Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Active Rest

Oh rest beside the weary road, and hear the angels sing.
-Edmund H. Sears

Third verses of Christmas carols are sung less frequently than the first, second and last. While I have sung the carol “It Came upon the Midnight Clear,” I was not familiar with the third verse, which ends with the words above, until I heard “Midnight Clear” by The Digital Age. In the aftermath of Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday and Giving Tuesday, all before Advent has even begun, maybe the best thing I could do this holiday season is rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing.

Quite frankly, rest is not something we value, probably because we think of rest as unproductive and if we want to be anything at all, it is productive. Our society measures everything in terms of output and results, and those results had better come quickly. Resting and waiting are viewed as unproductive.

Even in the church, we fall victim to our culture’s obsession with productivity. I think that’s why we struggle with how to pray. We pray for results. We want our prayers to be effective, to produce a desired outcome. If that outcome is not obtained, we tend to think we have somehow prayed wrong. I believe that is why so few of us embrace centering prayer. Sitting silently for twenty minutes just seems unproductive. The promise of a growing inner peace that comes over time as one faithfully practices this spiritual discipline is not alluring enough or quick enough for us to patiently persist in such prayer.

Maybe we would do well to consider rest as an active verb rather than as passive. For rest, in the spiritual sense, is not sloth. Rest is more like fallowness, a time of being still, becoming more aware of yourself and thus, of God, and maybe, just maybe, hearing the angels sing, rather than rushing through stores listening to carols piped in over Muzak as we frantically try to secure the latest toy or gadget for someone who already has plenty of toys or gadgets.

Active rest is what happened to Elizabeth and Mary, as they carried the promise of God in their wombs over nine months. As their babies grew inside them, they could do nothing to rush the process of birth along, and their pregnancies came with a responsibility, as pregnancies do, of taking care of themselves so that their babies would have the best chance to thrive. While there is much that needs to be done to bring Christ to others, such as feeding the hungry, caring for the sick and dying, and sharing our abundance with those who have none, that cannot be done at the expense of our own rest, or the Christ we deliver will be sickly and weak, ineffective for the long journey of faith.

So how are you growing the promised Christ within you this Advent season? Do you feel the presence of Christ growing in you as you prepare your heart for Christmas, or only a growing sense of anxiety over getting the right presents? My greatest wish this season is that we all would rest beside the weary road and hear the angels sing. What greater gift could we give to a weary world?

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