deliberate, intentional rest. God actively chooses rest. God didn’t collapse because God could no longer muscle through another day. God didn’t work God’s self to the brink of illness, or become bitter and burned out. God decided to rest on purpose. And God wants that for us, and from us as well.
Our psalmist puts it in no uncertain terms: “Be still, then, and know that I am God;”
Which seems utterly impossible to many of us. This is one of those moments of wisdom that we recognize mostly in the negative; knowing better what it looks like because of its absence in our lives. In Sunday School this morning, our children are talking about rest and meditation using sand jars as the illustration. The sand represents our thoughts – each thought a grain of sand. When they are all a frantic flutter it’s difficult to make sense of anything. When we stop the madness, and let the swirling slow down, the sand settles. Each grain is still there, but the water is clearer, the sand easier to sort through.
Yet we live in a culture that idolizes frenetic busyness. No one just shops for groceries anymore, not when you can also talk to someone on the phone, or check your email while in line at the checkout… as if just doing one thing is somehow slothful (or maybe just very uncool). And to be honest, life in a two-income household with kids often consists of constant superhuman feats of multi-tasking, life on the fly as the new normal. Somehow doing it all is now the expected minimum.
I know – there are days when I have little room to talk on this one. I’m often guilty of over doing, and I know it. And my only answer to those of you who know me, is to say I’m working on it. Okay, funny phrase, to be working on resting. But you know what I
mean. I know that daily prayer and stillness are part of what I need for my life to be shaped and patterned in a life-giving way for me. So that my life might have a chance of becoming what God created it to be, which is more than overwhelmed and stressed.
Life, being really alive, is an intentional way of being, of paying attention and living abundantly, which is not the same as living frantically or busily. Life is not meant to be an unending list of tasks. Abundant life is living a considered, deliberate life: a life that is attentive, appreciative, engaged. And rest is necessarily part of that rhythm. This rest is a Sabbath rest, a rest on purpose, not rest by default, when we’re simply so exhausted that we can’t function.
We know all of this, we know that we need rest to provide for our own health and well being, to allow the abundant gifts of our lives to thrive and spill forth for the world; yet this rest idea is often so foreign to us, that we don’t know where to begin.
The words in Genesis give us our first hint. “There was evening and there was morning, the first day.” In God’s rhythm, evening precedes morning, evening begins the day. Evening is the first part of the day’s cycle. It begins the cycle of rest and creativity, of rest and work. The day needs the night, the work needs the rest.
Phillip Newell, who writes on Celtic Spirituality, puts it this way:
“The time of infolding is related to the period of unfolding. The fallowness of the ground is part of the earth’s cycle of fruitfulness and abundance. The one does not occur without the other. Creation’s outward profusion of life is rooted in its inner capacity for rest and renewal.”
We begin to find our Sabbath rest by honoring the sacred pattern established for us by God in creation – and by living into that rhythm with intention. By acknowledging that the evening coming earlier is not a challenge to be conquered, but a gift to be taken in. Planning to rest more, to end our tasks earlier, to allow ourselves time of autumn and winter’s “infolding.” As our bodies need rest to repair and restore our physical selves, our minds and our spirits need the room provided by rest to imagine and create, to store memories, to make connections, to weave the fabric of our lives from the warp and weft of our daily experience.
“Be still and know that I am God.”
Sabbath isn’t just a way of catching up on our rest, though we need the rest as much as we need water and air, Sabbath is the intentional stillness that allows for new beginnings in our ‘made in the image of God’ lives.
Phillip Newell continues:
“To enter stillness, whether in sleep or in wakefulness, is to forget at one level in order to remember at another. The Celtic tradition speaks of ‘the angeling of my rest.’ This points to the time of rest as holy, and therefore as surrounded and protected by the messengers of God, as well as to the grace of renewal and creativity that can emerge out of stillness. The gift of being renewed in such a way comes not only through resting but through the dreams and imaginations of sleep and stillness. To be alert to these is to be open to creative depths within ourselves, stirring us to fresh perspectives and new awareness.”
The “angeling of our rest” is a beautiful image, but it’s difficult to imagine getting there from a place of constant exhaustion. How do we get to the “angeling of our rest,” and the subsequent creativity of new beginnings? How do we get back to our healthy, whole selves?
Another Celtic Spiritual guide, John O’Donohue, has written a meditation entitled, For One Who Is Exhausted. Toward the end of this meditation O’donahue writes:
You have traveled too fast over false ground; Now your soul has come to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.
Become inclined to watch the way of rain When it falls slow and free.
Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color That fostered the brightness of day.
Draw alongside the silence of stone Until its calmness can claim you. Be excessively gentle with yourself.
Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.
Gradually, you will return to yourself; Having learned a new respect for your heart And the joy that dwells far within slow time.
We begin to find our way: by slowing down, by paying attention to the small miracles around us, by gathering in the grace of creation, by allowing the calmness of stone, the rhythm of the ocean, to steady us, to support and sustain us. By spending time with those calming souls, who know that time is not an enemy to be conquered, but a friend to be cherished and appreciated.
And gradually, the emptiness of exhaustion will give way to the richness of true Sabbath rest, and we will return to ourselves, calmly and joyfully, ready for the new beginning that is born out of the letting go that rest and attentiveness make room for.
“Be still and know that I am God.” Or as Wendell Berry writes in our second lesson, “Sit and be still, until … you are where breathing is prayer.”
My friends, the seventh day of creation asks us to consider what it would take for us to be as intentional in our rest as we are in our work, or in our activity? To set aside the time and the space to be still, on purpose. To hallow it and make it our own. To honor the stillness of God within us. To teach our children and grandchildren the value of life lived intentionally, rather than reactively. Life lived in the sacred rhythm of God’s creation – where rest is honored and cherished.
Perhaps the most difficult question posed by this day is: what will happen if we don’t? What will happen to our lives, to our souls? What shape will our lives become without the rest and stillness we need to live this one wild and precious life abundantly, and creatively?
“And on the seventh day God finished the work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work that he had done. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation.”