Concerning Human Rest

Last week I posted a series of questions from a friend of mine who is writing her dissertation on the theology of rest and the role that rest plays in the life of Christian ministers. Now, for my answers to her first set of questions:

  1. What gives you rest? What do you find restful? When we say “beautiful,” we mean “full of beauty;” then, what are we “full of” when we are restful? What does it mean to call something restful?
    For me, rest is all about unstructured time. It’s an opportunity to live in the moment, which can mean just napping all day, or getting a spontaneous notion to go climb Stone Mountain, which of course involves physical exertion. But the key is that my calendar is open, allowing me to follow my heart even if just for a day.
  2. What do you need in order to rest? What do you do — or avoid doing — on your Sabbath day?
    See above. The key for me is having unstructured time, which of course is indicative of how structured my life normally is.
  3. How do you understand the meaning of the ancient monastic phrase, otium negotiotissimum (”always be at rest yet never be idle“)?
    Monastic life is by its very nature highly structured, and this continues, day in day out, seven days a week. I’m clear that I don’t have a call to such a life, even though it does appear attractive to me. I think the phrase otium negotiotissimum, for me, is a call to mindfulness: preventing my daily activity from devolving into freneticism, and likewise preventing my sabbath time from devolving into mindless pleasure-seeking. I don’t always live up to such mindfulness, but it seems to me that when I do, there can be a dimension of contemplative rest even in my work, and a dimension of purpose and integrity even in my Sabbath-time.
  4. What do you hear when Jesus says, “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give it to you. Do not let your hearts be troubled or afraid” (John 14:27)?
    I think “worldly” peace is merely the absence of conflict: it’s a negative peace. Christ’s peace, by contrast, is a postivie peace: not primarily the absence of something, but rather the presence of something: of God’s own Self, of the presence of the profound integral being-in-joy and being-in-delight and being-in-love. This being has nothing to prove and nothing to achieve, so of course it is profound rest. I’m not sure that human beings can fully participate in this being endlessly and still remain human, that seems to be fundamentally contradictory. But we can partially participate in it, and more fully participate from time to time (say, during sabbath or deep meditation). The deeper we go, the more peaceful/restful it gets.
  5. What do you hear when the Hebrews author says that the “Sabbath rest still remains for the people of God” (Hebrews 3:7-4:13)?
    Part of Jesus’ radical revisioning of religion involves dismantling purity codes, and Sabbath observance can function as a purity obligation. Those who break the Sabbath laws are “unclean.” I think the Hebrews author is reminding Christians that, while we are no longer bound by a legalistic/purity-code convention regarding the Sabbath, we are still creatures fashioned in the image and likeness of God, and therefore need Sabbath rest. We just have to take responsibility for it without being legalistic.
  6. How would you connect rest and peace?
    I think my answers already begin to connect those dots. Rest is something we do; peace is something God is. We enter more fully into rest when we open ourselves up to partake in God’s Divine nature — the nature of true peace.

Okay, more to come later!

Preliminary Practices for Christian Contemplatives
Mysticism and the Divine Feminine: An Interview with Mirabai Starr
Sanctity and Struggle, or, Why Saints Have Chaotic Inner Lives (Hint: It's Because We All Do)
Pentecost and Ecstasy
About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • jodiq

    Great responses, Carl. I love the idea of unstructured time…so rare in our culture…

    I almost took your friend’s survey, ready with the response of ‘safety’. I think a feeling of being safe is pivotal for one to truly enter deep rest and know deep peace…

    In God there is true safety, regardless of what happens…eternally I’m safe, which means I can rest and know His peace.

    Anyway, I try to remember this as I wander through the day…
    God bless, Jodi

  • Strácálaí

    I found this a very interesting topic and thought I might presume to contribute something, even though it will be of no direct relevance to Christian discourse or ministry. (Let me also mention that I am not delving into what is meant by “rest” in any linguistic sense; my normal modus operandi is philological, but we’ll skip that here.)

    In the Kitâb al-Hikam of Ahmad ibn Muhammad Ibn ‘Ata Allah al-Iskandari (d. 1309 CE; known most generally as Ibn Ata Allah) we see these two aphorisms:

    Give yourself a rest from managing!
    When Someone Else is doing it for you
    don’t you start doing it for yourself!

    Your striving for what is absolutely guaranteed to you
    and your laxness in what is required of you
    are evidence that your inner eye is dull.

    (See for the complete text of this work, one of the real pillars of the contemplative tradition in the Islamic world and too little known elsewhere.)

    This is not an appeal to quietism or fatalism as a means of obtaining rest. It is instead a thumbnail sketch of a powerful contemplative method, calling for the abandonment of self-direction or self-determination in worldly matters, and complete dedication to fulfillment of the Revealed Law in every state. Thus one rests in the ehart of the world.

    In the famous commentary on this book (called Iqâdh Al-Himam, or Awakening of Aspiration) by the 18th-century Moroccan saint Ahmad ibn ‘Ajiba, we see the following related concerning Ibn Ata Allah’s aphorisms:

    Sidi Yaqut al-’Arishi said, “All of what I said is contained in two verses:

    There is only what He wills.
    So leave your cares and abandon them.
    Leave your preoccupations
    which distract you and you will have rest.”

    Usually that which you start doing for yourself is not helped by the winds of destiny and is followed by cares and trouble. That is why Ahmad ibn Masruq said, “Whoever abandons management has rest.”
    Sahl ibn ‘Abdullah said, “Leave management and choice. They trouble people in their livelihood.” The Messenger of God, may God bless him and grant him peace, said, “God put ease and rest in pleasure and certainty.”
    Shaykh ash-Shadhili said, “Do not choose any of your affairs. Choose not to choose and flee from that choice, from your flight and from everything to God Almighty. ‘Your Lord creates and chooses whatever He wills.’ (Qur’ân 28:68)”
    He also said, “If you must manage, then manage to not manage.” It is said that whoever does not manage is managed.”

  • clary

    Unstructured time, that is the key I guess. Letting the Holy Spirit move you wherever and get the most of it that way. Monastic life has its way to provide for this kind of time we all need and we don’t need to be in the monastery. Rules and regulations are there to keep us on the path and once on it we are free to let go and move in God’s inspirational grace.