Here goes part two! If you have not read the previous post, please do so. It discusses the idea of work, and this post is a continuation that will make much more sense in context.
Having established (I hope) the centrality, beauty, and satisfaction of true work, I now must address the question of its sustenance. If work is love in action, if we are designed to work and work well, how are we able to keep on giving? By receiving. Work’s counterpart is rest; both are meaningless without the other. In a world where being busy is glorified, rest is usually neglected, it’s merits neither instantly gratifying nor quantifiably profitable. However, it is one of the most beautiful and fulfilling parts of life as a human being.
When work is drudgery, we try to escape it through play, a shallow, mindless, futile attempt to deny our circumstances by drowning in entertainment or other consumptive pursuits. This vicious, self-perpetuating cycle is the broken perversion of the self-renewing cycle of work and rest. Even when doing what we love, we cannot continue indefinitely without rest. If work is giving of oneself, creative labor, then one must be filled again. In the creation account in Genesis, God works, His love giving substance and breath. After creating, He rests. Rest is part of the nature of God, from which everything else derives its nature. Can we who are created in the image of God claim to be without need of rest?
Rest can be hard, but it is always fulfilling, always joyful. We are bombarded with so many expectations and messages, a busy life enticing and idealized. However, as humans, we cannot “have it all.” Do you really want to be responsible for “it all”? Part of living is learning to limit oneself, to embrace boundaries, for they direct and refine the scope of our efforts. Spread thin, we leave no legacy; focused, we leave a beautiful, penetrating mark on history. One human limit is the need for rest, without which we cannot work. We must learn to receive, in order to give. When our work is extracted by the compulsion of survival, it is not giving. Giving is voluntary and is birthed of desire, not of guilt. When work is coercion, we tend to defensively react in consumption, a senseless compulsion of self-gratification. Work and rest, giving and receiving, are designed to interact in harmony, while their corruption is a perpetual conflict, both extremes of which enslave us.
Rest is faith in action. It is a risk, for work sustains our life. Consider the Hebrews in the desert for forty years. God’s gift of manna came daily and only lasted for that day, but on the day before the Sabbath, they were to collect enough for the following day, since none would come on their day of rest. Imagine the amount of trust required, in complete reliance on another. Despite the risk, or because of it, rest is free of worry. No chasing or striving, only the humility that is required in the acceptance of a gift. In rest, we acknowledge the reality of our situation, but we deny the panic that would arise at each trial and narrow our view. If we forget the future, the role of rest is diminished, since its effects are not immediately witnessed. Consumption, unlike the clarity and choice of rest, is a denial of circumstances, a temporary illusion of escape that does nothing to ameliorate one’s situation.
Since rest is reliance, it is out of our control. We cannot understand its entirety, and elemental to it is learning to accept and love mystery. Mysteries are uncomfortable matters for us western-minded control freaks, but how long will we deceive ourselves? Mysteries do not contradict reason; rather, they go beyond our own reason, in accord with a reason deeper than we can fathom. Mysteries are wild and beautiful. A poem by Wendell Berry, entitled “The Peace of Wild Things,” states, “I come into the peace of the wild things / who do not tax their lives with forethought / of grief…I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.” Isn’t it wonderful to think that peace and wildness go hand in hand? Too often we think of them as sedation and licentiousness, which are at odds, but this conflict is yet another product of the philosophy that would put things at war within themselves (just like the twisting of work and rest…I love connections). In rest, we are nourished on every level by beauty that is beyond us, which gives abundant life that flows out through us as small re-creations of beauty in our work. When we accept humility in such a way, we learn from that which gives freely to us. The aforementioned poem says “[the wild things] do not tax their lives with forethought of grief,” the very worry that would keep us from rest. God’s nature is the essence of His creation, and as we rest in it, we learn from it. Rest is contentment, to say, “this is enough,” and delight in sufficiency. It is freedom, for in its birdsongs and breeze-whispers, we learn to release our dearly held poisons, the false expectations that would distract our lives from their courses.
As I discussed in last week’s post, work creates the culture of a place. It is human touch and cultivation. Rest is the culture that we have no part in shaping, whose language is unknown, whose dances and songs exist beyond our awareness, beckoning but never begging. It is a culture created by God, more complex and alluring than any that we have created, which enables us to form our own human cultures. The beauty is none that we can possess, but which we may delight in, wonder and wander in. We do not take it and present it as our own, for it would die in essence, like a plucked flower or a caged bird. Rather, we receive its essence into ourselves and produce beauty that is different but hearkens back to its source.
The cycle of work and rest is woven into the identity of all creation. It is death and life in harmony, death never cause for despair, for it leads to life. Suffering and grief give meaning and even birth to celebration and joy. In our lives, to quote Wendell Berry yet again, we must “practice resurrection.”