July 22, 2018 — Rev. Paula Norbert
In the reading from Mark’s Gospel today, we hear of a time when Jesus reconnects with his disciples after they have been out trying to spread the important message of Jesus as well as bringing healing and comfort to those they met along their journeys. It is clear that Jesus understands how tiring the travels and work has been for them and so he says to them, “Come Away with me to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest awhile.” He knows that they had probably become fatigued along their journeys, having met many new people, including those who were not receptive to what they were trying to share, and so he invites them to stay away from the work and travels, from the burdens of their daily lives, and rest. Let us pray, O Holy One, you give us work to create lives of purpose and meaning. Help us to be inspired to take time for rest, for relaxation, and to allow ourselves to just be, knowing that you love us for who we are and not for what we do or what we accomplish. May we allow ourselves the time to step away from the busy moments of our lives to rest in You. Amen.
How often might we dearly wish that someone might offer us the invitation that Jesus extended to his followers, to hear the words of that same invitation…Come away and rest awhile. I recall some years ago, I knew this older couple in Chicago. They had a large family and so at one point when they were younger, the husband had invited his wife to pack a bag, and he drove her to a nearby hotel where he dropped her off, all alone to have a couple of days all to herself. He understood how exhausted she had become and he wanted to give her the gift of a weekend to herself, alone, with no kids and no cleaning or cooking to do. She could sleep if she wanted or read books, watch tv. The time was hers to use as she chose. He wanted to share with her the gift of time away so she might renew herself for their life together as a busy family with demands every day. Years later, when she told me this story, I could still hear how grateful she was for such a thoughtful and concrete expression of care.
We’ve all had times I’m sure when we wished we could stop the world and just get off. Perhaps that’s why summer is a favorite season for so many of us. We remember as children that it was a time when we had endless days to do with as we pleased, no homework, few activities and few responsibilities. Sadly, that’s not true for too many young people these days who often have even busier schedules in the summer than during the school year. It’s a wonder anyone can really relax any more when we are going, going all the time.
In 1955, a lovely book was published entitled Gift From the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. I’m sure almost all of you are familiar with it. Anne Lindbergh had not had the easiest life. Her son was kidnapped as a baby. Her husband was a famous pilot, but I’m not so sure he was a great husband to her. They lived a complicated life and fell into disfavor because of their political views prior to the second World War. At a certain point, she decided she needed time to get away by herself and so this book includes her reflections about life as inspired by her days near the seashore. I read it back in high school, I think, and when I turned to revisit it recently, I saw my mother’s name inside the cover from when she was a recent college graduate. The lessons shared in the book are simple, but they have stayed with me over the years. I’d like to share a few passages this morning for our shared inspiration.
She begins the first chapter in this way, “The beach is not the place to work; to read, write or think. I should have remembered that from other years. Too warm, too damp, too soft for any real mental discipline or sharp flights of spirit. One never learns. Hopefully, one carries down the faded straw bag, lumpy with books, paper…freshly sharpened pencils, lists, and good intentions. The books remain unread, the pencils break their points and the pads rest smooth and umblemished as the cloudless sky. No reading, no writing, no thoughts even-at least, not at first.” (15, 16)
Lindbergh had gone away for her own stay at the beach to think and eventually, she chose to write about her experiences as she said, “in order to think out my own particular patterns of life, work and human relationships.” (p.9) What she discovered is that first, she needed to rest, to really be in the moments and allow herself time to just rest without a plan, without work or tasks to deal with, even to read. It wasn’t really until her second week that her mind began to wake up, to come to life again…beach wise, as she explained. It was only then that she could let her imagination begin to drift, to play and to take in what was right before her eyes, the sea, the shells, the sand under her feet.
“The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient,” she wrote. “To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.”
Over time, she discovers that with patience she is able to glean some important understandings about her own life, about suffering and the complexities of the world, and about what is most important…all drawn from the lessons she learns while gathering sea shells and watching the ebb and flow of the tides. The time away provides her with the rest she needed to come to new understandings. In the final pages she writes, “When we start at the center of ourselves, we discover something worthwhile extending toward the periphery of the circle. We find again some of the joy in the now, some of the peace in the here, some of the love in me and thee which go to make up the kingdom of heaven on earth.” (p. 128)
We know that getting away to rest can take many different forms. Sometimes, we have the opportunity to travel or take time away for vacation. Many of you speak of the incredible gifts that this community offers you each summer when you return here for rest and renewal. There are also times when rest is forced upon us, when we are sick or recovering from surgery and we find ourselves unable to go about our typical daily lives. There have been any number of stories of people, who in a time of recovery, have come to new insights about their lives. And then, there are the times of rest that are forced upon people; for example, at a time of job loss or some other life-changing event.
A few years back, a friend recommended a book to me entitled How Starbucks Changed My Life. It contains the reflections of the author, Michael Gates Gill, after he lost his high-powered position as an executive in an advertising firm in Manhattan. He finds himself invited out for lunch one day only to learn that his position is being cut and that he has lost his job and all the money and prestige that accompanies it in a moment. This short book details his personal saga of trying to find his way back. He had made a lot of mistakes over the years, missed out on many moments in his children’s lives while he was at work, made a lot of poor decisions that hurt others, and with time off and the panic that started to arise that he needed to somehow pay his bills, he comes to new insights about what is really most important in life.
The manager at his local Starbucks watches him day after day sitting at a table, disheartened and trying to fill out applications online, and so she offers him a job. At first he certainly believes that he would be way over- qualified for what the job requires, but in accepting the offer of work and the daily grind and the physical demands of the job, he discovers that maybe he isn’t even up to what is required. What he does find is a community of people, pride in simple tasks of work, a steady paycheck, and important perspective that enables him to reconnect with his adult children on a far deeper level. In the end, he finds that the forced unemployment leads him to a better, simpler life than he would have ever imagined he could be content with, as well as the gift of friends and co-workers who show up for him and for one another.
Many people seek out retreats as a way to step away from their daily lives. Others try to weave into their lives practices that allow them to rest and be renewed each day. I’ve heard some say that even at rest, we should be discerning, that we don’t want to passively accept what is in front of us, like zoning out in front of the tv or doing something that doesn’t in fact renew or refresh us. For many, what is needed is a rest from the daily chores or worries and so for some, that means a game of golf, a walk, or gardening. For others, it comes in the form of playtime with grandchildren or a positive conversation with a dear friend. What is important is to make sure that when we rest, we make time for things that indeed let us rest our minds, our bodies, our spirits, that we rest the parts of us that are working too hard or worrying too much.
Certainly, for Anne Morrow Lindbergh, it meant paying attention to the lovely spiritual lessons that her walks on the beach as she collected shells would provide for her. For those of us who consider ourselves spiritual people, it may mean that we open our spirits up to the healing and peace that may enter us at times of rest. We may invite the Holy One into our deepest thoughts and dreams, be open to the gentle invitation to come away and rest in a deserted place, knowing that the Spirit of our God is always with us.
In the book, An Altar in the World, Barbara Brown Taylor speaks about different ways that we might encounter God in our everyday lives, including practices like walking on the earth (groundedness), paying attention (reverence), getting lost (wilderness), and waking up to God (vision). She also provides a beautiful reflection on wisdom, which comes from practice rather than knowledge: “Wisdom,” she writes, “atrophies if it is not walked on a regular basis.” “The easiest practice of reverence I know,” she writes, “is simply to sit down somewhere outside, preferably near a body of water, and pay attention for at least twenty minutes. It is not necessary to take on the whole world at first. Just take the three square feet of earth on which you are sitting, paying close attention to everything that lives within that small estate” (An Altar in the World).
Her suggestion of taking just 20 minutes out of our days to sit and pay attention to just the space directly around us sounds pretty easy, but I imagine that many of us might even be challenged to carve out even that little time to allow ourselves to just sit and be. One of the great Christian writers in history was Saint Augustine who lived back in the 4th/5th century. He was a Doctor of the Church which meant that he made important contributions to Theological understanding. I will close with one of his famous quotes from a book called The Confessions about his own journey and conversion to Christianity which seems apt for today. He wrote, “Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in Thee.”
Go forth, go into the world.
Go into these warm days of summer.
Enjoy God’s creation and all that God provides.
Celebrate the summertime of the earth
where life is enhanced by rain and long days of sunshine.
Go forth sharing, witnessing and living the Good News. Amen.
Mark 6: 30-36
The apostles gathered around Jesus, and told him all that they had done and taught. 31 He said to them, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. 32 And they went away in the boat to a deserted place by themselves. 33 Now many saw them going and recognized them, and they hurried there on foot from all the towns and arrived ahead of them. 34 As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things. 35 When it grew late, his disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now very late; 36 send them away so that they may go into the surrounding country and villages and buy something for themselves to eat.” 37