Letter to the Congregation July 2020

My Dear Friends,                                                                                          July 2020

When our Lord appears again to the earth, from his servants he’ll require return on his investment.  He’ll expect that we’ve been productive, moved the situation forward, increased our wealth, which is actually his wealth.  And he requires that we will have done all this, without having fallen into the old trap of our heart being lifted up by the accumulation of said wealth: technologies, money, expertise, tools, influence, and, above all, the knowledge of God and fruitfulness in the labor of the Lord.  He wants us to go forward and grow, yet always in the light that our going out and coming in and promotion is from Him.

So being a good and faithful servant includes our increasing.  As we enter the month of July, recall that one important element to being productive is the habit of REST.  Yes, even though I’ve begun this letter by speaking of productivity, we’re actually going to talk vacations here!  VACATION!  By which I mean: For a time, ceasing from mining the minutes and hours of their potential, leaving behind the place of employment, and letting the tools of productivity gather dust.  RELAX!  DON’T WORRY, BE HAPPY.  

New Englanders, do all your Puritanical neurons start firing in resistance to such talk of ease?  Actually, even though our regional ancestors frowned upon some typical celebrations – Christmas, Easter, birthdays – there were plenty of occasions when they refrained from work in order to deliberately rest and enjoy.  Harvest festivals, dances, tavern gatherings, celebrations around marriage and ordinations, recreational fishing – none of these modes of leisure the Puritan frowned upon, especially since they knew that after these interludes, people returned to their work refreshed and eager.  

Of course, in making a place for rest and leisure in their rhythm of life, the Puritans were following the word of God.  Our introduction to God emphasizes that he is a worker, but also one who rests from his work.  In two presentations of the Ten Words, Israel is enjoined to rest one day out of seven, but for two separate reasons: in Exodus 20 they are to rest, following the example of their Creator and Redeemer who rested from his work.  In Deuteronomy 5, the command to rest is in light of the many years of slavery in Egypt when Israel was unable to rest.  Seemingly, unstinting work is a mark of slavery.  But God has redeemed them from these bonds of unceasing, soulless labor with a “mighty hand and outstretched harm.”  So bask in God’s freedom by taking a day off!  

Just a little reflection over the biblical material, and we’ll find plenty other instructive materials around the theme of leisure and rest.  Recall the several holidays sprinkled throughout the year, upon which “You shall not do any ordinary work.”  Recall that the thrice-yearly pilgrimages from their domiciles and to Jerusalem were a kind of forced vacation.  Who remembers why the Babylonian captivity was for the period of 70 years?  {Pause} It was due to the fact that God had commanded that every seven years the land was to be unworked.  But because 70 times Israel hadn’t obeyed by allowing the ground to lay fallow every seven years, they would be sent away from the land for 70 years.  

And there were other rests besides those scheduled into the yearly calendar.  Sometimes after certain strains, the need for an ad hoc rest becomes obvious.  For example, when the disciples returned from their first foray into kingdom proclamation and kingdom work, and after Jesus debriefed them of their mission, he said,“Come off by yourselves; let’s take a break and get a little rest.” (For there was constant coming and going. They didn’t even have time to eat.)  [Mark 6: 31] Surely at Covid time there’s some application to be had from this passage.  

Well, we could keep going with what the bible says about rest.  But since this is meant to be a short letter, may I present you with a few words of advice on rest, via bullet points:

  • Perhaps it’s an irony, but rest and leisure need to be closely attended to and rather fiercely protected.  In one of his collections of essays, this is what C.S. Lewis said: “Our leisure, even our play, is a matter of serious concern.  There is no neutral ground in the universe; every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counterclaimed by Satan…It is a serious matter to choose wholesome recreations.”  
  • Take a day off every single week.  
  • When you rest, don’t try to get things done.  If you play sports on your day off, fine.  But play!  Don’t use your day off to work on your left-hand layups.  On that day, let even that sporting work be let fallow.  And don’t try to get from Point A to Point B on your day off.  Rest!
  • Plan to leave your regular employment two or three times during the year.  Leave the tools behind too, so the manager can’t get to you.  The other day I was with my cousin visiting from Richmond.  While we walked around the river, he took a work call.  Afterward he tried to wax philosophical to me about the benefits of always being available, but when he opened his mouth all I heard was “I’m a slave, I’m a slave…”  (Sorry, Jamie, I love you.)
  • Going back to those Puritans.  They were against recreating around the theater.  Listen to one historian explain why: Plays were “false recreations because they exhausted rather than relaxed the audience and actors.”  Now, I’m not requiring you to buy into that and forego movies on your day off.  But here’s the point: you should be thoughtful and attentive to notice what actually refreshes you.  If you find yourself going away from movies with a vague sense of emptiness and/or unsatisfied longing, consider the possibility that, for you, movies aren’t refreshing, but actually upsetting.  Then, don’t start a campaign against movies, but choose a different avenue of rest.  Main point: when it comes to rest, be thoughtful and willing to be eccentric!
  • Be attentive to the Spirit of Christ and react when He is directing you to “take a break, and get a little rest.”  When you get to the spiritual place where you can’t stop thinking about your work; or you realize that you’ve been under pressure for several months at an end; or you find yourself continually and increasingly irritated with ordinary people; or you’ve become disenchanted with your life as it is – – then is not the time to hop onto Zillow.com or Indeed.com… but to rest.
  • For modern urbanites and suburbanites, perhaps leaving behind civilization and heading into nature should be the go-to for rest.  William Still, a mid-20th century Scottish Presbyterian pastor, also was an author, one with whom you’d do well to be acquainted.  He says this in one his letters to his congregation: “It is a growing conviction with us that holiday time, which is a necessity to those who would maintain a busy life efficiently, needs to be a time of rest, and re-creation.  No environment offers more hope of this than that which gets back as nearly as may be to nature.  By that we mean that those who spend their lives in the confined and artificial environments of man-made city life should choose a holiday which offers the greatest possible scope for getting away from men and his inventions, to let God speak afresh through nature.”
  • That a good segue for this final point: rest and getting away shouldn’t be rest and getting away from God!  To the contrary, use your day off/week, your holidays, and your vacations for extra time in communion with God.  This isn’t included as a token spiritual offering; but rather is an important point about rest.  Jesus has come into rest; He offers rest – who else are you gonna call when you’re overwhelmed.?  

Well, there’s plenty more to be said but this is already overmuch.  For those who endured to read these last lines, let me say something personal.  I enjoy sitting down and hearing about other people’s vacations.  I even enjoy looking at vacation photos.  So, if you’ve had a great time, if you’ve seen some marvelous creation, if your soul has been refreshed, and you want to tell someone about it – – bring memories and photos and a coffee to 23 Chapel, and I’ll gladly take it all in. 

Yours sincerely,

Colin Landry

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