As I noted two weeks ago, I’m pondering the theme of rest in this winter season. It’s ironic because winter here in the Sonoran Desert isn’t about stillness. It actually means an increase in activity on a number of levels. Tucson’s population swells in winter because of the arrival of snowbirds—people who winter here in the desert, then return north after Easter to spend the summer in more temperate climates. This means more people at church, in the stores, at restaurants, and on the roads. The balmy weather and winter rains mean more weeds and the need to be outdoors, keeping them in check. I see a lot of landscaping projects happening around the neighborhood (including in our own back yard). It’s also great weather to be out hiking and biking.
So, where’s the rest here? I was sitting on the ground in our front yard a few evenings ago, digging out weeds and pondering that question. I remove weeds by hand rather than spraying chemicals because I don’t want to further poison Mother Earth. We have a weeding tool that looks like a sharp-sided, flattened loop, but for the most part it just cuts off the weeds at ground level, allowing the roots to restart growing in no time at all. The best way, I feel, to get rid of weeds is to get down with them, insert a hand weeder alongside the root, and pry the whole plant out of the earth.
Yes, it’s a time-consuming and labor-intensive process—and it’s also a true time of rest for me. While I’m “working,” I’m doing a task where I can easily see the results. I don’t have to give it much thought, so my mind is free to wander wherever the Spirit takes me. I’m far away from the computer screen where I spend so much of my days. I’m able to just “be,” in an environment that I love.
Sometimes rest isn’t about being still. Sometimes rest is about doing something very different from the norm. I remember touring a Buddhist monastery in Korea when I was teaching English in Seoul in the mid-1980s. We heard a booming sound, came around the corner, and discovered a monk beating on a huge, round drum that hung from the ceiling of a walkway. The drum was probably six or seven feet tall, because the monk was standing on the walkway and his drumsticks were striking the center of the drum.
After watching him for a while, I realized that the monk was praying. That rhythmic movement was taking the monk deep into an inner stillness, a connection with the divine that was, at that point, a completely foreign concept to me. I have remembered that day and that drum because it taught me an important lesson on the great variety of means we can use to find our way to God. It was an eye-opening moment for me, in my mid-twenties, when I learned that prayer did not always have to look like praying.
In the same way, rest doesn’t always have to look like stillness. I invite you to ponder all the ways you rest—some of which might not look like rest to others.