A Standing Ground by Wendell Berry:
However just and anxious I have been
I will stop and step back
from the crowd of those who may agree
with what I say, and be apart.
There is no earthly promise of life or peace
but where the roots branch and weave
their patient silent passages in the dark;
uprooted, I have been furious without an aim.
I am not bound for any public place,
but for ground of my own
where I have planted vines and orchard trees,
and in the heat of the day climbed up
into the healing shadow of the woods.
Better than any argument is to rise at dawn
and pick dew-wet berries in a cup.
I have a print of this poem hanging in my office, at my place of work reminding me of one of the greatest gifts of this Christian life is to cease the temptation to produce produce produce, create create create out of our own striving and our own ambition and instead find rest in the vine, in the spirit, and submit to the spirit’s leading as they produce good fruit in us and through us.
The concept of rest as good and holy is a foreign one in the world we live in, especially for those of us here in the U.S.
The writer of Genesis 2 tells us: Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
The seventh day wasn’t holy because of all that God created. It was holy because God rested.
Today I want to examine something I need to explore for myself as a contemplative activist.
Because we weren’t made for constant outrage and anger and stimulation of screens and a 24 hour news cycle.
No. We need space to be silent. We need permission to be still. And God, the creator of all things who rested and called it holy, has given that permission to us.
So I want to push back on something that I, myself believe and have said
Silence is violence.
Inaction is injustice – or at least complicity of it.
These make for great social media slogans. We like to share them because they are powerful, and they are true in many cases. But these sayings we hand letter on pretty squares for our feed fail to make space for the real nuance of the decisions we make for ourselves and our lives. Decisions that often have been made with a careful discernment unseen by others.
Silence can be selfish, sure. One’s decision to keep quiet can be complicit to another’s violence, yes. But silence can, too, be holy. Stillness can be good. Rest can be necessary. It’s on us to know the difference.
You may already know that I’m not one to stay silent on issues that are of great passion and importance to me, issues I’ve invested much of my life studying and learning about and advocating for. But the truth is that I can’t possibly speak up for all the things with wisdom. My wisdom has its limitations. My knowledge of truth has limitations. So does yours.
Thank God we have the Holy Spirit with us as a guide in this life that sometimes pushes us beyond our own human limits.
We have good intentions to work ourselves into the ground, to advocate for the oppressed and the vulnerable, and do it detached from the source of all life – the vine, the Christ. The ultimate liberator.
It’s on us. Yes. But it’s not on us alone.
Do I believe in speaking up? Yes. Do I believe in action and advocacy and activism? I do.
But I also believe in rest. And stillness. And quiet.
And I believe that these things are essential in our work for restoration, for reconciliation, for renewal.
I think sometimes the most radical resistance we can do is to protect our own health. And I think we do this by starting with rest, by courage to step away from the noise and the try hard life.
And there are plenty of voices that will try to shame you for your stillness. I’ve probably been one of those voices in my eagerness for justice. I know I am often that voice in my own head.
God tells us to Be Still. But God doesn’t ask for us to Stay Still.
Being connected to the vine is important as we discern, as we partner with the Holy Spirit, to do good and hard and holy work in this world – to set people free, to make peace, to bring light in dark places and show love and to extend hope even when it’s hard.
This episode releases the week that marks one year since Covid-19 first shut down the United States, when we sheltered in place, and were asked to stay home.
Some of us were forced beyond our will to Be Still.
Some of us embraced this season of extended stillness.
Others have struggled in this unusual season.
Whether we meant for it to be or not, the last year has been one of either rest, or restlessness. And the coming months will be ones of renewal. A resuming after an interruption. A repairing of sorts.
Some of us will reflect what we’ve learned about ourselves, about rest and about stillness over this last year. The unexpected gifts that we were given while we were at home.
We have been anticipating returning to normal – or perhaps a new normal. And considering what rhythms we want to leave behind, what rhythms we want to bring with us into our post-Covid lives. We have created new rhythms.
I’m hopeful that this season of renewal will lead us into healthier ways of living and moving through this world as we reintegrate in our communities, with our communities, our churches and our people.
And what I hope we can bring with us into our new normals is a greater appreciation and value of the slow way, the still, the restful. And I hope we are able to see the fruit – the dew-wet berries – that is harvested from the rest. That the good work that we produce, and the good art that we create, will be an overflow of that harvest. An overflow of good, rather than a distraction from good.
May we not grow weary of doing good. (Galatians 6:9)
Friend, God wants rest FOR us. Not from us.
In Matthew 11 Jesus says: “Come to me, all who are struggling hard and carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. Put on my yoke, and learn from me. I’m gentle and humble. And you will find rest for yourselves. My yoke is easy to bear, and my burden is light.”
I also love how The Message gracefully phrases this passage: “Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”
Take a moment to accept this invitation Jesus is extending for us to rest.
Ask Jesus to help you learn to live freely and lightly.
Thank him for his gentleness, for being a soft place to land in all of our restlessness.
Ask him for his presence to go with you and give you rest as move forward into new rhythms, a new normal.
Now let’s respond to a God who wants to lead us beside still waters, who wants to restore our souls.
Lectio Divina is an ancient liturgical practice for praying the scriptures. It is a Latin phrase that means “sacred reading.” It is a way of praying and listening for the still, small voice of God speaking through gentle reading or listening of scripture. Lectio Divina has also been known as “listening with the ear of the heart.”
As you settle into a place of loving openness, in a posture or position to listen more deeply, I’m going to read from Psalm 23 three times. After each reading, there will be a moment of silence.
In this first reading from Psalm 23, listen for a word or a phrase that draws your attention.
In this second reading, consider how this passage touches your life today.
In this third reading of the scripture, consider if there is an invitation for you in this coming week.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
He restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
May your light break forth like the dawn
May your renewal come quickly
Or may it come the slow way
That’s for you to decide
May your presence be with us while we wait
May you give rest to our restless hearts.
Be with us in our becoming
Renew our minds
Renew our bodies
Renew our spirit
So that as we establish our new rhythms
Your light may shine
That they may see your Very Good work
That we may see your Very Good work