Work and Rest

work-and-restSo here’s a phrase I never thought I would be writing in a mid-week message to my church community: Way to go, Lady Gaga! In the lead up to this last Sunday’s Super Bowl, many had assumed that the outspoken performer would use the opportunity of having the largest television audience on the planet to make a bold political statement. Fortunately, we got just a very good show! What an idea for a halftime show!

I’m not the only one to appreciate the relatively non-political nature of the Super Bowl (besides the fact that it was just an incredible game!). Political discourse, done respectfully and maturely, is a good thing. But it’s also good to take a break from it once in a while. We would do well to learn from the natural world which moves in cycles: day and night, the change of seasons, wakefulness and sleep. Before electricity lit our homes at night, people burned lamps or candles for a few hours after sunset and then went to bed until sunrise. I still remember the days of the national anthem being played at midnight to end the television programming day just before the screen would turn to static and—parents, comfort your children on this one—nothing was on television until the next day! The technology we have created gives us the ability to ignore those cycles, but we will be wise to consider how much we ignore them. One of their benefits was that rest was built into lives of work.

As the Preacher tells us in Ecclesiastes, there is a time for everything under Heaven. There is a time to work, and there’s a time to rest from working. This week is one of the few times during the church year that no fasting as prescribed. It’s a break from fasting, preceding the build up to the Great Fast (Lent) which is quickly approaching. The assumption is that with the work of fasting coming up, it’s good to rest from it for a bit.

St. Anthony, the great ascetic saint and “Father of Monasticism”, was once criticized for allowing his monks to relax for a bit. The story goes like this:

A hunter in the desert saw Father Anthony enjoying himself with the brothers and he was shocked.  Wanting to show him that it was necessary sometimes to meet the needs of the brothers, the elder said to him, “Put an arrow in your bow and shoot it.”  So he did.  The elder then said, “Shoot another,” and he did so.  Then the elder said, “Shoot yet again,” and the hunter replied, “If I bend my bow so much I will break it.”  Then the elder said to him, “It is the same with the work of God.  If we stretch the brothers beyond measure they will soon break.  Sometimes it is necessary to come down to meet their needs.”  When he heard these words the hunter was pierced by remorse and, greatly edified by the elder, he went away. As for the brothers, they went home strengthened.

So, thanks Lady Gaga for the break from politics. Thanks to our Church for the break from fasting this week. Most importantly, thanks be to God who created the world with natural cycles of work and rest, and may we work toward aligning ourselves with those cycles. Times of work will come, and when it’s time to work, let’s work hard. But when the times for rest are given, let’s take them.