Rest: the last note of every song

August 6, 2014

Have you ever found yourself in Orchestra Hall so caught up in the music you become suspended somewhere high overhead just waiting for the silence at the song’s end to carry you, like a crisp autumn leaf, slowly and gently back down, into your seat?

I’ve heard a composer plea with contemporary audiences to wait at the end of a song just performed, to pause and delay their applause just long enough to let silence be heard as the song’s last note. It is the silence, this composer said, that completes the song. It is the silence that brings the music to rest – both in the performance hall and in the bones of our own listening bodies.

So, too, the practice of Sabbath reminds us that all the busy work of our lives will not be completed until we have paused and experienced rest as the last, finishing touch of our tasks. The ancient rabbis taught that the first Sabbath mentioned in the Bible – the seventh day in the creation story when God rested – was the day that creation was completed, as menuha, meaning tranquility, serenity, peace and repose, first came into being.

It’s been a busy year in my life, with very little rest and repose. Having a book published in the same year that my work as both a chaplain and a literary minister took off has kept me running, often without a weekly day of rest. Adding in new family responsibilities for my aging father and a new puppy made it even more demanding.

Last Sunday, I preached on the topic of Sabbath. Now, taking my own message to heart, for the next month and a half, I am taking more days of rest. Having trimmed back my commitments, I have saved a few days each week to put my feet up and rest a bit. To listen to the silence (and the birdsong) of the summer days. To go biking with my sweetie  and swimming with my puppy. To linger in the backyard after dinner. To dip my canoe paddle into the quiet waters of the wilderness lakes on the Canadian border. And along the way, I hope to discover how these silences and days of rest might complete the work that has kept me so very busy for so very long.

What are the practices of rest and repose that create tranquility in your life, and how might they complete the work of your busier days?

Whether you take a month or a week, a day or even a single hour to rest, I invite you to pause and make room for silence. If you’d like to write about this, you’ll find a writing prompt on Sabbath here.

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