Here are the final questions from my friend’s questionnaire, on issues related to Sabbath, rest, restlessness (or, “rest-less-ness”), and formation. Although she is writing specifically about how these issues impact those in Christian ministry, I believe the issues raised are germane to us all. If you want to see my responses to the first two sets of questions, look here and here.
Questions concerning Formation
- What do you hear, when Jesus says: “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30)?
The irony, of course, is that when I resist Jesus’ yoke (which, incidentally, is etymologically related to yoga, i.e. spiritual practice), I find it anything but easy and light! I think the key words here are “learn from me,” “meek,” and “humble of heart.” This is related to metanoia, usually translated as conversion but perhaps better understood as “after-mind.” I’m reminded of the book by Shunryu Suzuki called Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind. Perhaps the yoga of Christ is all about “Christian mind, beginner’s mind” — so, what would this look like? Paul says of the faithful “we have the mind of Christ” (I Corinthians 2:16), and I think he means this “after-mind” which is beyond all discursive thought, all oppositional and dualistic thinking: a rest that is found beyond the inner storms of ordinary human consciousness. But there is a paradox here, for Christ calls us to “become like children,” and I think this is where the “beginner’s mind” kicks in. The restful place beyond oppositional consciousness is, paradoxically, very much like the meek and humble, willing-to-learn place that children naturally inhabit. I think we need to be careful not to conflate the mind of a child with the mind of Christ: ironically, we need both, but it seems that the doorway to the after-mind is the beginner’s mind. I know I’m getting really cerebral, here — to bring it back down to earth, perhaps when we just interrupt ourselves and let ourselves be like little children again, we find the “burdens” of being in relationship with Christ to truly be easy (it’s harder to frown than to smile) and, simultaneously, we prepare ourselves for that “higher” rest which can only be given to us, freely even though it costs everything.
- What are we to learn from Jesus in order to rest?
I think I’ve already answered this question. Become like little children. Love God. Love your neighbors. Don’t be afraid of a good party. Have fun. The rest is just details.
- There is a growing awareness of burnout among ministers of the church, which seems to contradict Jesus’ affirmation about the easiness of his yoke and the lightness of his burden. What do you think about this seeming contradiction?
Although I’m not a minister in any ordained or official sense, I am a church employee, and I can see (perhaps more clearly than most) that the church is just as trapped by all of our cultural idols as anywhere else. I can only imagine how difficult it must be to honestly and vulnerably preach Christ’s subversive message in a religious culture that remains as bound to results and performance as any other aspect of society. The cognitive dissonance of preaching a message that directly subverts the institutional work you are doing must be incredible. How many churches, with their beautiful buildings, precious metal communion vessels, stained glass windows, and custom-made organs, are ready to sell it all and give to the poor? How many churches are ready to let go of pledge drives and membership records and just focus on setting the prisoners free? When I write this, I do not mean to judge anyone, for my house and car and computers and flat- screen TV and books and guitars make me just as much a prisoner of my wealth as any other churchman, clergy or no. But at least I can take some small refuge in being a layperson. For the ordained, “professional” minister of Christ, the contradiction must be crushing. In fact, without a sustained contemplative practice that would enable a minister to embrace non-dual and non-oppositional consciousness, I don’t think such a “ministry” (read: career) can be sustainable. And, alas, the church over the last 500 years has done a pretty poor job at teaching contemplative consciousness. So, no wonder there’s so much burnout.
- How have people who can rest in God been formed in your tradition? (Please identify your tradition). What is Holy Leisure? Why is it important?
I’m not sure I have an answer to the question. I was raised Lutheran, then became an Episcopalian, and then (after a sojourn in the Neopagan community) entered the Catholic Church. Each of these Christian families is sacramental and liturgical in character, and each has at least some form of consecrated religious life. I think consecrated life is so essential, and that ideally there is a symbiotic relationship between monks and the laity. The monastic life is an invitation for all of us to be just a bit more childlike, a bit more subversive, a bit more lavish and prodigal in our love.
What is holy leisure? Is there a difference between sacred leisure and profane leisure? I’m not sure that profane leisure really exists. So holy leisure is true leisure. It’s important because it creates the opening, the space, the “wound” (related to wonder) in which we become vulnerable to the transforming power of Christ in our lives — without us doing anything to achieve it or bring it about.