The God of rest
In a tour through Egyptian artifacts in the Vatican museums, my companion was amused with the numerous statues of Egyptian gods. “We’re lucky not having to memorize so many gods,” he quipped. “Indeed, but I believe there are more Hindu gods?” Then he pointed to one statue representing some god or goddess. It was portrayed in a sleeping position. There was no identification tag to explain what it was.
My companion said, “This is pretty easy to identify: the sleeping god or goddess!”
A little later, I remembered his comment and realized that our God was also a sleeping God, or better said, one who rested on the seventh day after having created everything in the world. Although God does not need to rest physically because he is a spirit, Scripture wants us to learn how important rest is.
Today, there is a need to recover the original meaning of rest found in the image of a “resting God.” God’s resting teaches a deeper meaning of being at rest: it is a contemplative stance so that one can admire the activities we do.
After every day of creation, the author of Genesis repeats: “God saw that all he had created and saw that it was good.” God does not only work in a mechanical way, but like an artist appreciates his creation and is pleased with it.
This is where the contemplative idea of rest can be derived. It is nothing of the mechanical and routine mode of activism that we often fall into today. Man has become a slave to work. He has reduced work to an end rather than a means to be able to contemplate an activity he shares with God.
Likewise, man’s enslavement to work and its material benefits has also impoverished the contemplative perspective of rest. Rest has been totally dislocated from work, and is now conceived as an escape from the burdens and stress of work.
As a consequence, man finds himself tensely torn between two opposing poles: work and rest. A man finds himself with no choice but to work in order to eat, and the soonest he disconnects from his toil does he drown himself into a “rest” that does nothing but make work more detestable by the second.
Thus, the image of God who rests on the seventh day is a constant reminder of how man’s own physical and spiritual integrity can be achieved through an authentic idea of rest.
It is not the materialistic and individualistic concept of rest as a static state of not-doing-anything to do only what I want away from work and others. Activism is a state that only seedbeds selfishness and vices.
Genuine rest, however, is an active disposition allowing man to contemplate realities that daily routine would otherwise make him appreciate and nurture. It reminds him that he is not only body, mind and heart. Above all, it tells him that he has a soul!
Rest could be described as a “Sabbath of the soul,” as Henri Nouewen once called it. It is learning how to rest in a way that we can possess God more and grow in our capacity to love and serve others even though throughout each weekday we may be tired and stressed by work and other concerns.
This Sabbath for the soul, finds its summit in Sunday worship. It is not only one more day of the week, but the Day of the Lord. It is where the other days ought to revolve and enrich themselves in.
If only we make the effort to prepare for this day, how many fruits will be reaped in family life, work, social engagements and more because our resting in God allows God to also rest in us. And this will allow us to live in and through every reality of our existence in God’s presence.
Man has become a slave to work. He has reduced work to an end rather than a means to be able to contemplate an activity he shares with God.