Traveling the Way of Love, Episode 2: Rest
When I first read (famed author and often-member of St. Peter’s, Oxford, Mississippi) William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury in high school—more years ago than I even realized until I started thinking about it—I found a passage that I knew I would want to remember. Quentin, the scion of the floundering Compson family, receives a gift from his father: his own father’s watch. Explaining the gift, he says, “I give it to you not that you may remember time, but that you might forget it now and then for a moment and not spend all your breath trying to conquer it.” How strange, I thought, that you would give someone a gift – meant to be worn, even! – with the intention of them forgetting it.
When we ask folks which practices in the Way of Love tend to be the hardest for them to manage, we invariably get two main responses: “all of them” and “rest”. I have come to understand the depth of the problem in my own life, in which I’m nearly always working, passively consuming television, scrolling through social media, or sleeping. These are all fine things on their own, but they rarely lead to a strong feeling of rest or contentment.
In this episode, I wear a favorite hat of mine—bright red, with “Uff Da” emblazoned across the front and back. This phrase, a favorite of Minnesotans of many stripes, is a way of expressing being overwhelmed. Some people say it when they have to get up from a too-deep chair, others when they see the snow piling up in a blizzard, and I once heard an 8-year old say it when handed a particularly hard math test. The hat is a favorite of mine because I think it’s a playful take on the currency of being overbooked, overscheduled, overworked. It might be that we’re able to tell people how integral we are to others or how brilliant we are since nobody else could be trusted with a series of crushing tasks. The dividend, I suppose, is being burnt out, exhausted, and searching for something to fill those holes in us that were created when we got too busy to take care of ourselves, physically, mentally, and spiritually.
Rest, we come to learn in the Way of Love, is not what we are often told it is. It is not mindlessly imbibing television or social media, and it is not treating ourselves to baubles or other goods that make us feel good for a moment. It is not merely the means that allows us to produce more. Rather, it is taking God’s invitation to dedicate time for restoration and wholeness – within our bodies, minds, and souls, and within our communities and institutions. Rest—part of that peace which passes understanding—shows our trust in God, the primary actor who brings all things to their fullness.
After some of my conversation in Wyoming with the Rev. Jimmy Bartz, I began to reinterpret what I thought Faulkner may have meant in his remarks about time. I think it is only when we realize its sheer abundance—whether we are young or old—that we can be less panicked about clinging jealously to it. By accepting that the gifts that come from taking time out of our day to reconnect with God, we find time to be less and less a thing which must be ceaselessly managed. When we see God’s abundance, scarcity does not need to be our default mindset. And when we receive God’s gift of restoration, it can be the undoing – maybe only for ourselves – of overdoing.