Friday, October 8, 2010


Who isn’t always longing for another quote from St. Augustine? Well, here’s one- “You have made us for yourself, Lord, and our hearts are restless until they rest in you.”

I spent last week on retreat, again, this time in a Catholic Retreat Center just south of Boston. Along a bay, looking over the Atlantic, surrounded by the lush foliage of New England, hesitantly shedding its greens for yellows, and summer warmth with rain. Glorious. For those who don’t know, I take these retreats bi-annually, as part of a group in our denomination called The Bethany Fellows. The organization’s purpose is to nurture and support young adult Disciples clergy, so they bring us (about 40) to retreat centers around the country for a week every six months. There, we worship, laugh, share stories, learn and, my favorite, spend Wednesday in silence.  I believe Don’s (the Bethany leader) idea is that good ministers need deep spirits, and he wants to show us how to get there. As well he should, being one of the deepest souls I know. Ever heard someone quote Philippians 1 from memory- and not just as a rote repetition, but as if those words blaze in the oven of his soul? I have, because Don is that kind of Christian. And these regular weeks of tutelage from that wellspring renew me for ministry more than I can articulate.

This time, during silence, I began reading a book on contemporary spirituality by a thoughtful, open-minded, deep-spirited Catholic priest named Ronald Rolheiser. Its title is “The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality,” and if anyone’s interested in more active spirituality, pick it up. Fr. Rolheiser wrote for all Christians, not simply professional ministers. Heck, I’m enjoying it so much, I’d love to discuss it with you. Anyone up for a book group? Let me know the time and tavern (or coffee shop!), and I’ll be there.

Anyway, back to Augustine, because Rolheiser makes that quote central to his book. Simply put- he believes we’re all restless, so our great spiritual task is learning what to do with this restlessness.

For some, he suggests, we give too much into the restlessness, running all over- volunteer appointment to Board Meeting to Yoga class to Dog Park- trying to experience everything and never slowing down, hoping that somehow, at some point, we’ll end up feeling fulfilled. And we don’t. Because we don’t take time enough to rest in places that can truly “restoreth my soul.”

For others, he claims, the restless impulse isn’t embraced, but suppressed, medicated through foreign substances or mindless TV or late-night Sudoku marathons on the computer. At such times, we’re not sucking the marrow out of life, but are staring at life blankly, like a reluctant date at a community theatre production. But that doesn’t mean we’re rested or content. Often, far from it. We’ve traded the anxiety-ridden feeling of restlessness, for the numbing fog of avoidance or survival.

And at different points in life, either path may be fine. Doing lots of stuff can mean you’re growing and expanding your soul, while contributing to God’s good world. Detaching from the hustle and bustle, letting life continue without your active contribution after, say, finishing a huge project, or experiencing great loss, that can be just what the doctor ordered. But in neither case is life fully balanced. Over time, we want to channel our restlessness- our unrelenting passions- into healthy, creative, unselfish ventures, while seeking places to finally, truly rest.

“Our hearts are restless until they rest in you,” Augustine prayed. And I think he’s right. In God’s presence, we can experience solitude and relationship, active creativity and holy Sabbath. Restless passion can transform into loving ministry, restlessness into rest. Or at least, Rolheiser contends, that’s the promise of Christian spirituality. Not just thinking deep thoughts, or praying pretty prayers, but achieving self-sustaining, ever-renewing balance between rest and activity.

What would that look like in practice? Well, I’m still on chapter three! But it seems worth pondering. How do you find rest in God, and receive energy to live and love with abandon? Or perhaps, to use another term, Spiritual Balance?

Grace and Peace,
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