Readings: Genesis 1:27, 29-31, 2:1-3, Isaiah 62:1-3, Secrets of Heaven #8893 (see below)
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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’.