Spiritual Rest: Finding Sanctuary
Readings: Genesis 1:27, 29-31, 2:1-3, Isaiah 62:1-3, Secrets of Heaven #8893 (see below)
See also on Youtube
Welcome to the seventh and final installment of our sermon series The Seven Types of Rest. I’ve drawn these seven types from the work of Saundra Dalton-Smith M.D. in her book Sacred Rest, and I invite you to check that out if you have any interest. Today, we will be talking about Spiritual Rest.
Last week, we explored the notion of Creative Rest, and the ways that engaging with beauty and wonder enfold us into the ongoing creative forces with which God enlivens the world. Today, we hear in our Genesis text, an ancient poem, that tells a story about the way that God created the world in the beginning.
In the parts we didn’t read, God first says let there be light, God makes the sky, the oceans and the land, God makes plants and all kinds of vegetation, God makes the sun and the moon and the stars, God makes birds, sea creatures and animals. And then, we come to our text for today, the sixth day, when God makes human beings, and places them in a world that will nourish them. We read: God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. So, on the seventh day, God is said to have rested from all this creating.
In the Swedenborgian perspective, we don’t see this as a literal story of how the Earth came to be, nor only just an ancient oral tradition, but as a metaphor for the spiritual life of a human being. The beginning of Genesis tells the story of the creation of the world, while at the same time, at a deeper level, tells the story of the creation of our internal lives. The details of all of that will make another fun series some time, but for the purposes of our topic today, we will skip right to the end. The Seventh Day, the holy day of rest, represents a stage in our spiritual development when we have assimilated divine love and truth so deeply that it is written on our hearts. Swedenborg writes:
For people whose character is heavenly…[their] inner life is patterned in such a way that the Lord enters into their understanding, reason, and knowledge by way of love and the convictions of love. (1)
Meaning that, this is a point when our acceptance of divine love toward ourself and others is so instinctual that there is no longer a time when we need to think about the right thing to do, we no longer need to convince ourselves via our conscience to do the right and loving thing, we just do it. Love drives us first and foremost. We might describe this as being a fully integrated person; we are so open to the flow of God that our external thinking doesn’t get in the way of being kind and loving. This state of flow or integration allows for the experience of maximum spiritual freedom and is thus represented by the seventh “day of rest.”
Because God blesses this day and sanctifies it, the Abrahamic traditions followed it as a spiritual practice. But, it is important to note that in this story at least, we are talking about God resting. So on one level, God in Genesis models rest, and advocates for cyclical, consistent rest *for us,* in the blessing of the Sabbath. But in a spiritual sense, what this story is telling us is that God does *not* rest until *we* each reach the seventh day. In the process of our ongoing creation, God continues to want what is best for us, and continues to work for that no matter what. This is a most incredible gift, a steadfast love and concern that the Bible often praises. In this sense, the seventh day is holy not just because of the what God did and said in Genesis, but because of what God continues to do for our spiritual development, for us and with us, now.
So, how do we connect these two things conceptually? Why is what God does important to our own practice of spiritual rest? Because our ability to receive spiritual rest is anchored in the notion of sanctuary. Dr. Dalton-Smith defines sanctuary in this context as “a secure place where protection reigns and comfort is received.”(2) Other definitions include the term refuge.
God certainly desires and needs our partnership in the co-creation of our spiritual path. But it is important to recognize that this partnership is a partnership of consent, not a partnership of power. We are not the source of love, life, and truth, God is. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a true partnership to you, but what it actually allows for is for *us* to be able to rest. It allows for us to be able to let go and find sanctuary.
Spiritual people are called God's work after they have developed a heavenly nature, because the Lord has fought for them all on his own. He is the one who has made, formed, and created them. That is why this verse says that God completed his work on the seventh day and, twice, that he rested from all his work…creating people anew — regenerating them — is the Lord's work alone…Because we have done none of the fighting ourselves — the Lord does all the fighting for us — he is the one said to rest. (3)
We can receive spiritual rest, we can rest from our spiritual labors, because we know that God never does. We can rest because fundamentally, we are not God. We are not the source, we are beneficiaries of the source. There might be times when we are really feeling our various accomplishments, when we might trick ourselves into thinking that we are the source, that it is all up to us, that we might just be able to control everything we need to control. But can we truly rest when we are in this headspace? Can we truly find sanctuary? Of course not.
What makes the Sabbath holy is that it is an occasion when we recognize our limits. And our earthly selves may well be thinking: Yuck, what an unpleasant realization! How can something as inherently depressing as recognizing our limits be holy?” It is holy because the recognition of our limits cannot be separated from the recognition that God has our back. God would never ever have created human beings without the basic operating set-up of God’s complete and unending support. What a monstrous God it would be to create human beings and then only conditionally engage with them. That God does not exist. Instead, God created us, and promised to walk with us always, promised to fight continually on our behalf until the only thing needed anymore was the presence and flow of love. This is what the creation story in Genesis pictures. It like the way a parent holds on to a bicycle which a child is still learning to ride, running alongside, steadying the bike, as we learn how to balance, how much pressure to give the pedals, how to keep the handlebars straight. And then, suddenly, balance is found and off we ride, and our heavenly parent can let go and watch us fly. They are not gone, they are still watching and cheering, but a fundamental new capacity has been gained by us, and The Parent doesn’t need to run anymore.
We can find spiritual rest, spiritual sanctuary, in the holiness of the promise of the seventh day. God will not let go of the bike until then. Not a single moment before we are ready. And so, we don’t have to hold it all, we don’t have to hold the seriousness and the weight of our entire spiritual journey all the time. We can joyfully surrender it to The One who is running alongside.
None but those who have experienced a state of peace can appreciate the nature of the peaceful tranquillity that the outer self enjoys when there is an end to struggle, or to the disquiet of burning desires and misconceptions. That state is so joyful that it surpasses all our notions of joy. It is not simply an end to our struggles but a vibrancy welling up from deep-seated peace, affecting our outer being beyond the capacity of words to describe it. (4)
Genesis 1:27, 29-31, 2:1-3
27 So God created humankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.
29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. 31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.
2:1 Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array. 2 By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. 3 Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, for Jerusalem’s sake I will not remain quiet, till her vindication shines out like the dawn, her salvation like a blazing torch. 2 The nations will see your vindication, and all kings your glory; you will be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will bestow. 3 You will be a crown of splendor in the LORD’s hand, a royal diadem in the hand of your God.
Secrets of Heaven #8893
'And rested on the seventh day' means that at that time peace and the good of love are present. This is clear from the meaning of 'resting' as peace; and from the meaning of 'the seventh day' as the state of celestial love, and therefore what is holy. The reason why 'resting on the seventh day' means peace and the good of love is that before a person has been regenerated or created anew there is no serenity or rest, since their natural life engages in conflict at that time with their spiritual life and wishes to have dominion over it. Consequently the Lord at that time labours, for He fights for the person against the hells that attack. But as soon as the good of love has been implanted conflict comes to an end, and rest takes over; for now the person is brought into heaven and is led by the Lord in accord with the laws of order there, and so is at peace. These things are meant by 'Jehovah's rest on the seventh day’.
Readings: Psalm 148, Divine Providence 3:2
See also on Youtube
Photo credit: Aaron Burden from Pexels
Welcome to the sixth installment of our sermon series The Seven Types of Rest. I’ve drawn these seven types from the work of Saundra Dalton-Smith M.D. in her book Sacred Rest, and I invite you to check that out if you have any interest. Today, we will be talking about Creative Rest.
In the psalms especially, like in our text of Psalm 148 today, there is a lot of imagery devoted to the beauty of the earth, and praising God for creating it. From prehistoric cave paintings to ancient texts, art, craftsmanship, we can gather that human beings have always had the capacity to appreciate and participate in the beauty that surrounds them. There is something very fundamental, elemental, sacred that is evoked when engaging in….
Dr. Dalton-Smith defines creative rest as “the rest one finds when immersed in creative beauty.” (1) But she warns that creative rest should not be relegated to something “just for creative people, or [something] that will result in a work of creativity, like art or music.” Instead, creative rest, or to use another phrase, creative renewal, is a practice that feeds our “basic need for wonder.” (97). For many, this basic need goes hand in hand with some artistic endeavor, but that is not the case for everyone. The basic need for wonder can be fulfilled in a multitude of ways. The important part is accepting the invitation to see beauty, and to let it affect us and change us.
Sometimes, we let our personal hang-ups get in the way pursuing creative rest in the ways that will fulfill us the most.
Bronwen Mayer Henry, currently a working artist in high demand, in her book Radioactive Painting, relates the unconscious narrative that she adopted in high school art class:
“I loved the class. It was challenging and fulfilling. But it was in this class—sitting alongside so many stunning artists—that I formed an identity as a second-class artist. Each week when we had critiques, to my surprise, I did fine. Yet looking around the room, I knew I wasn’t the best. Some people had raw talent of breathtaking proportions…that clear knowing led to a second, more debilitating conclusion: I wasn’t the best and therefore I shouldn’t continue…
Today, when people describe to me their “not good enough” feelings, I look them in the eye and say, “Who cares if you are the best? Does it make your heart soar? If so, by all means do it!” (2)
The author Elizabeth Gilbert, in her book Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, continues this line of permission-giving:
“If you’re alive, you’re a creative person. You and I and everyone you know are descended from tens of thousands of years of makers. Decorators, tinkerers, story tellers, dancers, explorers, fiddlers, drummers, builders, growers, problem-solvers, and embellishers—these are our common ancestors.
The guardians of high culture will try to convince you that the arts belong on to a chosen few, but they are wrong and they are also annoying. We are all the chosen few. We are all makers by design…Your creativity is way older than you are, way older than any of us. Your very body and your very being are perfectly designed to live in collaboration with inspiration, and inspiration is still trying to find you—the same way it hunted down your ancestors. All of which is to say: You do not need a permission slip from the principal’s office to live a creative life. Or if you do worry that you need a permission slip—there, I just gave it to you. I just wrote it on the back of an old shopping list. Consider yourself fully accredited. Now go make something.” (3)
Yes! So, let’s make something. And, that something might be something outside of yourself, like a cake or a poem or a painting. But also, just as important, when we interact with beauty we are additionally given the opportunity to create something inside of us. When wonder arises within us, no matter where or how we found it, this is a creative act also. Wonder is an emotion that is inherently creative because what it does is it creates space within us. When we wonder, we are opening up, making space for feeling and thinking and seeing new things. Wonder is a suspended space, in which anything could happen, in which we are impressionable, malleable, we are God-facing instead of self-facing. And so because of that state of openness, In the practice of creative renewal, *we* are what is being made anew. Whether we accompany that being-made-new with a traditionally artistic practice, or we accompany it with a walk in the woods, or listening to music, or something else, it doesn’t really matter. Creative renewal both rebuilds the parts of us that have been broken down, and engineers the building of parts of us that we didn’t even know we needed. Wonder is a sacred and necessary force.
And this is one of the reasons I love the Swedenborg reading for today, in which the Swedenborg the scientist is sincerely nerding out over the beauty, the intricacies, the design of the natural world. “Collect your wits” he says “and look through a good microscope and you will see incredible things,” like some over-enthusiastic high school science teacher, and I am 100% there for it. Because he is right. There are so many opportunities for wonder in our amazing world; taking the time to notice this fact is a powerful spiritual practice. But what he says next is even more powerful. He invites us to consider the source. Beyond the wow factor of how pretty or majestic something is, he invites us to consider that God’s divine love and wisdom is written into the design of everything, and that because God is an engaged rather than distant God, that this love and wisdom continues to pour into the world even now. He writes:
This is not just something that happened at its creation; it is something that has been happening constantly ever since. Maintenance is constant creation, just as enduring is a constant coming into being.
Which brings us back around to wonder and the fact that wonder re-creates us. When we intentionally engage in beauty and creative renewal, when we experience wonder, we are engaged in the constant creation of our own selfhood, and this enfolds us ever more fully into the ways that God is constantly creating the whole of the world, the whole of existence. When we behold the beauty of existence, when we open to the wonder that results from this beholding, we fall into the slipstream of constant creation and we become an inexorable part of it. We are enfolded into the beauty and take our place within it.
Many of the other types of rest we have talked about—physical, mental, emotional, sensory—these are focused on restoring “what already is.” They work to renew something that we already have by blessed design, and we just need to be sure that we are refilling the cup, paying attention, doing the work needed so we can be whole and thriving. Creative renewal starts out in “what already is,” in terms of the fact that we already have the capacity for creativity and wonder, but it doesn’t stay there. It is a jumping off point for “what could be.” Creative rest is rest because in a moment of wonder, we don’t have to keep our grasp on what we think we are, we can let go. We can surrender our agendas and our striving and just let God be God. We can praise: 2 Praise God, all you angels; praise God, all the heavenly host. 3 Praise God, sun and moon; praise God, all you shining stars. 4 Praise God, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies. 5 Let them praise the name of the LORD.
1 Praise the LORD. Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights above. 2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his heavenly hosts. 3 Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars. 4 Praise him, you highest heavens and you waters above the skies. 5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for at his command they were created, 6 and he established them for ever and ever— he issued a decree that will never pass away. 7 Praise the LORD from the earth, you great sea creatures and all ocean depths, 8 lightning and hail, snow and clouds, stormy winds that do his bidding, 9 you mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars, 10 wild animals and all cattle, small creatures and flying birds, 11 kings of the earth and all nations, you princes and all rulers on earth, 12 young men and women, old men and children. 13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens. 14 And he has raised up for his people a horn, the praise of all his faithful servants, of Israel, the people close to his heart. Praise the LORD.
Divine Providence #3
3. 1. The universe as a whole and in every detail was created out of divine love, by means of divine wisdom.
 Everything that meets our eyes in this world can serve to convince us that the universe and absolutely everything in it was created out of divine love by means of divine wisdom. Take any particular thing and look at it with some wisdom, and this will be clear. Look at a tree--or its seed, its fruit, its flower, or its leaf. Collect your wits and look through a good microscope and you will see incredible things; and the deeper things that you cannot see are even more incredible. Look at the design of the sequence by which a tree grows from its seed all the way to a new seed, and ask yourself, "In this whole process, is there not a constant effort toward ongoing self-propagation?" The goal it is headed for is a seed that has a new power to reproduce. If you are willing to think spiritually (and you can if you want to), surely you see wisdom in this. Then too, if you are willing to press your spiritual thinking further, surely you see that this power does not come from the seed or from our world's sun, which is nothing but fire, but that it was put into the seed by a creator God who has infinite wisdom. This is not just something that happened at its creation; it is something that has been happening constantly ever since. Maintenance is constant creation, just as enduring is a constant coming into being.
Social Rest: Restful Relationship
Readings: Psalm 36:5-9, John 13:1, 4-9, 12-17, 34-35, Secrets of heaven #2057:2 (see below)
See also on Youtube
Photo by Josh Willink from Pexels
Welcome to the fifth installment of our sermon series The Seven Types of Rest. I’ve drawn these seven types from the work of Saundra Dalton-Smith M.D. in her book Sacred Rest, and I invite you to check that out if you have any interest. Today, we will be talking about Social Rest and restful relationships.
I sort of engineered this particular topic to fall close to Valentine’s Day because we will already be saturated by images of romantic relationships, and I thought that our discussion today might be able to provide an interesting counter-point or accompaniment to that.
St. Valentine was a Roman priest who was martyred some time in the late 3rd Century BCE, and whose feast day falls on February 14th. Legend has it that he was imprisoned for marrying Christian couples during a time of Christian persecution in Rome. It is said that he would cut hearts from parchment to give to persecuted Christians as a reminder of God’s love, which is perhaps the genesis of the use of hearts of Valentine’s Day (1)
And if these legends are true, St. Valentine was someone who was willing to risk his life for relationship; the relationship of Christians with their God, and with each other. That kind of passion and self-less love is admirable, even if viewed through the rose-colored glasses of historical legend.
There are two key ways of thinking about social rest. The first is the necessity of a rest from superficial relationships. When I say superficial, I don’t necessarily mean to be derogatory, although we all know how exhausting actually toxic relationships can be. By superficial I really just mean the regular relationships that we encounter in our everyday lives, online or IRL, not terribly deep. People we work with, various acquaintances, clerks in a store, students in the same classroom; I’m sure we can all think of many other examples. These relationships will represent varying levels of engagement and satisfaction, but they also require energy from us and eventually we all need a break from them. Introverts will probably feel this more acutely, and be more aware of the need for this type of social rest.
But the second type of social rest is not a movement away from relationship but further into safe and restful relationship. This is also an important human need. We are social animals and we gravitate toward connecting with each other. Relationships become restful spaces when they embody acceptance and compassion, when they make space for vulnerability, and when truth is spoken with love and openness. We can see how much restful relationship is connected then to the authenticity we spoke about a few weeks ago with Emotional Rest.
To quote poet Adrienne Rich “An honorable human relationship, that is, one in which two people have the right to use the word “love,” is a process of deepening the truths they can tell each other. It is important to do this because it breaks down human self-delusion and isolation.” (2)
The truth of the matter is that we can be surrounded by people and still feel alone. Human self-delusion or isolation is not necessarily a direct function of our total social contact. We can still feel alone inside an abundance of superficial relationship, or we can feel alone inside an abundance of our own pride, inside our own fortress of self-righteousness. More relationship cannot actually replace the need for restful relationship.
But it is when we are able to have the courage to tell each other the truth with love, and the courage to hear that truth, and as a result we are seen and valued as ourselves, this is restful relationship. Though it might ultimately feel peaceful, it is certainly not passive, and though it might involve love, it is not always or only romantic. Dr. Dalton-Smith writes “social rest is how we practice the give-and-take of authentically vulnerable relationships”(3). Any relationship that is able to comfort and revive us is a restful one, restoring the part of us that was built to connect with others.
And, the ultimate manifestation of this type of relationship is our relationship with God. Despite all the ways in the Bible in which God is described as angry and vengeful, Swedenborg tells us that this is just an outer appearance, the way God has been described by human beings, and that the true reality is that God cannot even look at us with a frown (4). Imagine removing any sense of conditional love or disappointment or striving for worthiness from a relationship; this is what we have with God. There is nothing to fear, we are known and loved as we are, and being known and loved in such a way is deeply deeply restful. God wants that for us, with God and with each other.
In our story from John, Jesus gives words to this desire. “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another (John 13:34). God desires that we take the steadfast love God offers to us (as I have loved you) and try to offer that to each other (so you must love one another). The love of God is used as model to help us understand the expansive way we are called to love each other. And, we see this love embodied in the way that Jesus ministers to the disciples by washing their feet. He was opening up their relationship to a new level of vulnerability and service, and certainly the disciples felt uncomfortable at first. But they came to understand what Jesus was doing, pushing them to redefine how they were to love their neighbor, how they were to embody restful relationship for each other.
Because, what makes this type of rest different from the others we have talked about so far, is that the notion of restful relationship is necessarily a communal one. All the other types of rest—physical, mental, emotional, sensory—are ones that we are invited to make time for, or reclaim space for, for ourselves. And there is certainly an aspect of social rest that can follow that same vein: the importance of reclaiming space when we need time alone. But the part of social rest that involves restful relationship; this we cannot do alone. To get social rest, we must rely on another person. It is a type of rest that we all have to embody together.
And this brings us to the mystical wonder of Swedenborg’s vision of heaven: that in giving ourselves wholly to mutual love, the practice of loving our neighbor more than ourselves, this produces a cohesive and connected whole, an inter-related and inter-dependent whole that has the quality of single human being. Not of course in a literal sense, but in a metaphorical one; that the ways that so many individuals become one heaven is similar to the way that so many individual cells in our body become one being —all working together in harmony for a single purpose.
But the mystical wonder goes even further than that. Our Swedenborg reading today spoke of the fact that even in this heavenly oneness of form, each person functions like the center point. In visions of oneness we often think of individuality receding but instead individuality becomes, paradoxically, even more central. This is the strange and wonderful gift of the spiritual life: that the more we love others, the more we strive to embody restful relationship for others, the more we focus on the other rather than ourselves, the more deeply we are woven into the fabric of community, and the more deeply we can experience *our* authentic selves. I don’t know about you, but this seems like an amazing thing to be celebrating on Valentine’s Day, and something that St. Valentine himself would likely be completely on board with.
This week’s type of rest is different because we can’t actually control receiving it; we can’t control other people. But what we *can* do is work on embodying restful relationship for others, and make space for the restful relationships we have. What we can do is devote ourselves to a vision of mutual love that will ultimately connect us. We can ask ourselves, how can I be a steadfast, safe, open, loving, truthful and compassionate space for others? I’m not sure how all that fits on a candy heart, but I’m sure the result will be just as sweet. Amen.
5 Your love, LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. 6 Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep. You, LORD, preserve both people and animals. 7 How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings. 8 They feast on the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. 9 For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.
John 13:1, 4-9, 12-17, 34-35
1 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end…4 so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. 6 He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” 7 Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” 8 “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” 9 “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”
12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. 16 Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
34 “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
Secrets of Heaven 2057:2
 Mutual love in heaven consists in those there loving their neighbour more than themselves, and as a result the whole of heaven represents so to speak one human being; for by means of mutual love from the Lord all are associated together in that way. Consequently every manifestation of happiness possessed by all is communicated to each individual, and that possessed by each individual to all. The heavenly form produced by this is such that everyone is so to speak a kind of centre point, thus the centre point of communications and therefore of manifestations of happiness from all. And this takes place in accordance with all the variant forms of that love, which are countless. And because those in whom that love reigns experience supreme happiness in being able to communicate to others that which flows into them, and to do so from the heart, the communication consequently becomes perpetual and eternal.
Readings: Psalm 23, I Kings 19:9-13, Divine Love & Wisdom 363 (see below)
See also on Youtube
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Welcome to the fourth installment of our sermon series The Seven Types of Rest. I’ve drawn these seven types from the work of Saundra Dalton-Smith M.D. in her book Sacred Rest, and I invite you to check that out if you have any interest. Today, we will be talking about Sensory Rest.
Our senses are the most amazing gift. They are the means through which we experience life, the means through which we experience joy and pain and *everything.* They are also dynamic, growing as we challenge them, compensating for other senses as the need requires.
But, we also live in an extremely intense time period for our senses. We are surrounded by technological innovations that contribute to that sensory load: the sound of cars and truck on nearby roads, bright lights during the nighttime, all kinds of entertainment content available for streaming whenever we choose, abundant food highly engineered for our tastes, and of course, our ubiquitous phones, providing an unending and addictive stream of information and fascination.
Our senses, like any other human capacity, can get overloaded. And the ways that the senses become overloaded will be unique to each of our contexts, depending on the ways that we spend our time, including our various responsibilities and vocations. Many times we don’t even get to choose how and when our senses are engaged. So, an important focus of our attention to rest has to also include an awareness of which of our senses need to rest and renew. We need to ask ourselves the question: when do we need to intentionally withdraw form some kind of sensory input, even if just for a moment. And I say, even if just for a moment, because there are a couple of dynamics here. Sometimes our sensory load is not fully in our control. Picture mothers of young children being on touch overload, a cashier in a busy market on sight overload, students after a long day at school being on sound overload. Even a moment of sensory renewal in those contexts can go a long way.
But another dynamic is that some products and industries and people try to “capture” our sensory attention for profit, via exploitation of our natural inclinations. (Ahem, social media, I’m looking at you). And in these cases it is important that we learn to “reclaim” our sensory balance so that we can function well. Some of the most powerful scriptures, like our texts for today, speak of the restoration of God being deeply present in quietness and gentleness.
Now, I am acutely aware of the irony here, because I am bringing this exploration to you in the form of sensory input, you are hearing and seeing me, many of you through a screen. So if any of you wish to reclaim some of your sensory integrity and turn me off, you have my complete support! Really, you do! For those who remain, we’re going to do a guided meditation around gratitude for the senses. Our senses are so ingrained, so integral to our experiences, that like many things we do naturally, we might take them for granted. So, this meditation is designed to cultivate gratitude and awareness around the gift of the senses, so that in the rest of our everyday lives, we might be reminded to give our senses the renewal that they need. Some relevant lines of scripture will also be woven in to the meditation.
But first quick word: in exploring gratitude for our senses, we will come face to face with the reality that some of our senses have diminished over time, or experienced another kind of challenge. I invite you to hold any vulnerability or sadness gently alongside the gratitude; all those feelings belong.
So, let’s begin.
First, take a moment to settle into your seat, take a deep breath, let it out slowly. We’ll begin with an energy exercise to embody gratitude and renewal to one of our most important senses, our sight. If you are wearing glasses, and you are able, I invite you to take them off and put them down within reach for a moment. Now, put your palms together and rub them, like you would if you were trying to stay warm. Work up some heat, as much as you can. And, immediately place the heel of your palms gently on top of your eyes and fold the rest of your hands over your forehead. Take a deep slow breath, and feel the warmth and the energy from your hands enter into your eyes and your forehead. Just sit with that for a moment, and let your eyes be ministered to. Send them love and thanks for all they do.
Psalm 16:8 I keep my eyes always on the LORD. With him at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Now return your hands to your side or your lap. Take another deep breath and close your eyes. Let us bring our attention to our hearing. Let us give thanks for the ways that our hearing connects us to our world, connects us to our deepest emotions. We are now going to enter into a moment of silence…but of course, it won’t be complete silence will it? Let us attend to the noises that we hear in our surroundings, perhaps small things we wouldn’t normally be paying attention to. Hold them in the gentle space of your hearing and then let them go.
Moment of silence - 30 seconds
Habakkuk 2:20 The LORD is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.
Now, let us take another deep breath, this time feeling the breath as it goes in and out of our noses. We give thanks for the sense of smell, for the way it co-mingles and accesses our emotion and memory so directly, for the way it brings us back in memory so instantly, for the way it connects us, particle by particle, to our environment. Take another breath, knowing that as we breathe, we take in the air around us, we take it in - inside our bodies. We assimilate the oxygen that we need and breath out the carbon dioxide. We are in a dynamic balance with the space we are in, partaking of that space through our breath. Our sense of smell is on the forefront on this ability.
John 12:3 Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.
Let us continue with our intentional breathing, and now focus on a sense very connected to smell - taste. Let us feel our breath moving over our tongue and mouth, down our trachea and deep into our lungs. Just as we bring air into our bodies for sustenance, so too we bring nutrients in the form of food. We give thanks that our sense of taste makes that necessity so enjoyable and varied, that we can taste even the smallest of variations that connects us to how and where our food came from, the sun and the earth from which our food arises.
Psalm 34:8 Taste and see that the LORD is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
Finally, take a deep breath and put your hand on your heart. Feel the warmth and pressure of that gentle nurturing gesture, as we give thanks for the gift of touch, a sense that grounds us deeply within our space and and within our movements, a sense that allows us to communicate care and love.
Luke 24:39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.”
Let us now take on final breath, as we bring ourselves back into our various spaces. In a moment we will celebrate communion together, another hallowed ritual which is a celebration of the senses. May we continue in gratitude.
1 A Psalm of David. The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters. 3 He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness For His name's sake. 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me 5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life; And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.
I Kings 19:9-13
9 There he went into a cave and spent the night. And the word of the LORD came to him: “What are you doing here, Elijah?” 10 He replied, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God Almighty. The Israelites have rejected your covenant, torn down your altars, and put your prophets to death with the sword. I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too.” 11 The LORD said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the LORD, but the LORD was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the LORD was not in the earthquake. 12 After the earthquake came a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. 13 When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?"
Divine Love and Wisdom 363
Love and wisdom, and the volition and discernment that come from them, constitute our very life. Hardly anyone knows what life is. When people think about it, it seems like something ethereal, something with no specific image. It seems like this because people do not know that only God is life and that his life is divine love and wisdom. We can see from this that the life in us is nothing else and that there is life in us to the extent that we accept it.
…our senses are derived from [love and wisdom], our sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch, with their own pleasures and satisfactions. The appearance is that our eye is seeing, but our discernment is seeing through our eye, which is why we ascribe sight to our discernment. The appearance is that our ear is hearing, but our discernment is hearing through our ear. This is why we speak of the attentiveness and listening that are actually functions of discernment as "hearing." The appearance is that our nostrils smell and that our tongue tastes, but discernment is smelling with its perceptiveness and is tasting as well; so we refer to perceptiveness as smelling and tasting, and so on. The wellsprings of all these functions are love and wisdom; we can therefore tell that these two constitute our life.