We are one day past the midpoint of our time on the island of Ireland. The morning here is cool (59°) and clear. The cottages where we are staying on the outskirts of the coastal village of Kitkeel are surrounded by green fields marked by stone walls that were stacked by hand. It is quiet and, for the most part, it will stay that way, other than the sounds of daily life of both humans and animals.
Even in our time in Dublin it seems that people are not clamoring to make the day begin, for the most part. We were hard pressed to find a breakfast place that opened before eight while we were in the city. The pace of the retreat has also offered a gentle waking each morning. I have woken up to a conversation rather than a to do list.
It is a gift.
In our time at Corymeela, Paul Hutchinson started with a question: What’s the score? From there he intentionally meandered through all kinds of wonderful things, mostly by telling stories and asking more questions. Corymeela is a community of peacemakers. The community is not static; people come and go, for different lengths of time. We were there for the better part of a day to hear their stories and to learn, I thought, about peacemaking in northern Ireland. Paul did those things, but in a way I had not expected.
Somewhere in the meanderings, he talked about rest by asking a question: At the end of the seventh day, was God tired?
The question made me realize that most of the ways I have heard the idea of sabbath discussed implicitly assumes that the initial acts of creation exhausted God. Maybe we don’t say it that way, but when we talk about finding sabbath for ourselves–finding rest–we often speak of it as compensation for our own exhaustion and use God’s rest at the end of a busy week as our example. Then, of course, we have the biblical description of God as one who “never slumbers or sleeps,” which too often shapes our work ethic, or at least our schedules.
In the Genesis account, the rest comes on the seventh day, but in the Christian tradition we attach sabbath to Sunday, which we think of as the first day of the week since it was the day of Jesus’ resurrection. The significance of that stands out to me when I take it alongside of the root meaning of rest.
The word comes from German roots through Old English, where it meant “rest; a bed or couch; intermission of labor; mental peace, state of quiet or repose.” But the older German word had a sense of measurement to it, a sense of specific distance after which it was time to rest, like our Sunday. That sense of measurement came from nomadic people who were always moving. They measured their movement by the distance between resting places.
Though most of us are not moving from place to place, we are moving, almost constantly it seems. What would change if we measured life from rest to rest, rather than from project to project, or obligation to obligation?
I remember first reading Frederick Buchner’s description of the day as something sandwiched between two nights and being caught by surprise. I had always thought the day came first and it brought a freshness to life to see the night as the reference point. That also helped me move from thinking of life in linear terms and to see things as more circular and cyclical. Though we are born and we die, life is less about progressing to a specific finish line as it is moving from place to place, and then to another place after that. Whether that movement is physical or metaphorical, how we see what we are moving from and going to seems to matter.
I’ll ask it again. What would change if we measured life from rest to rest, rather than exhaustion to exhaustion, or problem to problem, or even opportunity to opportunity?
As I write, I am conscious that I am thinking in big chunks of time: week to week, year to year. How far till the weekend? When is our next vacation? I know the Genesis account lays out seven days, but maybe we need a smaller scale. What are the rests we move to and from in our daily life? How do I live my day moving from rest to rest, from awareness to awareness, from love to love, from breath to breath, from refreshment to refreshment?
What if we thought of one another as rest rather than responsibilities?
That last question leads me to wonder how we become havens of rest for one another, how we learn to offer respite and restoration in our daily encounters. I am also conscious, after yesterday’s post, of how many re- words are in the last couple of paragraphs.
Paul Hutchinson talked about Rowan William’s idea of taking “a vow of incompleteness,” so that we could appreciate and live in “the open texture of every moment.” Perhaps, then, to move from rest to rest is to move from incompleteness to incompleteness. God didn’t rest when it was all done. It is never all done, even for God. We do what we can as we move from rest to rest, allowing ourselves to be defined, in a way, by our incompleteness rather than our accomplishments.
We move from grace to grace, from forgiveness to forgiveness, from hope to hope, or we can say we move from demand to demand, from grief to grief, from crisis to crisis.
To say life is full of all of those things is to state the obvious. At the core of the oldest definitions of the word, it is clear that life is not all rest. We have problems and crises and responsibilities.
And we move from rest to rest, if we are willing to see it that way.