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Friday, November 11, 2016

Rest


We live in a world filled with unrest. Right now, the United States is full of political unrest. Tuesday night, as the results of the election were becoming more and more obvious that Donald Trump was going to be our next President, I went to bed with a heavy heart. Yet no matter how tired I was, I couldn't sleep. I tossed and turned. I felt no peace about a country being run by a man who had run on a platform espousing hateful rhetoric and division, a man who stood in direct arrogance and contrast to Christ, something that so many other Christians were overlooking. I got only a few hours of sleep and when I awakened the next morning, I found myself filled with a mixture of emotions: anxiety, fear, discouragement, and depressed by the glee and delight many Evangelicals were expressing at the outcome (even those who, prior to the election, had expressed their distrust and dislike of this very same man).

I would find myself, over the next two days, comforting, commiserating, loving, listening and empathizing with many who felt themselves outsiders in their very own country (due to race, religion or sexuality). They shared their hurts and their hearts with me. I felt honored that they would trust their stories and their feelings to me.

The day after the election, I did not go on Facebook. I did not watch the news or listen to NPR. I prayed - a lot - for the division and the hardships our country will now face. I either drove in silence or I listened to music on my iPod. More than once, the hymn "It is Well With My Soul." One was a recording by Sara Groves and the other by Audrey Assad. Throughout the day, I would open my Bible. Each time, I was confronted with verses about how the Lord is with the humble, but brings down the proud, haughty and powerful. The last verse I read was the opening to Psalm 131, "By the waters of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion." And I did. I wept for my broken country.

While reading Saint Augustine's Confessions, I, like many who've read this monumental work, was drawn to these lines, "Thou hast made us for thyself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it finds rest in thee."

Rest.

When we hear this word, we tend to think of taking a nap, going to sleep or on a vacation.

In Hebrew the word for rest is nuach, which means far more than our mere English word does. Nuach means everything from "calm" to "give comfort" to "put aside" to "settle" to "satisfy" to "wait quietly."

I had begun reading theologians like Saint Augustine because of Jeremiah 6:16:


Thus says the Lord:
Stand by the roads, and look,
and ask for the ancient paths,
where the good way is; and walk in it,
and find rest for your souls.

This has been a year of being spiritually unsettled for me. A time of questioning what does it really mean to truly follow this Christ, to be confronted by his Sermon on the Mount, and asking, "Who is this God and this Messiah I claim to follow?"

Going deeper into scripture, reading commentary on it, reading a variety of authors in a wide range of denominations of the faith, I am trying to find my place within the Church. This is not a crisis of faith but a crisis of Church, that was only furthered by this election and what it meant as a witness to nonChristians who were clearly watching us and are now questioning how we can claim to love and follow Jesus but elected a man who was supported by white supremacists, who espoused rhetoric of hate, racism, misogyny, xenophobia, and homophobia. I know there were people that I know who asked me this. I sadly replied, "I don't know. I truly don't." 

So I am praying and seeking God in this, to give me rest. In her novel Evensong, Gail Godwin has one character say, " . . . it is perfectly natural to yearn for a place large enough to contain all your unsightly edges and unsolved mysteries." On earth, that place is intended to be the Church, the body of Christ, but, ultimately, it is to be God.  Just as I feel like an outsider in my country (despite being a white male) and within my own denomination and church. 

"Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest," Jesus tells us in Matthew 11:28.

When I think of resting in him, the first word that always comes to my mind is compassion. In Hebrew and Aramaic, the word usually translated as "compassion" is the plural form of a noun that, in its singular form, means "womb." I love that idea. The compassion of God as a womb. Think of that. In the womb, we are safe. We are completely taken care of. All of our needs are met. We do not worry but simply rest and grow. That is exactly the rest God is calling us to in Him. 

Today, as I sat in the waiting room of my son's play therapist, an older woman came in. She was visibly distraught and in tears. She kept repeating the phrase, "I'm sorry. I'm sorry," over and over. In talking to the receptionist, it came out that this woman was suffering from hallucinations and depression. They called the local hospital to send someone to pick her up so that she could be admitted there. Sitting in a chair, she began to call people on her cell phone. Again, she repeated how sorry she was, how she wasn't herself. She spoke of seeing people who had died. My heart went out to her and I just sat there silently praying for her peace, for her to find mental, physical and spiritual rest. With her, I thought of the second line of "It Is Well With My Soul": When sorrows like sea billows roll.

This woman was in the midst of that sea. 

Our country is in the midst of that sea.

People voted in anger. They voted in fear. Neither of which are fruits of the Spirit. 

During all of this, when I have felt so isolated and alone, I am reminded that I'm not, that it is "Well With My Soul" not because of the Church or the country but because of Christ and Christ alone. He is my "blest assurance." 

And I will seek out others of the faith who can do exactly what Henri Nouwen wrote:

We need loving and caring friends with who we can speak from the depth of our heart. Such friends can take away the paralysis that secrecy creates. They can offer us a safe and sacred place, where we can express our deepest sorrows and joys, and they can confront us in love, challenging us to a greater spiritual maturity.

I want to be with those who love with a Christ-like love that holds another's hurts, fears, doubts and struggles with compassion and without judgment. And I want to love in that way. One of my prayers I keep praying is:

Lord,

In a world of hurt, may I be part of the healing.
In a world of cruelty, may I bring compassion.
In a world where all want to be heard, may I be a listener.

That is my prayer.  To love others irrespective of race, religion, or sexuality. Jesus said, "You will know my disciples by their love." That is how I want to be seen by those who are watching. I was humbled that people who were not Christian, sought me out to have a conversation. That they trusted that I would hear them and love them. Because of the grace and love of Christ, I strive to reflect that in the world to all around me. Martin Luther King, Jr. said it best, "Every genuine expression of love grows out of a consistent and total surrender to God."

This total surrender gives us rest because we don't have to defend ourselves, our positions, our beliefs to others. Instead, it opens us up to truly and only love them. When we grasp that our God is not a tribalistic one but one that expressed His deep and abiding love for us through Christ Jesus, we can let go of our own anger, fears and narcissism. We see everyone as being created in the image of God and are loved by God and are expressions of God. Then we stop defending ourselves and defend those who desperately need us to. We become a voice for the voiceless, stand up for justice for the persecuted and oppressed, and love the lonely and the broken. When we are resting in God, we realize that Dorothy Day was right when she said, "The final word is love."

Jesus said that we were to, "Love God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind: and, to love your neighbor as yourself." I honestly think that the reason so many cannot love their neighbors is they cannot love themselves. And they cannot love themselves because they do not honestly believe they are loved or lovable. When we do not feel loved, we cannot love. When we realize that we are, ultimately, beloved of God then we can freely love others, unconditionally and openly just as Christ did. I pray that the Church realizes (not just as mental assent, but on a deeper, more lasting and spiritual level than head knowledge) this love, rests in it, and loves others with it with great joy and abandon.


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