I don’t know about you, but I’m exhausted. April was a crazy month for me, with church meetings, Holy Week, Earth Day, clergy conference, and organizing a baby shower for my expectant daughter and son-in-law. Other faiths celebrated holy days, including Ramadan and Passover in April. All this on top of two-plus years of pandemic and ever-changing COVID protocols. So yes, I’m tired! And I know you’re tired too.
Much of my ministry as interim priest here at St. John’s has been allowing people — encouraging people — to step back, take the time they need to tend to family matters, their health, their souls. In a congregation that has always been active in music and arts and in outreach to the community, but is now aging and not as able to DO, this also brings up anxiety ... “If I don’t do it, who will?”
But maybe there is an opportunity right now in acknowledging that we’re tired, we’re ALL tired. Rather than trying to find more bodies to do stuff in our organizations, maybe we need to create space for rest and offer that to the Cape Ann community. The Hebrew Bible gives us what our current culture does not — the idea of Sabbath, dedicated weekly time set aside for rest, worship and renewal. Jesus regularly sought time away for rest and prayer. St. John’s has a tradition of offering compline, a calm sung service that closes the day and prepares one for sleep. Other traditions emphasize meditation, breathing exercises, stretches and poses that encourage rest and relaxation as part of spiritual practices. Could we support a new-old (and dare I say, subversive?) culture of rest, so that we attend to our bodies, minds and spirits, which have been traumatized by constant change and loss, in addition to what Tricia Hersey calls “grind culture”?
Tricia Hersey founded the Nap Ministry in 2016 on the framework that “rest is resistance.” (Her book, “Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto” is scheduled for release this October.) Her work is based in Black radical thought, womanism, Afrofuturism and liberation theology. She sees rest as not only a basic need but a racial and social justice issue. Capitalism and white supremacy have used and used up bodies — especially the bodies of Black and brown persons — to fuel the economic engine, and they have taught us to value “productivity” over all else. To the detriment of relationships, health, justice, equity and creativity. In all of us.
To that end, opting out of “the grind” is truly an act of resistance. Lying down and taking care of ourselves places value on our bodies, spirits and lives that are larger than what we “produce.” It’s even more radical when we understand how these necessary practices have been systematically denied to so many segments of our society. We need to rest and renew, not only to cope with the current upheavals, but to develop a resilient community that create a new, sustainable, equitable society. Rest IS resistance to the body-, soul- and planet-killing production/consumption-driven society that we have right now. Instead, we need to center and honor all bodies (especially brown and Black bodies) and nurture relationships, to respect natural rhythms of work and rest, growing and dying. To live with less and share what we have. To understand what “enough” is and seek balance in all things. To rest.
What would communal “rest” practices look like? Lying in a darkened hall and listening to beautiful live music at the end of a day? Lying on the beach, looking up at the stars while letting our bodies loosen and relax? Learning the art of breathing well in community and letting prayers or poems wash over you? Listening to singing bowls? Creating art just for the sake of immersing in something not meant to be “productive”? I know all these things may already exist here, but what if we were to be intentional about creating and supporting a culture of rest and renewal? And resistance and justice? How about it? I know I am ready . . .
The Rev. Lise Hildebrandt is the interim priest at St. John’s Episcopal Church in Gloucester and a climate activist. Midweek Musings rotates among Cape Ann clergy.