Aug 31 2014

Be Still

_CES1861It is Labor Day weekend and it would appear most the people I know are quite busy.   Folks have gone to the lake for the weekend,  taken mini-vacations, planned picnics or had family reunions.  All of these things are certainly fun and good in and of themselves.  I wonder, however, if we might not be wiser to spend Labor Day weekend resting from our labors.  Our work life causes most of us to run at a steady if not hectic pace.  We are on the go constantly and eventually this catches up with us.  A number of studies have indicated that one thing a lot of Americans lack is rest.  We are quite good at doing things and being on the go but what we are not so good at is being still and resting.

WA-Olympic-NP-deer-in-lupineSeveral years ago I came across a poster that had the following prayer by Wilfred A. Peterson written on it: “Slow me down, Lord.  Slow me down!  Ease the pounding of my heart by the quieting of my mind. Steady my hurried pace with a vision of the eternal reach of time.  Give me amid the confusion of my day, the calmness of the everlasting hills.  Break the tension of my nerves and muscles with the soothing music of the singing streams that live in my memory. Help me to know the magical restoring power of sleep. Teach me the art of taking minute vacations, of slowing down to look at a flower, to chat with a friend, to pat a dog, to read a few lines from a good book.  Remind me each day of the fable of the hare and the tortoise, that I may know that the race is not always to the swift—that there is more to life than increasing its speed. Let me look upward into the branches of the towering oak and know that it grew great and strong because it grew slowly and well.  Slow me down, Lord, and inspire me to send my roots deep into the soil of life’s enduring values that I may grow toward the stars of my greater destiny.”

TN-GSM-Greenbrier-stream-(h)-I have to return to this prayer periodically to remind myself to slow down.  The pace a lot of us keep is not good for either our physical or spiritual health.  We were never meant to go full-speed all of the time.  God instituted the Sabbath so that we would remember that life is not just about work and doing things.  Neither our bodies or our souls were designed for constant activity.  If we are to enjoy life more completely and experience God more deeply we must learn to slow down.  In Psalm 46:10 we hear God say “Be still, and know that I am God.”  One of the reasons some of us do not feel God’s presence more or see the divine presence in Creation is that we won’t slow down enough to be still.

I hope each of you have a wonderful Labor Day.  By all means do something fun if you can but I encourage you also to take some time to rest from your labors and be still.  That is good advice not just for Labor Day but every day.  Now if I can just remember to do so myself…


(I took the top image at Mt. Baker National Recreation Area, the middle image at Olympic National Park, and the bottom image at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.)


Feb 19 2012

God’s “Rest Marks”

“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” –Jesus

I’m embarrassed to admit it but one of the areas of spirituality and Creation Care that I fail at miserably is the consistent practice of the Sabbath.  You might think that this would not be a problem for someone who is a pastor but for me it truly is.  I know that the Bible calls for Sabbath rest for both man and beast, and I am aware that Jesus practiced this himself.  Still, other than a short nap here or there I seldom take time to rest as the Scriptures command.

Dr. Matthew Sleeth believes that’s the renewal of Sabbath rest is crucial to the health of both humans and Creation.  I’ve heard him say that this must become a priority for us if we want to experience the good life and to heal the earth.  Thankfully, Dr. Sleeth is currently writing a book on the subject, called “24/6”,  that is due out this fall.  I know that it is a book I’ll definitely have to read.

A couple of days ago I was reading Stephen Shortridge’s latest book, Deepest Thanks, Deeper Apologies.  In one of the chapters Stephen offered some interesting comparisons between Sabbath rest and rest marks in a musical score.  He writes: “In a piece of music, the notation for ‘rest’ is a pause in the music.  The rest is as important as the note.  The space that is not filled with music is a space that helps frame the music.  It keeps its meter and holds the melody in place.  The musical rest is a positive filling of that space, not a void.”  Shortridge goes on to say, “The composer of the music carefully placed those rests as parts of the whole.  To remove them changes everything about the music: its meter, its interpretation, even the melody.”

You can probably see where all of this is heading.  “God wrote a piece of music—a symphony, so to speak.  Its notes and directives are contained in His Word.  One of those directives is to rest.”  It would seem that a lot of modern individuals, like myself, have been ignoring or editing out God’s “rest marks.” 

Usually each November I join our church choir so I can sing the Christmas cantata with them.  Ask any choir member, and especially the choir director, and they will tell you I am notorious for missing the rest marks.  I typically sing right through them.  This practice messes up the sound the composer had in mind when he or she wrote the music and diminishes the choir’s presentation.  That’s why everyone in the choir insists I mark and remember where the rests are found. 

I’ve already admitted I’m not very good at observing or practicing God’s “rest marks” either.  This causes trouble for me personally, for those around me, and for Creation as well.  As Shortbridge points out, the pauses God calls for in life “are not empty spaces to be filled; they are opportunities to hear from God and be refreshed in His presence.”  He says that it is in the rest, silence and solitude that “we hear the melodies of God, learn His rhythms, and come to know His song.”  I would add to this, it is also where we come to see God in Creation.

Not only is the importance of rest noted throughout the Scriptures, the same message is proclaimed throughout God’s “Other Book”—Creation.  God has placed “rest marks” in the lives of all living things.  In order to survive animals must rest.  In order to thrive plants must rest too.  There’s a sense in which each night the earth comes to rest as well.  As humans we are no different.  Physically, spiritually, emotionally, and mentally we need rest.  That’s just the way God made us.  When we fail to pay attention to His “rest marks” we suffer, as do all those around us.  I have got to begin paying more attention to the God’s rest marks.  How about you?


(I photographed the whitetail fawn shown above at Shenandoah National Park.  The rhododendron plant was photographed in Tennessee.  I took the picture of my dog, Sierra, in my home.)

Jun 6 2010

Hurry Sickness

Center Creek“Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.” Mark 6:31

In Sunday School this morning we talked about “hurry sickness.”  This isn’t a disease you hear much about today but it is both serious and incredibly prevalent.  Hurry sickness is the condition of always being in a hurry.  It comes from getting caught up in this fast paced world we live in.  Hurry sickness drains our physical energy, causes us to be irritable, and does considerable damage to our relationships (we end up being too busy or tired to give ourselves completely to those we love).  Hurry sickness can be deadly!

The antidote for hurry sickness is slowing down.  Somehow, someway, we have got to learn to slow down.  The book we’re studying suggested that one way we can do this is by practicing solitude.  We all need time away from the rat race.  This can be done in small intervals each day.  Hopefully we can also find a way to practice extended times of solitude on a weekly or monthly basis. 

I think many people would benefit from spending time alone in God’s Creation.  As a general rule, the pace of things seems so much slower in nature.  The plants and animals we see there do not tend to get in a hurry.  Here God’s Creation can serve as our teacher.

Yesterday I took my friend, Steve Ausmus, over to Breaks Interstate Park.  We hiked in the Center Creek area.  After walking a while we both made our way down to the river.  Soon we separated and both of us found rocks to sit on.  This gave us each a chance to experience a bit of solitude in a very beautiful location.  Personally, I find such experiences most refreshing and satisfying to the soul. 

Periodically Jesus would call his disciples to “come apart” for a while.  He realized that his followers did not always need to be busy or doing something.  Things have changed a lot since that time.  Our lives are busier and more hectic than ever.  The need to “come apart” and slow down, however, has not changed.    As a wise person once noted, “if we don’t ‘come apart’ we will come apart.”  If you are suffering from hurry sickness, this would be a great time for you to find some solitude in God’ healing Creation.


(The image above was taken yesterday at Breaks Interstate Park in Kentucky.)

Nov 4 2009

A Time to Rest

Smoky-Mountain-Sabbath-crFrom where I sit fall seems to be quickly coming to an end.  I realize that technically it is only half over but once the leaves come down everything seems different.  Things are quieter now.  It’s almost feels like Creation is taking a rest.  In one sense, I suppose, Creation never rests—something is always happening—but this time of year, in the area where I live, things become a lot stiller. 

From the beginning God has called for rest.  It actually plays a prominent role in Scripture.  We learn in Genesis 2 that God rested on the seventh day of Creation.  Later He would tell His people through Moses that they, too, must rest on the seventh (Sabbbath) day.  Not only were the people to rest, so were the animals.  Later, provision for the land to rest was also included in God’s law.  There can be no denying that rest is part of God’s intention for His Creation. 

A number of years ago I was asked by a hospital to do a photographic representation of the seven days of Creation.  The image above is the one I chose to represent the seventh day.  The colorful leaf in the image rests against a rock in the stream, symbolizing for me the rest we find in God. 

Throughout Creation there are reminders of the need for rest.  Considering our busy helter-skelter lives, they are very much needed reminders.  We all need rest physically, spiritually and emotionally.  Creation declares this loud and clear.  That it does should not surprise us when we remember that the Creator Himself recognized the need for rest and commanded it.    

In the fallen leaves around me I see God’s reminder that we all need periods of rest, times to be still and know that He is God.  The picture above also reminds me to give thanks for a place to rest, on Christ the Solid Rock.