Wednesday, Fifth week of Lent
"I rejoice, because I have complete confidence in you." 2 Corinthians 7:16
"St Nicholas of Bari" (detail from the Ansidei Madonna), 1505, Raphael
Peace that demands unreal conditions is a deception. There is no life without work, anxieties, or tensions. Peace is not found in avoiding these but in understanding them and confidently controlling their force. One of the most tranquil faces in art is Raphael's St Nicholas, an intensely active bishop. The stories about his miracles may be legends, but they attest to his great reputation for practical involvement in the personal distresses of his people. Even here, Raphael shows him not lost in silent prayer but reading, with his crozier upright in his hand. The unmistakable inner confidence we can see has nothing at all to do with an unstressed life; it comes from his insight into the significance of those stresses, their value and their motivation.
Call the Smithsonian, I made a discovery
Life ain't forever and lunch isn't free
Loved ones will break your heart with or without you
Turns out we don't get to know everything
Turns out there are a lot of things in life that are either unfinished or unfair. The realization of this can leave you mentally and physically exhausted...but the sun still comes up...and another day of work comes around too, whether we want it or are ready for it. This burden can make us desire retreat. To get away, to abandon it, to move toward denial or just avoidance, "Hey let's go shopping, Daddy needs a little retail therapy". Life is work and so we search for rest wherever we can find it. That's one orientation.
There's another. Don't just do something, stand there. That's right. Stand there and realize you don't hold-up the world or make it rotate on it's axis...but you sure can increase the velocity of your internal spinning, and that of your neighbor. There is another way. It doesn't make life's challenges disappear, but it can give you the courage to stand. It can give you the freedom to face them. This comes from moving out of a center of rest.
When the people of God were wandering through the wilderness for 40 years, God reminded them of the gift of the Sabbath. One in seven days is different than the others. One day is for rest. To abide in God's presence. To worship and practice habits that are re-creating. This gave God's people strength for the journey, reminded them they were not alone, and allowed them to taste Joy and goodness.
Americans think of themselves as a staunchly productive people. They'll rest when they're dead is how the saying goes. There's nothing wrong with work. It is a gift too, but we are prone to wander and inhabit spaces where rest is just a means to be more productive. I can't help but hear that hinted at in the lyric shared by the Avett Brothers,
"My bedroom's an office, my kitchen's a car
My life is a joke and my bathroom's a bar
I go there a lot, more than I should
I know I should stop, but it feels too damn good"
What do you hear in these lines?
I hear a life that moves too fast, doesn't respect boundaries, is unsustainable and exhausting, so we develop ways to cope...pressing on. This is where avoidance moves into addiction, or at the very least, habits that suck out more life than they give.
But God is describing something different. God desires rest to be a major marker of our identity in Christ. The world may turn but the cross stands still. There is a peace that is experienced that empowers courage like wind in a sail, when our abiding in Christ shapes how we face our work and the challenges of life RATHER THAN perceiving rest as recovery from exhaustion.
REST/ABIDING => WORK/FRUITFULNESS
Jesus instructs his disciples in John 15 that he is "the vine" and they are "the branches". As they abide in him, as they remain connected to the vine/trunk, the branches will receive sap, nutrients, and life. They will grow and bear fruit. They will need to be pruned so they can accomodate their new found growth. Then they will grow more.
Over time, we discover a Rhythm of Life, like the swing of a metronome or the pendulum of an old grandfather clock. Tick-tock, back and forth between rest and work...but it begins from rest. We are never called to "work" for our salvation. In fact, we are told that way is dead, there is no life in it. We are called to abide in the Father's love through Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit. Rest in God's grace...and then, we can workout our salvation "in fear and trembling" knowing we will face things, challenges, things that test our resilience and our understanding, even things we experience as tiny deaths (pruning). These only cause us to be able to bear more fruit. Growing slowly like a muscle that learned to lift 5 lb weights, and then 10, and then 20. Like bones that grow more dense with use when that 15 year old boy becomes a 19 year old young man. They also grow less dense as we slowly use them to bear loads that are increasingly lighter and lighter as we age. Now our minds may have tempered from life experience, we may be able to bear quite a bit in our mental space, but our willingness to serve, our ability to carry heavy things recedes.
Work, challenge, the tearing of muscle fibers through regular walking, the enlargement of bones that comes naturally as a growing frame to carry a larger body...this comes to us all, or at least most of us. But abiding in Christ, facing challenges and bearing fruit, even larger fruit...this is something that is not widely known. It is a gift to be received, one that forms us over time and transforms us from the inside out.
Abide in me, and I in you.
As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself,
unless it abides in the vine,
neither can you,
unless you abide in me.
- John 15:4
Father, I pray today to abide in You. I want to think clearly, act wisely, and speak kindly. I strive to have my actions reflect your glory. I ask you to abide in me and always be with me. Comfort me, strengthen me, and fill me with wisdom. Grant that I may act in love to whomever and whatever I may face this day. In Jesus’ name, amen.