Note: I preached this sermon on 3/3/19 at Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Silver Spring as part of the Way of Love series that we did during Epiphany. You can read more about the Way of Love: Practices for a Jesus-Centered Life on the Episcopal Diocese of Washington website here and on the Episcopal Church USA website here.
“Come to me, all who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 25: 28-30)
Take a deep breath and let it out with a sigh.
Take another deep breath.
We have arrived at the seventh spiritual practice in the Way of Love: Spiritual Practices for a Jesus-Centered Life.
Turn. Learn. Pray. Worship. Bless. Go. Rest.
Turn toward God. Turn toward love. Turn toward generosity and kindness.
Learn. What is new? What do we need to learn again?
Pray. In all things. Every day. Hearts open.
Worship. In community. We need each other.
Bless. We have been consecrated by God for a holy purpose. We have been blessed and through this we can bless.
Go. Cross boundaries, listen deeply, and live like Jesus.
And now Rest.
Take a deep breath. Let it out with a sigh. Take another deep breath. (No, really.)
“Remember the sabbath and keep it holy.”
Rest is an injunction—a commandment!
It’s also a biological need. We are creatures, created with biological needs. We must eat and we must sleep. We are born and eventually, we must die.
Rest is also a gracious, grace-filled, grace-opening invitation.
These are all just words, and the Way of Love is a set of spiritual practices.
I’m going to invite you now into a practice, an experience.
Take a deep breath, and let it out with a sigh.
Find a position that’s relaxed and alert, with some space around you. Move over if you are very close to someone. You want some elbow room.
I’m going to ask you in a moment to bring one hand into the air. Usually I have people do this lying down so that they can only see their own hand. If you’d like to lie down, go ahead. Or turn your body. Or close your eyes. Whatever works for you so that you can have this experience.
Giving ourselves rest is also giving ourselves rest from comparison and judgment.
Now, go ahead and bring one hand in the air.
For 30 seconds, do some smooth movements with your hand.
Now do smooth & fast.
For 30 seconds, do some jerky movement.
Now do jerky & slow.
Make a shape with your hand and hold it.
Make another shape… & another.
Bring your hand in contact with your body or the pew.
Move it to another point of contact.
Now one more.
Now take up as much space as you can with one hand. Find out how far your arm can go.
And take a deep breath.
Now I am going to put on a piece of music and I invite you to play around with the movements of one hand.
(music = Sweet Rain – Stan Getz)
What did you notice? Scoot over or turn until you are near another person. Talk with your partner about anything you noticed in that dance of one hand.
Share out a few words you heard from your partner.
What we just did is called a one-hand dance, and it comes from the practice of InterPlay. InterPlay is based in a series of incremental “forms” —such as this one-hand dance—and it’s one of the ways I create more spaciousness in my life.
That is to say: it is one ways I engage in the spiritual practice of Rest.
Did you know that fine motor movements activate the parasympathetic nervous system?
So does taking a deep breath and letting it out with sigh.
We’ve all heard about the fight/flight/freeze response. That’s what happens when we are in the sympathetic nervous system. That nervous system is all about basic survival. We look at the world as a series of threats. We see enemies. We are rigid. We are anxious.
The parasympathetic nervous system, on the other hand (often called the “rest and digest” nervous system) is all about creativity, connection, and empathy. We see commonalities with others. We have fluidity and nuance in our thinking and moving and being.
On a very practical level, the spiritual practice of rest is the practice of training ourselves to be able to drop back in to the parasympathetic nervous system even when we’ve been activated by a perceived threat.
This can be very hard, especially at first. Much of our culture is based on revving us up so that we can be manipulated more easily, so that we will be anxious and need to assuage our anxiety with food, drink, new clothes, new cars, new houses. Then we can be further anxious because we spent too much money, ate too much, drank too much… And we’re offered judgment and guilt and additional ways to spend our money in an attempt to feel better. We believe (and are led to believe) that we need to speed up in order to get more done.
This is a lie.
Next time you feel your heart pounding, your anxiety mounting, take a deep breath and wiggle your fingers or toes. If you’re alone, you might take 30 seconds to do a hand dance. And then notice what has shifted. On a very physical level, notice if you yawn. Notice if your stomach gurgles. Notice if the palms of your hands or the soles of your feet are tingling. These are signs that you have dropped back into the parasympathetic nervous system.
Come to me, all who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.
My spiritual practices of rest?
No email or Google searches or Facebook on Sundays
What are yours? Take a moment to think about it. (Maybe it’s jogging, or gardening, or cooking…)
True rest is a sacred and radical act. We take on the yoke of this practice and we find that our burdens are lightened. We are not alone. We are not surrounded by enemies. There is, instead, an abundance of connection and play and creativity. The world is still difficult. But we have what we need, together. More than enough.
In his sermon last summer introducing the Way of Love practices, our presiding bishop Michael Curry, quoting Dietrich Bonhoeffer, called upon us throw ourselves into the hands of God… where we might learn to love an enemy… to throw ourselves into the hands of God… where we can be fully at peace and at one with God…
How do we do this? We practice.
Spiritual practices are, as he reminds how, how we practice for when the moment comes and the Spirit moves through us.
We were made to love and to be loved. We were made for both movement and stillness, for wakefulness and sleep, for work and for rest, for birth and life and for death.
Let us throw ourselves into the hands of God, let us throw ourselves into the hands of Jesus, where we can rest and be part of the creative dance that will heal the world.
That is, indeed, the Way of Love.