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?

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Reclamation Project

The past several months have been stressful, busy, and sometimes chaotic. August began with my dad having cancerous tumors removed from his bladder, then discovering that the cancer had spread aggressively. He died on October 3. Between traveling back and forth to his home in Tennessee prior to his death, the decisions that had to be made prior to and after his death and working through all the details that come when you are an only child and have lost your last surviving parent, autumn has been a blur for me. I went into “survival mode,” which for me means filling every waking moment with something to do. I went into this same mode when I went to graduate school, commuting 2 hours each way two or three days a week for eighteen months while teaching full time with a toddler and kindergartener at home. My husband says it took me years to come out of that mode, but I knew I was defaulting back into it as I moved through the past four months.

At least this time I knew what was happening to me, and I’ve been trying to ratchet back the pace to return back to some semblance of balance and rhythm. This week, my reclamation project has been aided by a furry buddy, Annie. We are dog sitting for friends and Annie is a puppy. Since our dog died a year ago, we’ve resisted getting another one because our traveling schedule right now would make dog ownership complicated. But Jim & I were both looking forward to “borrowing” Annie for the week.

Because Annie is not quite housebroken, we have to be attentive about taking her outside. That has gotten me out of the house and into our backyard, where I’ve been able to enjoy the fall colors and the crisp air. Being outside is therapeutic for me, but I’ve been hunkered down inside for most of the fall, observing the changing season only through windows, either the ones in our house, at Dad’s house or in the car as we’ve traveled back and forth to Tennessee. I am grateful that Annie is luring me outside this week (and it helps that the weather has been nice).

If I sit down to read or write, she stays close by, either sleeping or chewing her bone. Yesterday evening, when I got home from work, I sat down on the sofa for a moment and she fell asleep on the floor beside me. Instead of getting up to go do something in the house, I simply sat there and did absolutely nothing. I enjoyed Annie’s nap as much as she did. Adjusting my rhythm to hers is helping me slow down and savor the present moment.

I did not expect my reclamation project to be encouraged by a little black dog, but I am experiencing healing through her being here this week. God is using her to help me reclaim the pace of life at which I thrive. And even when she greets me at the back door soaking wet from dunking herself in our frog pond, necessitating a bath before 7:00 a.m., I can shrug and laugh and adjust. It is all just part of the journey, a reminder that God is present in every moment and in every creature and that each can be savored and appreciated for what it brings to the tapestry of life.