Psalm 131 is a picture of perfect contentment.
As mystics like Julian of Norwich and Hildegard of Bingen envisioned, starting with the prophet Isaiah, the Living God is pictured like a mother holding us close to her bed, cradling us in life. Just as a child is quieted and soothed by this experience of being held close to the beating heart of their mother, so we need to let ourselves experience being held, being lift up, being cradled by the Sacred One whose heartbeat flows through all of life.
Often the message I get from the world around me, whether from the media, from the messages I heard growing up about what a “real man” looks like that I still carry with me, from the pressure of bosses and coworkers, from the syllabus for class or the calendar of to do lists, is that I need to carry. I need to man up. I need to carry my load. I need to buck up and just do what needs to be done. Yet if that voice alone is the one I listen to, I find myself exhausted, drained, and heartsick.
The promise not just of Scripture but of what Richard Rohr calls the “perennial tradition” at the heart of all life-giving spiritual traditions of every faith and land is that we are more than grunt laborers, more than automatons working to hold up the ever-grinding image of economies. No we are at heart each people of infinite worth, deserving of love and compassion. Each spiritual tradition envisions this differently, but in the Christian tradition the image is that the Ultimate Reality known by many names but called by us “God” is best known more as a Parent loving a child, a Lover embracing her beloved, a Friend defending his circle of friends even to the death. Ultimately, the Christian message is that we are loved, beloved. Our worth is not based on our output, based on our material success. We have intrinsic worth. Just as you might look at your newborn child and value it, love it, embrace it not for its list of successes or failures – which it has not had time to have yet – but simply because it is your child, so God looks at us all with the eyes of love saying over each of us the same words spoken over Jesus in the Gospels — “This is my Child, the one whom I love, in whom I am well-pleased”.
To be able to sustain our lives with all of their responsibilities and trials, we have to take time to pause, to stop going along with the ever-turning seemingly ceaseless grinding of the wheels of “you must do” which we often seem locked into. We need to take time to experience ourselves as ones full of worth and value, not because of our output but because of our intrinsic worth, simply because we are ourselves. We are children of the King, Queen, or Ruler of Creation, infinitely loved.
One of the things I’ve begun to do to help me with this is a daily meditation practice. In meditation, I stop from the constant focus on what I must do and accomplish and what is lacking in my life. I simply am. I simply focus on my life, on this moment, and on the God who is ever present. As a lifelong southerner, I find myself drawn to do this not in a traditional lotus position like the mystics of the East but on an old fashioned rocking chair. Yes, I do meditation on a rocking chair with a Mason Jar of sweet tea, thank you very much. I am convinced from that experience that my southern ancestors, poor farmers all who lived close to the earth, were onto something with their sitting on the porch in a rocking chair at the end of the day. There is something to the motion of my body while meditating that reminds me of being rocked as a little child in my mother’s arms. I am reminded through that meditation that, as this psalm shows me, whatever tasks lie ahead of me and whatever list of oughts are before me, I am still in the eyes of that Living God a precious child, whose worth lies in simply being and being loved. I am reminded that ultimately I am held, held by arms more capable than my own. Though I must do what lies before me, my worth is not bound up in success and failure. My worth lies in the fact that each moment, however I succeed or fail in the eyes of the world, the One whose heartbeat makes the universe with its galaxies and planets dance in all their orbits is unceasingly looking at me with the eyes of love saying “You are my Child whom I love, in whom I am well-pleased”.
Knowing this in your soul is essential. Your spiritual practice may not be rocking chair meditation and your drink of choice not be sweet tea from a Mason jar, but finding ways daily to connect with your identity as one with intrinsic worth, deserving of being loved, deserving of compassion from yourself and others is key. You may not be a southerner, or even a Christian, but finding the practices that help your rediscover each day that worth will help you sustain your life and reinvigorate your soul.
It is more than just such seemingly spiritual practices as meditation or prayer. Sadly in the West we tend to think of the world of spirit and of flesh, of life-giving awareness and earthy concerns, as separate. So we may see practices like jogging, fishing, laughing, going to a play, writing a poem, working a garden, enjoying our family and friends, as essentially non-spiritual or non-religious.
I think though that these practices, too, can help us renew our sense of worth, value, and push pause on the often crushing tyranny of the oughts. I think for Christians this is modeled in our Scriptures.
It is modelled by Jesus who is often found gathered with friends, food and wine in hand, celebrating his life and theirs. What’s more, it is modeled by a Jesus who often right when the list of oughts before him is the longest leaves the crowd to lonely places simply to be, because he knew that even as God with men & women as humanity to dwell He could not sustain the life of compassion He had come to model without maintaining his own sense of being Beloved, Valuable, of Worth.
I think this is why in the Jewish tradition in which the Christian Old Testament was composed and in which Christianity emerged perhaps the most central spiritual practice is the keeping of Sabbath. Unique in the ancient world the people of God were taught to break the tyranny of the oughts one day in seven, taking one day in which no back-breaking work was to be done. The responsibility was not that day to meet quotas for work, to clean the house, or even to go to church (for the Sabbath command has no mention of going to temple or synagogue for worship). Instead it is to do as God did. In the priestly creation myth of Genesis 1 shared by Jews, Christians, and Muslims alike after 6 days of busy labor, God’s final act of creation is to rest. It is not because God is tired, but because God is modeling the need to take time to delight in the life you have been given. So on day 6, God watches the beauty of the animals, walks in the cool of the garden, listens to the songs of the bird, and takes time to simply enjoy what is and be enjoyed by creation. This practice is not considered a binding rule for Christians in the New Testament to avoid it becoming just another task on our list of oughts, but the principle stands: in order to not lose sight of who we are, we must take regular breaks from the business and strain of the many to do list’s in our lives, simply to delight in life. This delight may be in simple daily activities like gardening, going to the bowling alley, painting, listening to music, or playing with a child. But embracing the delight in your life and the lives of others is a spiritual practice and, as a way of keeping the principle of Sabbath rest, an act of worship.
How do you find ways to put breaks on the breakneck pace of life and hear that voice that calls you Beloved? I’d love to hear your way of finding peace in life’s storms.
Tell me, while I sit and rock a while, Mason Jar in hand.
Your progressive redneck preacher,