Readings: Psalm 23, I Kings 19:9-13, Divine Love & Wisdom 363 (see below)
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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.