This is an invitation to rest. But it is a particular kind of rest.
Forty days from today (not counting Sabbaths) is Resurrection Sunday, and we will gather in the Sanctuary for the the culmination of our Four Days with Jesus. There will be singing, and children, and doves, and the deep, joyful hope of Resurrection.
Between now and then, we are invited into quiet rest.
Before he embarked on his public vocation, which would eventually culminate in those final days, Jesus was led into the wilderness where he fasted for forty days and forty nights.
This image would have echoed richly with precedent for early readers of the Gospels. Forty days meant a period of waiting, even testing, before God would bring about a new thing.
In Genesis, it rained for forty days and nights as the floodwaters rose beneath Noah’s ark.
Moses spent forty days and nights fasting on Mt. Sinai before receiving the law from God.
Elijah travelled forty days and nights, fleeing for his life, before encountering God in a still, small voice in a cleft of Mt. Horeb.
The people of Israel wandered for forty years in the wilderness between the Exodus from Egypt and crossing the Jordan River into the land that would become their home.
In our busy, attention-grabbing world, perhaps the kind of waiting, or preparation, we need most is simply to rest. Rest from noisy disagreements, rest from trying hard to figure life out, rest from attempting to manage the universe—if even for a few minutes a day.
I recently listened to pastor and author Eugene Peterson being interviewed by Krista Tippett for her show On Being. Here is how this octogenarian described his daily routine that he has developed over decades. He begins with coffee and a Psalm that he is trying to memorize—which, I imagine, takes some effort, even for him. But what he does next grabbed my attention.
And I just breathe deeply and for another 15, 20, 25 minutes, just try to empty myself of everything. But there’s enough going on through that first entry [of the Psalm] that it seeps into your imagination. And so you’re not really just emptying yourself, you’re emptying yourself of a certain amount of clutter so that the words you really need to know kind of fit in.
His routine reminds me of something I read about at the beginning of the year. There’s a part of the brain that neuroscientists call the Default Mode Network, these powerful brain connections that switch on as soon as we stop working on conscious problem-solving or outward-focused cognition. This highly creative DMN may be what is responsible for those ah-ha moments that come when we’re going for a walk, doing the dishes, or taking a shower, and it may explain why you finally remember that person’s name after you quit trying. (Alex Soojung-Kim Pang, Rest, 2016)
This is scientific language to describe what spiritually wise people seem to have intuited throughout history: the Spirit-work that shapes our live happens through a combination of intentional effort and quiet rest.
Most of us, I’d venture, tend to be better at the intentional effort—the trying, the focusing, the goal-setting, the guilt-wallowing—than the quiet rest part. And while effort matters, without the rest, the effort may be wasted work.
So, we pastors are inviting you into a journey of rest over the next forty days. Our “psalms” will be Jesus’ teachings from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7. Each day we’ll post a brief reflection by various people in our community, which you may choose to accompany you in your rest. (Sign up below to receive them in your inbox each morning.)
And then you decide how you’re going to rest.
Perhaps it’s as simple as delaying picking up your smartphone or laptop for an extra fifteen minutes in the morning.
Maybe it’s drinking your morning coffee mindfully instead of distractedly.
Maybe it’s pausing to read the day’s reflection before backing out of the driveway, then making your commute in silence instead of with radio chatter.
How about scheduling a ten-minute walk after lunch and leaving your phone behind?
Or, if you’re the type who lets your mind wander during exercise, try reading the day’s reflection before you begin your exercise, then let the words quietly do their work while you work out.
Or, you could choose to watch one fewer shows before bed and end the day with a bit of quiet—or meaningful conversation with a family member.
However you choose to rest, know that God’s Spirit will be at work in your mind and heart in ways that bring life.
Welcome to forty days of rest.
PS: If it would be meaningful to you, join our Wednesday evening gatherings to share this journey in community, beginning at 7:00pm this evening in Sierra Vista Chapel. This week, we practice some wonderfully contemporary guidance from Ellen White for mindful living.