“The Art of Rest”
A meditation for Beloved Community
22 July 2018
Part Two in a Two Part exploration acknowledging that if we want to build a better world, we’ve got to start close to home by (Part One) reimagining our own Social Lives and (Part Two) attending to our Inner Landscape.
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves.
Now, many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.
When they had crossed over, they came to land at Gennesaret and moored the boat. When they got out of the boat, people at once recognized him, and rushed about that whole region and began to bring the sick on mats to wherever they heard he was. And wherever he went, into villages or cities or farms, they laid the sick in the marketplaces, and begged him that they might touch even the fringe of his cloak; and all who touched it were healed.
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff– they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.
For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.
The Art of Rest
“Come away to a deserted place, all by yourselves and rest a while.”
Jesus’ friends have just gone out in pairs on a healing mission. They took nothing with them, and they’ve got all kinds of stories of what happened along the way. Some good some not so good. They are just about to be witnesses to the miracle of the feeding of the five thousand, but to their surprise, when they return, they hear a gentle voice saying, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.”
“Come away and rest.” That is Jesus’ word to his friends upon their return from a couple of exhausting days of doing justice and organizing work in their community. “Come away and rest.”
This is Jesus’ word to his friends, when they return from healing the sick and accepting the hospitality of strangers in the midst of Roman occupied Palestine. “Come away and rest.”
The lectionary pairings aren’t always extremely helpful. Sometimes you read the texts set aside for the day and think how on earth do these belong together? How did they even come from the same theological universe? Other times they weave together, and I find today to be one of those days.
Beside this text from Mark 6, the lectionary gives us readings from Psalm 23, and Ephesians 2.
Hear this familiar word from the Psalmist:
God is my shepherd, I shall not want.
God makes me lie down in green pastures.
God leads me beside still waters.
God restores my soul.
God leads me in right paths for God’s name sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil;
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of God all the days of my life.
Hear these words from the author of Ephesians: “He is our peace; in his body he has made both groups into one, and has broken down the dividing wall, that is the hostility between us.”
The Ephesians text may not read like an echo of Psalm 23, or Mark 6:30 on a first reading, but I would suggest that it is ultimately the deepest echo of Jesus’ invitation to “Come away and rest.”
When Jesus’ friends stop for a moment. When they enter into a deserted place to rest. When they unwind from all of the good peacebuilding, organizing, healing work they have been doing. When they let go momentarily of their need to feel so important… to feel as if the world rests upon their shoulders… and set down their ego project…
When they can pause and stop pulling the weeds in the garden, or doing the endless pile of dishes after dinner, or fixing another thing that is broken around the house. When Jesus’ friends can relax and let go, and stop running around, and stop reacting to every ridiculous political message that comes across the TV screen, or every minor and momentary crisis in their work settings, or take some time for themselves rather than saying “yes” to each and every meeting.
When Jesus’ friends can pull away and sit down beside still waters, then Jesus’ friends can enter into the deeper consciousness that the author of Ephesians speaks from.
The deeper consciousness that recognizes that dividing walls and hostility are illusions. That at the center of all things, there is a deep and lasting union, an eternal bond, a oneness that unfolds between God, the earth, and humankind.
That’s the secret below the surface apparent to those that “dwell in the house of God.” That is the gift waiting for those that “Come away and rest.”
Jesus’ invitation is not to abandon the world in all of its pain and joy, but to enter into a deeper consciousness about the nature of reality. To recognize that everything, and everyone belongs.
On its surface the world is at war. Every interaction between two people seems like a chess match of political powers. People are without good housing, and healthcare. Guns have more rights than women of color. Families are separated. Refugees have no land to call home. Death is considered a legitimate punishment for screwing up. The economy only works for a few. Racism has been structured in to every facet of our society.
Below the surface, the world is at peace. In a state of unity where cups overflow and goodness and mercy follow us all the days of our lives.
How do we live on the surface, with a sub-surface consciousness?
I listened to a podcast this week that I would highly recommend subscribing to, it’s called “Healing Justice Podcast” and it is convening conversations at the intersection of collective healing and social change.
Hear this from the description of “The Need” of this podcast on its website:
These are times of extreme amplification — of climate violence, white supremacy, patriarchy, political corruption, capitalism, xenophobia, anti-LGBTQ hate, and more. Our lives depend on our ability to make significant, urgent, dramatic change in our society.
But working to change the world while neglecting ourselves and our immediate communities depletes us and replicates patterns of trauma, trigger, harm, and extraction. And “being the change we wish to see in the world” doesn’t sufficiently dismantle the structures that are systematically dehumanizing us all either.
Many of us hunger for a community to support the integration of self care, inner work, collective care, real commitment to challenging injustice, and powerful action, but just haven’t found our people yet. We need a place to share our stories and struggles, to build trust and gain insight together, to strengthen the capacity for resilience in ourselves and in our collective movements for change..
So I listened to this fantastic conversation between movement builders while I was painting my house on Friday afternoon, and each episode of the podcast includes a guided meditation practice. I was excited to hear the creative, out of the box practice that I imagined would be offered by this podcast, and when it came time for the practice to be introduced, the voice on the podcast said, “Today we’re going to introduce you to the practice of Centering Prayer. This practice comes from the Christian Tradition…”
Then the voice, a queer black man named Alexis Francisco, who is a board member for a group called the Mystic Soul Project, and the Associate Pastor of a Bronx based multi-racial faith community called New Day UMC, explained that he learned of the practice of Center Prayer through the writings of Father Richard Rohr, which lead him towards Thomas Merton, which eventually lead to Father Thomas Keating and his writing on the practice.
Alexis’ counterpart for leading the practice, Cicia Lee, a fella board member with the Mystic Soul Project, and a community organizer in the Pico Action Network that Together Colorado is connected with, went on to describe an aspect of centering prayer that I found extremely helpful. She said,
“Centering prayer is like going down to the bottom of an ocean, and sitting on the ocean floor. On the ocean floor there is no sound, all you hear is silence. This does not mean that there are no distractions. Distractions come your way, the point is not to remain pure and rid yourself of distractions, but to watch the distractions come, like ships passing by on the water’s surface, and resist the temptation to swim up to them, jump on board, and float away.”
How do we live on the surface, with a sub-surface consciousness?
How do we live in a world of division, with a deeper knowledge of the world’s unity?
How does the joy, beauty, and generosity of God’s peace land among us on the face of the earth?
I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I hear a gentle voice offering us a kind invitation, “Come away and rest.”
In one of the Healing Justice episodes that I listened to, which interviewed Alexis and Cicia, Alexis explained that his faith community in the Bronx is highly committed to organizing work which seeks to improve the material conditions of Bronxites and shift the dynamics of Power and Oppression in New York City. He explained that his congregation is the locus of much of this organizing work, and throughout the years, they have discovered that centering prayer is an integral aspect of their movement building work. There are times, he said, where they recognize that what is required at this moment, in order to create change, is to spend 20-30 minutes in collective stillness and silence.
Soul tending is not an interruption from building a better world, it is part and parcel of doing so. When Jesus’ friends return from their healing work and he invites them to “Come away to a deserted place and rest a while,” he’s not calling them out of their movement work, but calling them more deeply into it.
Being whole and being healed is integral to producing a whole and healed world. If we are constantly running around believing the myth that the world is so divided, we will end up building a world that is divided.
Ends are always commensurate with their means.
If we want to build a world beyond walls, we must enter into the world with a deeper consciousness.
To do so, we must carefully tend to our soul. Our Inner Landscape. Our Interior Castle. We must get below the surface, and ground ourselves in the way things really are.
Hear this invitation from the biblical narrative:
Sit beside quiet waters.
Lie down in green pastures.
Draw near, and touch the fringe of the cloak.
Come away and rest.
Let your soul be restored.