Phase of Rest

In today’s Gospel from St. Mark, after the Apostles report to Jesus about their activities, he says to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.”

Not only do we rarely allow ourselves to get away to a deserted place for some extended time with God, but we barely pause in between our various activities to catch our breath. I was in a committee meeting at the law school earlier this week where the issue of the law school schedule came up, specifically that upper class students have only five minutes between the end of one class and the beginning of the next. Apart from the physical difficulty of moving one large group out and another large group into the same classroom within that short time, one of the students observed that the lack of downtime for the students is difficult. They barely have a chance to shift their focus from one subject to the next.

And that kind of scheduling is not unique. We move from activitiy to activity, trying to eke the most out of every day. There are many consequences of this – the rush to get each thing done, the lack of ability to savor any of it, the lack of reflectiveness about what we are doing, and so on.

What brought today’s Gospel and my committee meeting experience together for me was an excerpt from the writings of Brother David Steindl-Rast that my friend John forwarded to me earlier in the week. They are good words to reflect on.

Brother David writes:

When our purposeful work also is meaningful, we will have a good time in the midst of it. Then we will not be so eager to get it over with. If you spend only minutes a day getting this or that over with, you may be squandering days, weeks, years in the course of a lifetime. Meaningless work is a form of killing time. But leisure makes time come alive. The Chinese character for being busy is also made up of two elements: heart and killing. A timely warning. Our very heartbeat is healthy only when it is leisurely.

The heart is a leisurely muscle. It differs from all other muscles. How many push-ups can you make before the muscles in your arms and stomach get so tired that you have to stop? But your heart muscle goes on working for as long as you live. It does not get tired, because there is a phase of rest built into every single heartbeat. Our physical heart works leisurely. And when we speak of the heart in a wider sense, the idea that life-giving leisure lies at the very center is implied. Never to lose sight of that central place of leisure in our life would keep us youthful.

Are you giving yourself enough leisure in your life?

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Come to Me

Today’s Gospel from Matthew is a short statement from Jesus that always has a powerful effect on me. Jesus invites the crowds, “Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” It is an invitation that I feel to the depth of my being at times when I’m feeling overwhelmed and anxious.

The tendency at those times is to sink within ourselves to see only me and my challenges and difficulties. When the gaze is all on me and my difficulties, the burden can seem unbearably heavy. It can seem impossible to carry. But if I can let myself see Jesus in those moments, the burden becomes much lighter. If I can let myself be with Him, to rest in Him, I am refreshed and strengthened.

The reminder that our rest and our strength is in Christ is one we all need now and then. The first Mass reading this Gospel is paired with is the beautiful passage in Isaiah (among the wonderful things about Advent is hearing Isaiah proclaimed every day) where we are told that God “gives strength to the fainting,” renewing our strength so that we can “soar as with eagles’ wings.” With the strength of God, we can “run and not grow weary, walk and not grow faint.”

The invitation to come to Christ – to be refreshed and recharged, to be strengthened by him, is always on the table. It is for us to decide whether to accept the invitation.