The rising temperatures and the end of the school year are only two of the indicators that summer has come. Summer usually implies an instinctive change in pace, forced on us by the heat or by those few days off we take from work. We harbour the expectation that summer be a time of rest, but the question that dawns on us all is: do we really know how to rest?
It might be surprising for many of us to realise that in the Book of Exodus, God asks the people He just freed from Egypt to reserve a day that interrupts their weekly routine, a day known as Shabbat: “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labour and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall rest” (Ex 20:8-10).
Both Jews and Christians break off their weekly itinerary to pray and celebrate their faith, to spend time together as a family and to reach out to those in need. “You shall rest” was far from taken as an invitation to be idle, wandering about doing nothing.
Why is it important to dedicate some space and time that is not ‘business as usual’? What difference will it make in the grand scheme of things? Is it worth losing the convenience of doing our shopping when shops are less crowded and parking spaces are more available? Or how many times do we fill our ‘free time’ endlessly scrolling through our feeds on social media, or binge-watching the latest TV shows?
We think we know what resting is about but in reality it is something that frequently eludes us. I might feel physically energised but tired deep within because something is clearly missing in my life. I might take a holiday from which I return even more stressed than I left.
On the other hand, a parent might be physically drained after cooking generously for the whole family, but deep within he/she experiences the joy of resting in the presence of family.
Am I at rest? Do I know who or what gives me rest?
Whether we like it or not, our society is commodity driven. Thus, the commandment to rest might be the hardest for us to live by and embrace. That is why seeking true rest is an act of both “resistance and alternative” (Walter Brueggemann, Sabbath as Resistance).
When we choose to truly rest we refuse to define our lives by what we produce or consume. Experiencing rest with the people who are closest to us means taking the time to really look and see each other, to listen and be listened to, to resist checking on our mobile all the time even when we are together.
Our land and environment also crave to have their rest, so that for once they are not treated as means to enlarge our pockets but as the gifts they were created to be. My true rest should also be an opportunity for those around me to rest as well.
Even God took a break after His creative act, showing that He is no workaholic, that He is not driven by the anxiety of a fully-functioning creation. It also shows that the well-being of creation does not depend on endless work.
The yearly opportunity of rest during the summer months comes as a beckoning reminder to learn the art of rest. It is a time to ‘make it count’, not in money terms but in a deeper sense of fulfilment and gratitude: particularly gratitude for things we did not earn or produce ourselves.
Fr Alex Zammit is a religious priest from the Missionary Society of St Paul. He currently resides in Rome studying for a Master’s in Missiology at the Gregorian University.