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“Practicing Rest” – September 19th, 2021

Sep 19, 2021

Our theme this month is possibility. Which, in my mind, can’t be fully considered without reflecting on what feels impossible. And I was thinking on this over the week and it brought to mind a great woman I have the honor of calling friend–who taught me about the possible that can be unearthed in and out of the seemingly impossible.

Five years ago I worked as a Chaplain at a long-term health care facility called Hebrew Senior Life–not too far from here in Dedham.  And what made Hebrew Senior Life special was not only its incredible memory care unit, which is where I worked, but because it also was a place that taught me about spiritual care through a Jewish lens, for the residents, and my co-workers were predominately Jewish.

My supervisor and mentor at Hebrew Senior Life was Rabbi Beth, this is the great woman I mentioned earlier. Formidable, passionate, grounded, and a deeply faithful woman.

And her life was full, to say the least. She worked endless hours at Hebrew Senior Life–is a leader in her field; she worked in the community and was passionate about service and justice; She was a parent to three children, from 7 to 14, living out their complicated lives–she carried several cell phones in her pockets; she made use of apps that tracked where her family was–little dots moving around the city–alerts pinging and dinging all day. She served on school boards. She was fierce in her mothering. And she was fierce in her mentoring and spiritual care work.

I consistently found myself perplexed by how she was doing all of this. It all felt impossible.

On Fridays Rabbi Beth was on her most urgent of errands. She came to work early so that she could leave early. I have memories of her racing out the door with bags and papers flying. Before sundown she would cook furiously, while simultaneously doing the week’s laundry and cleaning. Her husband and kids would join her when they got home–hauling in groceries, taking out trash. Sending off those last communications on their computers.  Powering down their phones. Preparing. Urgently. And then Sabbath began at sundown. Shabbat. To cease. And then they would raise their Kiddush cups, close their eyes, sing and pray and offer blessing and thanks to life and love and their God-given right to cease. Over the next 24 hours Rabbi Beth and her family would cultivate and practice rest. In all its forms. And the possibility of time in a time-crunched, impossible week, stretched out before them. These are her words.

The great Jewish activist and theologian Abraham Heschel writes that, “The Sabbath is a sanctuary we build, a sanctuary in time…” He says that, “In the tempestuous ocean of time and toil there are islands of stillness where human beings may enter a harbor and reclaim their dignity. The island (Heschel writes) is the seventh day, the Sabbath, a day of detachment from things, instruments and practical affairs as well as of attachment to the spirit.”

I love that. Attachment to the spirit. And when I hear this word ‘spirit’, when I consider attachment to it, I know it to mean plumbing the depths of ourselves and gently piecing back together the scattered parts of our blessed beings. The quiet place, deep inside that is wise beyond measure. Some of us might call this a God place, some of us the Divine human spark place. The hallowed Earthen place. No matter what you call it, I genuinely believe we are always being called home to it and that it is a place of great and Mysterious possibility. Of timelessness and of rest.  I sense many of you know this.

And I sense you also know well the feeling of de-tachment. The busy life that has us toiling at all hours. The impossible, impenetrable time-crunch that keeps us from ourselves. I would say we are all, all, victims of a system that has told us that to rest is to be lazy, or sick, or incompetent. That we should apologize for needing it. It is a fact, that we live in a culture that prizes the multi-tasker and over-functioner. Celebrates those who say yes and yes and yes.

And all of this good work and yes in the world is wonderful. But I would say we are out of balance here.

And look, I know this feeling of being out of balance well. I can’t count how many times I have felt rest to be impossible. But really, it’s not that I don’t have time, it’s that I have lost the capacity to sit still in it, quiet myself in some way. Or really notice much of anything. Not unlike auto-pilot driving. Do you know this? Miles of terrain covered, how? I have no memory of getting from there to here. I for sure know I’m detached when I am exhausted, scattered. Out of time. Not present. How did I get from there to here?

So in our current context here–the contemporary reality that wants to keep us in perpetual, impossible motion, the Sabbath calls us home to ourselves and creates a sanctuary that insists on our precious lives as not being defined by production, consumption and the inertia of labor. The radical, Sabbath reminds us that rest is not a privilege but a human right. A dignity. The Sabbath unveils possibility and spaciousness. Abundance and care.

It was about halfway through my year of chaplaincy–an extremely harried time in my life–that I asked Rabbi Beth to teach me and my family how to rest. For we need teachers in this. At first, it was two hours Saturday morning, then four. Then it became Tuesday night too–an evening of unplugged, powered down blessed ceasing. And at first it was stressful–because we had to work hard to put it in place. And then there was the discomfort of dealing with the piled-up emails and work that amassed. There were many times that I wondered if the rest was worth the pains of preparation and re-entry. And this is not to speak of the pains of resting itself–for Friends I am no stranger to being afraid of stillness and the interior life. Oh God, what might I encounter in myself if I powered down? I have found that hard as it is, the reward is great. That, yes, a thousand times over, making this kind of time is worth it.

The title of my sermon today is Practicing Rest. Because Dearest Ones, rest is a practice. A discipline–one that I put in place from sundown on Sunday to sundown on Monday. And as with all spiritual practices and disciplines, Sometimes I am great at it, other times it’s a struggle.

But no matter what it is, it’s a time I have come to look forward to. I rest to re-calibrate. I rest to contemplate. I rest to find joy and play and gladness in the blessing that is my imperfect body and mind and life. I rest in the possibility that is wait. And I have found this practice to pour into my living-in-and-with-the-world week–for the possibility of wait and breath and stillness is everywhere. Sabbath helps us to practice noticing it and knowing it when we see it. It’s a well, to return to our metaphor from last week, it’s a well I draw from all week long. It makes the impossible possible.

These are difficult times. And I so honor those of you who can’t seem to find a moment’s peace in your lives. And I honor those of you who feel like every day has become one of ceasing–and you long for re-connection with life and your fellows. We are not all in the same place here. I so get that. Over this coming week I invite you to explore the quality of rest that you currently practice, or desperately long for. You might consider writing about this or creating a piece of art or music that embodies this. You might share this with someone here in this community. Begin here–consider this for yourselves.

And if you are struggling with lack of rest, and would like to find time for this practice, my door is open to you. It would be my great honor to companion you in this. To practice Sabbath with you. I hope you hear that. And I hope you take me up on that.

Let’s listen to some of Rev. Jan Richardson’s words again:

For now
hear me when I say
all you need to do
is to still yourself
is to turn toward one another
is to stay.

Wait and see what comes…
Wait for it. Still yourself. Stay.

May it be so and Amen.

Reverend Sophia Lyons
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Rev. Sophia is committed to radical welcome and spreading the good news that is our bold Unitarian Universalist faith. Some of her areas of interest include interfaith partnerships, addictions ministry, spiritual direction, and working towards collective liberation for all. Rev. Sophia aspires to live her life and fulfill her ministry guided by spiritual seeking, big love, and the seven principles of Unitarian Universalism.

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