by Joseph Nangle, OFM
Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace
June 26, 2022 – Twice each calendar year the sun seems to stop – we call it Solstice (from sol: sun and sistere: stop). For eons these phenomena have given rise to all sorts of observances and rituals. They also lend themselves to long thoughts about time, existence, Planet Earth, and humanity’s ultimate purpose. For Christian-Catholics they remind us of the wonderful truth that we all are called to be co-creators God of the peaceable kingdom.
We need psychic space and time for these profound and challenging thoughts. We need rest. From biblical times God’s law has included a mandate to set aside time and space for the Sabbath (days, weeks and years) of rest.
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a leading Jewish theologian and philosopher of the 20th century, once called Sabbath “sanctuary in time” – periods of safe rest, described as times spent without feeling guilty about things we are not doing. Pope Francis is strong on the requirement of time dedicated to rest while very much aware of the obstacles facing modern people to find space for it in the hyper busy lives we live today. “Rest is so necessary for the health of our minds and bodies, and often difficult to achieve due to the many demands placed on us.” He urges a conscious return to the practice of Sabbath – in our case, Sundays – when we are called to relax and, as the third commandment tells us, “keep holy the Lord’s day.”
In a general audience on September 5, 2018, the pope spoke at length on this subject. He observed that this divine mandate for humanity to rest “sounds easy but there is true rest and false rest.” He said, “[Humans have] never rested as much as today yet has never experienced as much emptiness as today. Opportunities to amuse oneself, to go out, cruises, travels; but many things [like these] do not offer fullness of heart. They do not give you rest.”
This modern prophet also calls our attention to a further dimension of time dedicated to rest – the Earth, which he says also needs a rest. “The Covid pandemic has shown how the earth can recover – if we allow it to rest.” Then the Earth gets the time to clean the air and clear the waters. Always the practical pastoral person that he is, the pope observes that giving the Earth time and space to rest means our adopting simpler lifestyles to help the planet “which is groaning under the constant demand for economic growth.”
Another dimension of this need for resting space is sleep. Again, it seems that many today take pride in sleeping less, so as to do more. And many of us do require much less sleep. However as environmental activist and poet Wendell Berry has written: “Great work is done while we’re asleep.” Everyone has had the experience of waking up and realizing that a solution to one sort of problem or another has occurred to us during our sleeping hours.
The world class theologian of the 20th century, Karl Rahner, has written about a theology of sleep and its values:
- a letting go, surrender
- entrusting oneself to the powers of existence
- an inner relaxation where one is receptive to the instructions seemingly given by God in our sleep
- an act of innocence
- enjoying solid sleep after working hard
Finally, we circle around to the recent summer solstice in the Northern Hemisphere. June 21 marked the beginning of three months when space for rest is most available. Even as we continue with daily obligations, these gentle (if often hot) days lend themselves to a relaxed pace in our lives, “the livin’ is easy.” The season with fullest blooming of trees and flowers with blue skies calls us to “sing joyful songs to the God who made us; shout with joy to the Rock who saves us.” (Psalm 95)
Joe Nangle OFM is a Pax Christi USA Ambassador of Peace. As a member of the Assisi Community in Washington, D.C., he is dedicated to simple living and social change. Joe also serves as the Pastoral Associate for the Latino community at Our Lady Queen of Peace, Arlington, Virginia.