August 30, 2020

“Self-Care: Rest and Renewal,” Susan Ryder

Genesis 2:1-2
Thus the heavens and the earth were finished, and all their multitude. And on the seventh day God finished the work, and God rested on the seventh day. So God blessed the seventh day and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work done in creation.

Exodus 20:8-11
Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy. For six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God; you shall not do any work — you, your household, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.

Matthew 11:29 Jesus says, “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.”

May Sarton: I always forget how important the empty days are, how important it may be sometimes not to expect to produce anything, even a few lines in a journal. A day when one has not pushed oneself to the limit seems a damaged, damaging day, a sinful day. Not so! The most valuable thing one can do for the psyche, occasionally, is to let it rest, wander, live in the changing light of a room.

Like most of you, I am feeling so exhausted, so weary, especially this week – though I pretty much feel the same way every week this year. From police shooting Jacob Blake in the back seven times in front of his children, paralyzing him; to a white 17 year old from Illinois wounding one and killing two at a protest against Blake’s shooting; to the hateful rhetoric from the political conventions and campaigns; and COVID-19 numbers rising at an alarming rate in McLean County – I just want to put my head under the covers and take a long nap – maybe until 2021? But I can’t do that, I say to myself. I need to stay awake, stay “woke.” There is too much work to be done for me to take time out to rest, to nap. The world cannot afford the luxury of me napping, so I have to keep pressing on, keep fighting for justice, wearing my mask to protect myself and others from the Coronavirus, doing my part to save humanity from itself.

As luck or fate would have it, this week I discovered the work of Tricia Hersey who runs a website called “The Nap Ministry.” Hersey, a performance artist and divinity-school graduate, founded The Nap Ministry in 2016 as an organization that examines the liberating power of naps. From the site: “We engage with the power of performance art, site-specific installations, and community organizing to install sacred and safe spaces for the community to rest together. We facilitate immersive workshops and curate performance art that examines rest as a radical tool for community healing.” Tricia Hersey, whose sleep philosophy is grounded in Black liberation theology and the notion that capitalism and white supremacy are intimately intertwined, says “Capitalism doesn’t care who you are. It wants to use anyone’s body as a tool for production. It wants you to work a hundred hours a week if you can.” And part of the Nap Manifesto, the document that outlines the mission of Nap Ministry, reads: “We believe that rest, and napping, provides a healing portal for us to imagine, to hope, to invent, to create, to heal, to rest, to resist.”

During a Nap Workshop with Hersey, one might see photographs projected onto the wall behind her, images of women and girls at rest interspersed with messages that read, “You are enough,” and “Naps are not lazy. This is an invitation for weary souls to rest.” Hersey walks among the prone bodies as they relax a little more into their mats. “This is a resistance. This is a protest. You are enough. We are enough. Our worth is not caught up in the grind of capitalism. You are welcome here. Sleep. Rest. Nap. Dream. Thank you for living. Thank you for resting. Thank you for loving. Thank you for resisting. The doors are open. Won’t you come? Rest isn’t something you need to earn. When I want to lay down and take a nap, that’s a calling. I should listen to my divine body and wash away the concept that I should have to feel guilt and shame around it. It’s toxic and not true.” Now, while I like napping as much as anyone, Hersey really caught my attention when she wrote: “Rest is a form of resistance because it disrupts and pushes back against capitalism and white supremacy. Rest is Resistance.”

“COVID-19 is teaching us many things, but I suspect this may be one of the most important lessons: Our lives are not defined by what we produce or how many hours we log. The “rat race” is a prison from which we might finally break free.” (Cameron Trimble) Hersey goes on to write: “I am sick of rushing and the obsession with opening back up and getting back to normal. I never want to see normal or the way it was again. It is time for a new way. Rest and slowing down will be the foundation for this liberated future that many are screaming about online via memes, in the streets during the uprisings for Black Lives and in our hearts. We are not well. We are exhausted and disgusted….”

Hersey’s Nap Ministry reminds me of calls for us to take Sabbath time. Sabbath-keeping is an essential component of the Judeo-Christian story, “a taste of the world to come,” a taste of wholeness.  The admonition to keep Sabbath first harkens back to the earliest Hebrew texts, first with the mention of God’s resting on the seventh day in the creation story, and then when God rained manna down from heaven in Exodus 16, promising the Israelites bread for six days as long as they would honor a day of rest on the seventh. It also made it in the “Top 10” of biblical mandates with its placement in the Ten Commandments as Number Four. I find it interesting that in the listing of commandments, all of the other nine begin with “Thou shalt not” do this or that, but regarding the Sabbath it begins, “Remember the Sabbath…” By Jesus’ time, some of the Jewish leaders were taking the Sabbath too literally, and used it against people instead of as a gift from God for the sake of people, and they complained to Jesus when they perceived he and his disciples were breaking the Sabbath. Jesus’ response was to remind them that the Sabbath was made for the sake of humanity; humanity wasn’t created for the sake of the Sabbath.

Jews typically observe Sabbath from sundown Friday to sundown on Saturday, and depending on what kind of tradition one follows, it can include prohibitions against working, spending money, driving; and turning on or off lights, televisions, computers, or any other electrical devices. It is a time to rest, renew, unplug, and take a step back. Women usher in Shabbat by lighting two candles and saying a blessing, and meals begin with a blessing over a cup of wine. Some modern Jews embrace the commandment to “keep and remember” as a means to become conscious of the day, of God, and to act and refrain from acting based on that remembering. For many, Shabbat offers an opportunity to practice living intentionally, as “keep and remember” means to become conscious of who we really are, and as Abraham Heschel said, “to bring together the scattered forces of the self.” While Sabbath is typically considered a Jewish observance, Christians have woven it into our faith experience in various ways as well.

An article from “The Other Side” magazine suggests that the Sabbath was not only intended for personal rest in the Jewish tradition. “Cycles of Sabbath and Jubilee gave the earth itself a chance to recover, and equalized community relationships. Both poor and rich ate the food produced by the untilled land,” and during the Jubilee year no one worked, and all property was redistributed. Obviously “this biblical ethic clashes with a core myth of contemporary culture, wherein we are taught to believe that hard work is what brings rewards, wealth, and maybe even happiness; that those who aren’t making it financially simply aren’t working hard enough; and that working sixty or more hours a week is not unhealthy but honorable.” This certainly resonates with what Tricia Hersey of The Nap Ministry said about capitalism. “Capitalism doesn’t care who you are. It wants to use anyone’s body as a tool for production. It wants you to work a hundred hours a week if you can.”

Monique Parsons agrees: “‘You snooze, you lose’ may not be the official mantra of the 21st century, but in a culture moving at warp speed, don’t be too surprised if it makes the Top 10. We’re hooked in, signed on, trading, buying, selling, dating, checking e-mail, and answering our cell phones around the clock. Take a nap and somebody just might take over your company, steal your girlfriend, or give your job to somebody else.” But, Parsons concludes, in spite of and perhaps because of our fast-paced culture, Sabbath-keeping is becoming a resurrected trend for many spiritual folks as a reaction against what some call “the tyranny of the urgent.” One person she interviewed said that his family has taken up Sabbath-keeping, and offered a typical response. “It’s like a day off from life,” he said. “No checking e-mail, no checking messages. It’s definitely helped my family that we have this one day, this one evening, where everybody is together.” Certainly one benevolent aspect of the quarantine has been that for some families it has forced, or created more opportunities to spend time together. For instance, Bob and I now eat lunch together in our sunroom most days, and play cribbage – neither of which we have done in many years.

In his book Delight in Our Busy Lives, Wayne Muller writes that: “Sabbath time can be a revolutionary challenge to the violence of overwork, mindless accumulation, and the endless multiplication of desires, responsibilities, and accomplishments. Sabbath is a way of being in time where we remember who we are, remember what we know, and taste the gifts of spirit and eternity.”  And in his follow-up book, Sabbath:  Restoring the Sacred Rhythm of Rest, he writes: “In the relentless busyness of modern life, we have lost the rhythm between work and rest. All life requires a rhythm of rest. There is a rhythm in our waking activity and the body’s need for sleep … in the way day dissolves into night, and night into morning … as the active growth of spring and summer is quieted by the necessary dormancy of fall and winter. There is a tidal rhythm, a deep, eternal conversation between the land and the great sea. In our bodies, the heart perceptibly rests after each life-giving beat; the lungs rest between the exhale and the inhale. We have lost this essential rhythm. Our culture invariably supposes that action and accomplishment are better than rest, that doing something — anything — is better than doing nothing. Because of our desire to succeed, to meet these ever-growing expectations, we do not rest. Because we do not rest, we lose our way. We miss the compass points that would show us where to go; we bypass the nourishment that would give us succor. We miss the quiet that would give us wisdom. We miss the joy and love born of effortless delight. Poisoned by this hypnotic belief that good things come only through unceasing determination and tireless effort, we can never truly rest… Our lives are in danger.”

When Jesus said, “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,” perhaps he was telling us about life as it was meant to be lived – gently and balanced between rest and work. Napping or Sabbath-keeping need not be a literal or rigid observance – that defeats the purpose and just adds one more thing to our “to do” lists. Sabbath time for rest and renewal is a gift, which provides us with a healing portal to imagine, hope, invent, create, heal, rest, and yes, to resist. I will close with a reading by Laura Mancuso called “My Commitments to Myself.” As you listen, I invite you to affirm which of these you will commit to for yourself, or jot down others that occur to you as you take time for self-care, rest, and renewal.

My Commitments to Myself by Laura Mancuso
I take care of myself first, because I am deserving of exquisite care.
I take care of myself to maintain the capacity to help others.
I move and stretch my body every day.
I spend time in nature, attuning my senses to the earth’s wisdom.
I ration my daily exposure to the news. I identify and access credible sources of information. I protect myself from becoming overwhelmed by information about the pandemic.
I pace myself.
I sit with the reality of uncertainty and impermanence, and allow it to temper my desire for control.
I listen without judgment to others’ reactions, which may be different from mine.
I forgive myself and others when stress brings out our shadow selves.
I feel fear fully when I am fearful.
I experience sadness fully when I am sad.
I allow anger fully when I am angry.
I relish joy fully when I am joyful.
I seek out healthy pleasures and indulge in them without guilt.
I remind myself that feelings are transient states that move through me. They do not last. And they do not define me. Nor do my thoughts.
I balance my drive for self-improvement with compassionate acceptance of myself as I am right now.
I initiate contact with loved ones to let them know I hold them in my heart.
I seek out, with increased sensitivity, those who are the most vulnerable.
If possible, I share my resources with those who need help to survive.
When possible, I move away from people, situations, and experiences that do not serve my highest good.
I strengthen my connection to my sources of spiritual strength so that I continue to be replenished.
I acknowledge the nearness of death as a key motivator for living a full life.
I pray for the suffering of all beings to cease.
I grieve my losses and celebrate my successes.
I remain open to new ways of being, surprising sources of joy, and unanticipated discoveries every day.