Rest, Restlessness, Rest-less-ness (part 1)

A friend of mine who is a doctoral candidate at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology is conducting research on the question of rest and restlessness as areas of theological concern. She has developed a questionnaire which she is using to gather insights from a variety of persons on these topics, as part of her original research. Here’s a bit of insight into her work, in her own words:

I want to share with you the ways in which I understand and employ the word ‘rest.’ My understanding and use of the word stretches to its widest possible meaning, including not only physical repose but peace of mind and spiritual respite, peace that surpasses understanding and extends beyond merely individual well-being, toward an ideal human state and universal wholeness of shalom. Therefore, to capture the “lack of rest,” I have coined a word ‘rest-less-ness.’ By introducing hyphenation in this existing word, I try to emphasize and preserve the twofold meaning of the word: that of the common use of the word, i.e. an inability to remain “still or motionless, or a lack of quiet, repose, rest,” as well as my emphasis on the spiritual nature of the problem, expressed by St. Augustine, “…O Lord… You made us for Yourself, and our heart is restless until it rests in You.” In my own reflections, I have come to understand rest-less-ness as a deep longing of the human heart, which is spiritual at its core but thoroughly embodied, the daily manifestations of which rarely display an explicit connection to religion.

The questionnaire is divided into three parts: the first concerns human rest, the second rest-less-ness, and the third formation. I’m posting the first set of questions here tonight, and will post the other sets over the next few days. Please respond as you see fit. If you would like your input to be considered for her research, please post your response by September 24. Thank you.

Questions concerning Human Rest

  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?
  2. What do you need in order to rest? What do you do — or avoid doing — on your Sabbath day?
  3. How do you understand the meaning of the ancient monastic phrase, otium negotiotissimum (“always be at rest yet never be idle“)?
  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)?
  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)?
  6. How would you connect rest and peace?

Thank you for  your insights. More questions to come!

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  • Gary

    Once again, I find myself beckoned and reminded by the ancient teacher, Meister Eckhart–truly a soul friend–that the prevenient repose is singularly ascendant, compassionate, and transforming:

    “Third, the soul seeks repose in all its powers and motion, whether people know this or not. People never open or shut their eyes without seeking repose. Either they will cast something away from them that hinders them or they will draw something to themselves in which they will rest. People do all their deeds for the sake of these two things. I have also said that people can never feel the joy or pleasure in any creature if God’s likeness is not within it. I love the thing in which I most recognize God’s likeness. But nothing resembles God in all creatures so much as repose.”

    Sermon 27 (Matthew Fox), How All Creatures Experience the Divine Repose, commenting on “In all things I sought rest.” (Sir. 24:11)

    This repose, granted by Christ and sustained by the Spirit. As we give ourselves over, allowing other “addiction” to fall away, in the prayer of work, and work of prayer, we are given to abide/dwell in this repose–a refusing to let our hearts be troubled, regardless of the circumstances. Repose, I suspect, may be this process of shaping our life-preferences by remaining in the Presence.

    I am interested in the phenomenological aspects of this research, also. I hope this friend will share her findings with us.


  • Leslie

    Hi Carl, my husband and I were just talking about this! About a year ago we began honoring the Sabbath and with the exception of some Sundays during rather turbulent times, we’ve honored it and have reaped great blessings as a result. So, please pass these answers on to your friend if you see fit:

    1. What gives me rest is silence, physical stillness and beauty. I used to live in the middle of a pasture with forests surrounding and a pond. Every morning I would rise early, take my cup of coffee and sit out on the front step just to take it all in: listen to the birds, watch the mist rise from the pond, or watch/feel/listen to the wind rustle through the trees. We had a bird feeder right by the stoop and it gave me incredible joy and rest to watch and listen to them. I learned all their names, and could identify certain birds. I witnessed some of the most amazing sunsets there and almost always saw deer, turkey, coyote and fox. There were no cars and at night, no lights save the fireflies, moon and stars. Just silence and peace and the weight of God’s glory. I no longer live in this place, rather I live on a busy road with lots of loud motorcycles, cars and trucks. Silence is impossible here – even at night – and I can’t tell you how traumatic it is. We will only be here till July of 2010 and I’m grateful to have a place to live, but I can’t wait to leave.

    2. On the Sabbath Day we shut off the computers and cell phones, and unplug the phone. We rarely watch TV anyway although we have one, so sometimes we’ll USE the tv and watch a movie together. We read a lot, my daughter might bake, I usually take a nap (especially if it’s a sunny day and theres a sunbeam on the couch just for me!), I might make a nice dinner or I might serve leftovers. It’s really a day about playing, and having the freedom of doing or not doing and letting our hearts lead.

    3. Always be at rest, but never be idle. Hmmm, that depends on what one means by idle. I would define idle as running but going nowhere, sort of like a car. I think this is a major problem in contemporary society. Everyone looks busy and productive, but one has to wonder where it’s all going, or if it’s going anywhere at all, or at least, anywhere that’s desirable. On the other hand, one can be completely silent and still and make great strides. I’ll have to think about this one a bit more.

    4. Jesus’ Peace. I think this phrase is all about trust in Jesus. The world tries to give us peace through security in money, things, relationships, accomplishments, and pleasure, but it all fades or can be taken away, and we are once again left afraid & troubled. However, when we believe without reservation in God’s love for us, the unhindered dance of joy, abundance and selflessness of the Trinity, and that we are truly safe, we find this peace Jesus promised. This is particularly relevant to me right now as I am struggling to extend my faith and trust in Jesus to see me and my family through some very turbulent waters where uncertainty is the daily special and we’re just waiting for the other shoe to drop. It is VERY difficult not to be afraid, but my fear has drawn out of me a quite primal cry to God for rescue and succor, one I could not utter in the midst of the worldly securities I had surrounded myself with, but the cry of oppression and suffering that God ALWAYS hears and acts on. In this I find great hope.

    5. Sabbath still remains for God’s people. Well, only that the Sabbath is a gift from God to his people and we can either choose it or not. Rob Bell makes a wonderful point in his book Jesus Wants to Save Chrisitans about the Sabbath that I find quite compelling. When God brought the Israelites out of Egypt where they had worked 24/7 the Sabbath became a very important hallmark of their exodus, for it gave them a time and place to rest from their labors, and in that rest they could begin to regain the dignity and humanity that slavery had stolen. It was a first step in their exodus from Egypt and likewise, the Sabbath is a first step in the new exodus that everyone who turns to God is now taking out the egypt of our hearts. The Sabbath is a taste of what it means to be fully human in relationship with the divine. It’s a taste of heaven. I wonder if more people rested what kind of world we would have.

    6. Rest is peace and peace is rest.

    Thanks for the opportunity to contribute!