a little something extra

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sabbath 6

This week's chapter was a mixed bag for me. Some things Muller says were bang on, from my point of view. Others displayed Muller's biases in ways that are ultimately not helpful to me.

The title of the chapter is Fear of Rest. In it, Muller discusses the reasons people tend to fill every little bit of their time with Something To Do. Some people, he postulates, do this out of an overdeveloped sense of responsibility, or even guilt, feeling like their stopping to rest requires that others suffer more, longer. Others, he says, fill their time in order to avoid the emptiness that (he believes) sits inside every one of us, and can drain our sense of self-worth. Still others, he suggests, keep moving all the time in order to stay ahead of the accumulated weight and momentum of the griefs and losses in their lives. Both these latter populations fear that if they stop and encounter the thing they're trying to escape (emptiness, loss and grief) they will be consumed by it.

Muller himself praises the emptiness, linking it to the Kabbalist concept of ein sof, "the infinite." If we touch this state, by stopping and permitting silence to catch up with us, Muller says we can receive the gifts that only come when a person is in a state of rest. When Muller describes the rewards of this practice, I find we are almost at opposite poles. He says "Prayer, touch, kindness, fragrance -- all those things live in rest, and not in speed."

Prayer -- I find prayer shows up wherever I have the presence of mind to think of it, including when I'm running very fast indeed. In addition, Muller may presume a level of faith I am not fortunate enough to share.

Touch -- from whom? of whom? This is Muller's bias about people not living alone, or people not being alone. Either way, it's a missed shot.

Kindness -- again, from whom / to whom? Same as the above.

Fragrance -- I'm giving him this one on grounds of poetic license, but I'm laughing at him all the same.

I'm really glad that Tripp is reading this chapter, because one of the lines in it reminded me especially of him and the challenges he faces in his first full-time pastoral job. After telling a story of a massage therapist who succumbed to overwork and linking it to the tale of the woman who anointed Jesus with expensive oil and earned rebuke from the apostles, Muller says,

Just as there is time for every purpose under heaven, so there is a time for nourishment and joy, especially among those who would serve.

I'm also glad that Cristopher is reading this chapter, and he has asked me particularly to talk about my experience worshipping in silence with the Quakers. As most of my small band of readers will know, I attended an unprogrammed Quaker Meeting in Atlanta for about two years before I moved to California. In an unprogrammed Meeting, the worshippers sit in silence until and unless someone is inspired with a message that they believe has divine origins. That person delivers the message as simply and briefly as possible, and then the congregation returns to silence. I have attended some Meetings where the messages flew relatively thick and fast, and others where the silence was never interrupted, even once, by a single message.

Reading about Quakers and Quakerism, I discovered frequent mention of a phenomenon usually named a "Gathered Meeting." That term was used to describe an ineffable union of consciousness that linked all the worshippers at a Meeting in their silence. It's the Quaker version of transcendence. I never experienced it myself, but I liked the silent worship very much indeed.

What a worshipper was supposed to do in the silence was not pray as we typically think of prayer, where we throw words at God and hope God will respond positively. Instead, we were trying to hear God's voice inside us. Not only is that where the messages for the congregation came from, but it was the source of God's intervention and instruction in our own lives, help in our own struggles, and ideally, some measure of peace.

Back to the chapter for a moment. The place where Muller reached me most directly in this chapter was in his diagnostic mode. I definitely carry more than a touch of what he calls "fear of rest." I think I fall squarely into his category of people who keep moving all the time in order to stay one step ahead of the massive weight of grief and loss I've experienced so far. This is less of a crisis than it has been in the past -- partly because I've learned to incorporate loss and grief better than I used to, and partly because I am less frantically in constant motion than I used to be. But the temptation is still pretty strong.

Muller's exercise didn't reach me as well this week, partly because it displays again his bias about people not living alone. The exercise involves creating a deliberate Sabbath period of silence, which might be a designated part of a day, or the duration of a designated activity like a long walk. This isn't as directly applicable to my life, because who am I going to not-talk to? Maybe I'm not drawn to this exercise because I already have the practice of seeking silence pretty deeply ingrained in my life.

Interestingly, Muller includes a poem in this chapter, one of whose verses reminds me of an insight I picked up a year or two ago, and returned to many times since. Now I can't remember who the author was (bonus points to any of you who can figure it out) but the idea went as follows:

Think of the thing you can least bear the thought of losing.

Know that you will, for sure, lose that thing.

Sounds terribly depressing at first glance, doesn't it? But for me, it helped to balance out my fear of future losses, based on my experience of losses in my past. Muller includes a poem by Jill Bialosky with this verse, which made the link in my mind:

I know how difficult it is,
always balancing and weighing,
it takes years and many transformations;
and always another loss to stop for,

to send you backwards.

Why do you worry so,
when none of us is spared?


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