The paradoxical gift of rest

The third gift I experienced at the “Winter Stillness” retreat this past weekend (see previous post) was rest. Opening the gift of rest wasn’t/isn’t quite as unambiguous as opening hospitality and silence, however. 

In his article, “Sabbath Resting in God,” Ron Farr writes:

There is a terrific amount of momentum in our lives like that of a freight train…. Indeed, most of us seem to have an ambivalent relationship with the idea of rest. We feel guilty about doing ‘nothing’ and resting before we’ve cleared up things in the world…. In an odd sort of way it is painful for us to rest because resting means just sitting with things as they are for awhile, just sitting with our own unresolved struggles and anxieties, just sitting with our neighbor’s untended wounds and tears. In the silence of rest, we are forced to recognize our own limits and see all our underlying conflicts and bruised places to which we’ve blinded ourselves through the diversion of our busyness. There are so many forces and fears within us, pulling us like that freight train away from a simple Sabbath resting in prayer! Yet our deep need for such rest cannot be denied and cries out to be honored.

Through the spiritual direction given us at this weekend’s retreat, we were invited to observe the “movements” we experienced as we prayed Scriptures that were given us by the director or that we had chosen ourselves. These movements might be of peace, joy, sorrow, anxiety, despondency, resistance, etc. We were invited to then journal about this, or perhaps go to the art room and express it visually.

Detail from "The Last Visit of Saints Scholastica and Benedict," clay sculpture, Helen E. Norman


So, it takes movement to get to stillness. Jesus said, “Come to me…and I will give you rest,” (Matthew 11:28) but that coming might be an eager run or it could be a lurching and stumbling procedure, or even a long and reluctant shuffle.

But it’s amazing how much movement there can actually be when there’s nothing else to do for a weekend but confront one’s restlessness. And for most of us in the group, it seemed, the weekend’s path ended in the longed-for rest and peace.

Or, in joy. Which again, paradoxically, isn’t exactly motionless either. I’m still chuckling happily over the phrase that jumped out at me from the last text my director gave me in Luke 1 — unborn John leaping for joy in his mother’s womb! Such a wild, excited creature he was, that John the Baptist, from the very beginning! Safe, secure, tucked away, receiving everything he needed from his mother, about as still as it probably gets — but when he heard the voice of Mary, the mother of his Lord, he simply had to leap for joy. That’s the paradoxical gift of rest.