Perfect Peace and Rest

Entire volumes are available on the Biblical subject of rest. You can find Jesus offering us His rest. We are told to rest in the Lord. We are promised eternal rest.

I could go on. The ancients, even the near ancients, lived in a world powered by muscle and lived on the edge of exhaustion. When they heard about rest, they responded. Rest mattered.

We don’t think of rest the same way these days. Sleep is a waste of time, vacations are a thing of the past, there is no, I repeat, absolutely no respect for any kind of weekly sabbath, let alone a year of rest or a year of jubilee. Nothing lies fallow, all things and all persons are either in use or discarded. There is no rest. Ergo, the inevitable partner of rest, which is peace, also is absent.

What takes the place of peace and rest? Absent peace and rest, we have the jangled nerves, the failing spirit, stress, depression, unequaled levels of suicides among veterans and young people.

I would use this homily to argue for peace and rest. The seed of peace is rest, real rest, not a power nap at one’s desk, but real rest. We need, I need, to know where to go to find peace and how to find rest in peace.

On Sunday after worship Joan and I left for her mother’s family Christmas celebration. This is an annual event, all family invited and expected. It is the centerpiece of our Christmas celebrations.

There are too many of us now for her little house, the small frame house on Baxley Drive where she raised her children and still lives to this day. She also drives herself around town, endangering lives and property, but that is another story for another day. I simply mention her independence here to say she has lived long enough her family is too big for her house.

There are too many of us because we have been fruitful and multiplied. Her children are not the issue, nor even her grandchildren. All would fit in the little house, if not comfortably, at least satisfactorily.

The third generation out from Mimi, as she now styles herself, is the issue, when combined with the first two generations. None of us has had the good grace to depart, temporarily or permanently, so there are the children, their mates, our children and now our grandchildren, her great-grandchildren and the sum of the whole is greater than the house of the parts.

And, most of the issue is mine. All four of our children, Joan’s and mine, came up to the celebration after their church duties, with all their children. That is our four, their four mates and the seven offspring, including two new babies, a girl born in September and a very little boy born in November.  If you are counting, that is fifteen from us and little room for anyone else. So, we moved this year from the small frame house on Baxley to a nearby church, renting their family life room and parlor for the afternoon.

There is a half-court gym on one end of the room, with a square, white, wooden backboard and a solid goal for shooting baskets. The floor is one of those all-purpose carpeted surfaces with an ocher color, one not actually occurring in nature but sturdy and rugged, marked appropriately with a free throw line and lane. We each brought two basketballs so the grandchildren could shoot baskets while the adults gossiped. I am convinced the grandchildren would have shot baskets, too, if only they could have pushed their parents off the court, or stolen a ball from them, but, alas, the dads and moms played good collective defense from their children, making shot after shot, all the while explaining to their wailing offspring that their turns would come next, they just had to be a little patient and share.

From my perch near the court, when the thirty something parents would tell their child to wait for awhile, they would get their turn, I thought, “Yes, you are right. They will get their turn. And all they have to do is wait.”

I sat for much of the day in a comfortable armed chair I found in the parlor and carried into the common room. I know I brought it in for someone or other but I didn’t remember who was to get it and, whoever it was, they made no fuss when I sat down, so we were both happy.

The buffet spread on the other end of the common room did not interest me more than a half sandwich and a glass of tea. The new grandchildren (and the older ones) did interest me.

I got the little boy to myself for quite some time. He was born a bit early and is just now seven pounds, but happy and a good snuggler. I got him on my shoulder and then in my lap, where I could see all his expressions. He ran through all his looks for me. He has one where he seems to want to yodel, another with both eyes open and his mouth in a perfect O shape; he appears to want to ask a question. He has one where he furrows his brow pensively and seems to want to wrap himself in a cardigan and have someone bring him his pipe, slippers and a book. He has another surprised look, wherein he looks for the world like a very small man who has just fallen out of a building.

Not everyone was there who might have been. The flu took its toll, as it will, but that is only a temporary issue, one hopes, given proper rest and treatments. There are others who are forever removed from us in this life, whose ghosts I watched move around the room, kept present by the conversation of the later generations. These ghosts are loved ones gone, as the proverb says, but not forgotten, not really, actually dead, just at rest, and rest full of peace.

Which mention, of course, brings me back to where I started, a place you knew I would come to again in this post, since I started out proposing rest and noted its inevitable companion, peace. You have to have peace to have rest, you have to have rest to have peace and neither the body nor the soul can live long or happily without peace and rest.

So, I suppose, the question actually posed here is not an argument as to whether or not we need or even want peace and rest, but, since we know we do want them, what brings us peace and rest?

The stories are told of co-religionists at hateful war with one another, who call a cease-fire for Christmas and then sing Christmas hymns, together, in perfect harmony, across the No Man’s Land of death and dying where they will hurl their frail body’s in grand and gruesome combat the day after next. Apparently, this happened as early as the American Civil War and as late as the War to End All Wars.

For a moment in space and time, death and dying were suspended, so much as men can suspend them, and all souls came together to sing praise to the holiness of God’s Own One Son. I mention this extreme because it is so extreme. Men sworn to kill one another for some political reason, both sides begging God for support, stop the war for the sake of peace and rest, however briefly. Thus fortified they put down their Prayer books and picked up their rifles the next day.

Thus has it ever been with our race. We exhaust ourselves, all our energies and emotions in the commission of actions we suspect God permits but does not laud. Given the moment we call a halt, and, then, we rest in peace.

For  moment, in the cramped old church common room yesterday, holding not the next generation, but the next generation past that next one, I felt, for the moment, at perfect rest in absolute peace. There was surcease to sorrow, even with the bittersweet absence of the departed to their rest, for the sake of the next generation and the one to come after them. All generations must wait their turn to take the court. The success of all the coming generations, I think, will depend on the ability of their predecessors to stop our wars, at least long enough to sing the old Christian hymns of Christ’s birth.

I held the little boy longest because the little girl was asleep next to her loving mother and her doting aunts. The little boy wet through his diaper and his one piece sleeper and got himself all over my dress shirt. He did not apologize, only relaxed a little in my arms and smiled a little toothless grin, his eyes narrowed to slits. He got upset a little later as the warmth cooled, as it always does, and I handed him back to his mother to be changed. The spot on my shirt was large and round, visible and smelly. He had marked me for the day.

I was, for the moment, at the place where perfect peace meets sweet rest.

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