This morning I gave a short talk to a men’s breakfast group about the value of quiet and rest. While there are many popular verses that come to mind about being still before God, quietness, and rest, the starting place for us was Psalm 131. It’s nice and short, so here it is:
O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
too great and too marvelous for me.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul,
like a weaned child with its mother;
like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the LORD
from this time forth and forevermore.
That image of a baby resting in its mother’s arms is wonderful. We live in such a busy world that the opportunity for rest is very slim. TV, radio, the internet, computer & video games, smartphones… we’re just so inter-connected so often that it’s rare that we “unplug” and relax. And this isn’t true only for workaholics, even folks who lean more in the direction of apathy are still usually busybodies, be it through constant gaming, reading, listening to music, or hanging out with friends. Let’s face it, whether you’re working all the time or having fun all the time, nearly all of us are constantly being bombarded with stuff.
Something that has helped me to reclaim some sense of rest and quietness in the past 6 months has been our new cat. Because, in a small way, owning a pet is like a preview of having a child. The commitment level is on a completely different scale of course, but the similarity is that another life has entered the household which forces me to pay more attention outside myself. And as our dear little Mithril has gotten used to us these past several months, she has gotten more and more friendly first thing in the morning. We’re at the point, now, where if I don’t pet her enough when I get out of bed, she starts meowing at me. So instead of looking at the Great Sensory Bombardment Website (better known as Facebook) for ten minutes while the tea is brewing, I find myself increasingly drawn towards a soft purring ball of fur.
And whaddaya know, it’s actually quite peaceful and relaxing! I am reminded in those moments of just how wonderful and important it is to stand back from the busy world around me and simply rest for a moment. (Sometimes the cat decides to switch from petting time to playtime without warning, and I end up getting scratched, but that’s another story.)
This need for rest and quietness is true for us both in the physical/mental/emotional life as well as the spiritual life. When you hear “spiritual disciplines,” what do you think of? For many of us, the list we’d generate is full of very active things: read the Bible, study the Bible, pray the Daily Office, use a devotional resource, go to church, participate in service projects, and so forth. What can easily go forgotten is that silence is a spiritual discipline, and so is meditation.
Another warning sign is that very word: meditation. For too many Christians, the first thing we think when we hear the word “meditation” is something like Yoga, or New Age stuff, or some mysterious Eastern religious thing that we don’t know much about. It can get to the point where we even forget it’s in the Bible – here are just a few of the times. At the end of the day, many of us need to rediscover the value of silence (both in public worship and in private devotion) and meditation. Resources like the Rosary, or other sorts of prayer beads, can be invaluable for those of us stuck in our busybody mentalities and habits.
In short, this is an application of the Sabbath principle. After all, the Sabbath is not just about God not working on the 7th day (see Genesis 1), nor just about us not working on the 7th day (see Exodus 20), nor just about the final rest we have in Christ (see Hebrews 4); it’s all of those together with the simple lesson that we must work for a time and then rest for a time. It’s simply part of who and what we are as people.