Vincent van Gogh’s Noon: Rest from Work (after Millet) January, 1890
We live in a world of manic pace, hectic schedules and overwhelming expectations to produce and work to perpetuate our consuming needs. The whole idea of ‘rest’ is un-American, because it must mean we aren’t trying hard enough. That life’s results are dependent upon the kind of effort we put into the script and ‘rest’ is not a part of that script. We often spend our times of leisure looking for emergency ways to escape the rat race and stress with sport, recreation, shopping, partying, vacationing, dvr’ing etc. Those things may offer downtime away from work and into means of healthy play, but oftentimes they do not seek to squelch the anxieties born beneath the surface. They offer escape, but not healing.
How do you practice the kind of rest that actually satisfies? I have found that planned times of ‘rest’ where I get away from my daily surroundings and expectations to just ‘be’ have become mandatory as opposed to optional anymore. It is in these times where I search out my fears, I take the time to pursue wonder, I give myself grace for my faults and build on my strengths. Frankly, I just take time to be human and focus on basic needs. I like to get outside, I like to hike, I like to notice the things I never notice in my busy world. I like to read, I like to sit and look at the grandeur of the sky and appreciate that it’s not the artificial glow of a computer monitor. I like to be quiet, and just listen. It seems when I stop talking is about the time that God starts talking. Seeking communion with the One who brought me into being is not something to take lightly, wherever we are becomes holy ground and it’s adviseable to take off your shoes.
I leave on Monday for a few days to practice rest. I used to get anxious about these times, now I crave them. I’m an exile to this world of muchness and manyness, my heart finds a home in my Father’s world. Can’t wait to take a walk and talk it over with Him.
Within your spirituality, how do you practice rest?
“9 He parted the heavens and came down; dark clouds were under his feet.10 He mounted the cherubim and flew; he soared on the wings of the wind.11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him— the dark rain clouds of the sky.12 Out of the brightness of his presence clouds advanced, with hailstones and bolts of lightning.13 The LORD thundered from heaven; the voice of the Most High resounded.“ Psalm 18:9-13
If you are prone to believe in and listen for the voice of One who is the creator and sustainer of all things, sometimes it is just flat out hard to hear it. Our preoccupations, our anxieties, our muchness, our manyness, our unbelief, our rebellion. . . we are a people who tend to stray. And when the darkness comes, when it seems all hope has passed, when it feels as if the walls are closing, when light has left the room of your heart; you perceive that you are alone in that darkness. Reading this Psalm today raises a new question for me: What if darkness is his covering? What if he is cloaked in that dusk? What if that lonely place is actually the canopy of his presence? Often when we least expect it, often when we think all hope is gone, often when we come to the end of our rope . . . we find there is more. Look to the clouds of your heart, your mind, your soul; see if there is not a radiant light waiting to break through, see that you were never alone. Listen for that voice in the thunder, for darkness is often his covering.peace,Marshall
After Christmas this year, my wife and I went on a bit of a spending excursion and bought a TV and electric fireplace hearth for our family room, which is also the space where our worshipping community gathers. Our house is not equipped with a chimney, so this faux attempt is the best we can do. But it is the thought that counts, it brings a new kind of warmth to our space. Not just literally, but also aescetically. It does not look like the one above, something manly and Celtic like that would be in my dream house I’ll never have 😉 . But still, it’s the intent that is there. A hearth in a home breeds warmth. It is intended be sat near and gathered around. Having our house church community gather last night in our home filled the space with laughter, love, friendship, hope, joy, strength . . . everything our culture doesn’t sell. It is here to be found but it can’t be bought. I have long believed that church as intentionally small communities can act as the cabin in the woods, offering warmth and relief to sojourners trying to find their way. There is a warmth to the presence of community. Warmth breeds hope and strength for new beginnings and long suffering. In community we offer this hope to one another. Around the hearth you can find depth in friendship that is the antidote the world’s trivial pursuits.
“A house is not a home unless it contains food and fire for the mind as well as the body. ” – Benjamin Franklin
Thou my best thought in the day and the night . . .
“The night can be a time that makes us uneasy. It is a time to feel isolated, a time of darkness, of the unknown. And darkness is the covering of God: it is where He lives” (Jan. 5 Finan Reading from Celtic Daily Prayer)
I have long been a fan of Van Gogh’s “The Starry Night” (1889), it is the artwork that hangs over my desk, just above eye level of my computer monitor. (Isn’t this where we put the important reminders?) I have always been struck by the warm darkness within it. It helps me make sense of life sometimes. Within the scene there are no right angles: the hills, the edifices, the trees, the cosmos, the city . . . they all have rounded edges, nothing is square. Isn’t that just like life? It doesn’t always match up, it is a bit of a mess ongoingly. The scene is dark at it’s core, but it is contrasted with a glowing moon, shining stars and a brightly reflected countryside. This is not a night without hope, this is a night of a growing new beginning. I have many friends that I am praying for new beginnings for who are going through their own dark nights. I want you to know that yours is a starry night, a night of hopeful expectation. Though you dwell in the dark place, the warmth and presence of Yahweh is upon you. (If this is you, take it in my friend). peace,Marshall
2 The people walking in darknesshave seen a great light;on those living in the land of deep darknessa light has dawned. . .6 For to us a child is born,to us a son is given,and the government will be on his shoulders.And he will be calledWonderful Counselor, Mighty God,Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.7 Of the greatness of his government and peacethere will be no end.He will reign on David’s throneand over his kingdom,establishing and upholding itwith justice and righteousnessfrom that time on and forever.The zeal of the LORD Almightywill accomplish this.Peace to your 2nd Sunday of Advent,Marshall
From today’s Celtic Daily Prayer Morning office reading:
10-14He found him out in the wilderness, in an empty, windswept wasteland.He threw his arms around him, lavished attention on him, guarding him as the apple of his eye. He was like an eagle hovering over its nest, overshadowing its young, Then spreading its wings, lifting them into the air, teaching them to fly.God alone led him; there was not a foreign god in sight. God lifted him onto the hilltops, so he could feast on the crops in the fields. He fed him honey from the rock, oil from granite crags, Curds of cattle and the milk of sheep, the choice cuts of lambs and goats, Fine Bashan rams, high-quality wheat, and the blood of grapes: you drank good wine! (Deuteronomy 32:10-14 The Message)
Do you long to be found? Do you want to know that you count? Do you want the lavish attention that comes with being an entity of intrinsic worth? Do you want to know in the end, that your value is worth finding?
In a world of overcrowding, why do we yet feel alone? In a world of so much, why do we feel empty? In a world of so much information, why are we void of meaning? In a world of hyper social media, why yet in disconnect?
This season of Advent, this is what I’m thinking about. 700 of years of Israel lamenting in exile, left to desolation, left to loneliness, left to being lost and wandering in darkness. Then, in the middle of the night, a light has come . . . for us. All of the Hebrew Scriptures point to a coming hope, one that will bring fulfillment to what ails us. To a people that were lost, in the announcement of a birth, they are found. We are found. The King lavishes his attention on us and ascribes royal worth to our beings. We are worth being found. In the middle of the night, the King comes and starts his conspiracy of mercy.
This is Immanuel, God with us. We are found, break out the good wine.
I had a chance to attend the 3rd installment of “Formed“ this past Saturday at Cincinnati Mennonite Fellowship and the topic for this month was Community. Mark Van Steenwykfrom Missio Dei in Minnieapolis was sharing his story of community with us. There was a phrase he used as he was talking that just jumped out to me as both true and a bit painful. He said in terms of our American living:
“We stay in to watch and we go out to spend.”
I would have let this pass without a note if it wasn’t so true. In that statement he adequately unveiled 2 of the greatest sicknesses of American life: Consumerism and Individualism. Our culture teaches us that the reasons you go out is to consume and to spend. We spend on things that we hope will give us meaning, most of the time we remain unhappy. The slick marketing campaigns of billion dollar businesses caress our ears with the message that if we buy what they are selling, we will find the happiness we are looking for. Of course it’s a lie, but yet we have an engaging appetite to consume and try again. It defines our “going out”. When we stay in, we can tend to organize our lives, evenings and weekends around the tube or the telly (I like to call it telly). The drama, the celebrity, the sport, the action . . . they are there to give us entertainiment in our leisure. If we are not careful, they can become the very story we live our lives around. And it’s unending, one season rolls into the next and rolls into sweeps week with cliff-hangers and to-be-continued til next season if only we will hold our breath in anticipation. The media we watch at home can dictate to us how to arrange our time based on our consumption of their drama. Years ago, I stopped watching the news. Rather now, I read it online in print and have RSS feeds to local papers. That way I’m informed, but I was tired of the news dictating to me what I should fear and what I should care about. They don’t care about me nor my family, they just care about my viewership. I say all of this not to prohibit spending or watching. Both are a part of our culture that we live in and can be healthy alternatives to life as usual. But they are not meaningful, if you are looking for life in things that are dead, you will find yourself perpetually empty. I would suggest that the Story that gives meaning is authentic community. Finding the definition of who you are not by what you buy or what you watch, but based on who you belong to. When you find that kind of belonging, it’s permanent. It doesn’t wane with sweeps week or spike during seasonal sales. It remains true, constant, the kind of story you can build your life around. How do you find that kind of community? Our culture doesn’t sell it, our culture doesn’t produce it, I think it’s found in a spiritual quest. Something that cries out much deeper in us than a yearning to consume or be entertained, it’s a primal search for meaning. I’ll close with one of my favorite quotes in my reflections about Community as Story:
“Call it a clan, call it a network, call it a tribe, call it a family. Whatever you call it, whoever you are, you need one. ” – Jane Howard
So it brings us to the time of year where Christians debate over whether it’s appropriate/proper/holy/unspiritual etc. to participate in the activities around the American celebration of Halloween. My friend, Tom Davis, got quite a few all riled up here on his blog. Definitely worth the read to see how many varying and polar-opposite opinions there are on the matter. In my humble opinion, given the history of Samhain in Celtic Ireland, it was one of many things that St. Patrick helped redeem for the people of Ireland away from their fearful world of superstition and towards the worship and understanding of the Creator God. It became associated with understanding the transition from life to death and with harvest moving toward winter. It was a means to mark the rythymn of the year with the natural transitions of mortal life. I quite believe that the practices of Halloween in their present form are neutral, it is the intent and object of affection for the celebrant as to what gives it meaning. From a Kingdom of God perspective, we fear not death, occult, evil, demonic, hate, cultic history etc. We are people of life, hope, redemption and resurrection. Everything we touch in this world can be shaped by the One who shapes us. Christians have zero issue with the fact that Christmas was redeemed from the pagan origins of Winter Solstice, but Halloween seems to have hung on as an enemy even though the history is similar. Putting all that aside, I was reflecting on a kind of Jack-o-lantern spirituality. The process of being cut open, cleaning out the guts, getting rid of the parts that would smell and decay, carving something beautiful out of something ordinary, and letting it be a lamp of revealed light. This light is not to scare away evil spirits in their transition to the other world, but to reveal the handiwork of its creator. Is this not a picture of spiritual transformation? Allowing our hard exteriors to be penetrated by the Spirit of the one who wants to make us new. Cleaning out the decay within us that clearly gets in the way of any light coming out of us. Having our external life/habits be changed and transformed into something beneficial to our world. To be carved into something beautiful, somethng creative, something that adds life and illumination to our world. This light welcomes the darkness, it doesn’t fear it. It exsits for the very reason to shine where there is no shine. We as jack-o-lanterns are a reflection of the handiwork of our Creator, if we just let Him do so.
“Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.In him was life, and that life was the light of men.The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understoodit.” – John 1:3-5
Wherever this issue leaves you, peace to your celebration,Marshall
Extroverts like me with a tendency towards type-A driveness cannot read things like this enough and just sit in it.
“If we are witnesses to Christ in today’s market places, where there are constant demands on our whole person, we need silence. If we are to be always available, not only physically, but by empathy, sympathy, friendship, understanding . . . we need silence. To be able to give joyous, unflagging hospitality, not only of house and food, but of mind, heart, body and soul, we need silence.” – Catherine de Hueck Doherty (Oct. 28 Aidan Reading from Celtic Daily Prayer)
May your moments of silence today lead you to further productivity of the actions of your heart. Our world is crying out for a restoration, we can meet that need not with an anxious mind, but one that is coming out of a productive silence. peace,Marshall