Sunday, July 15, 2018

Come Away and Rest Awhile

Sixteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time Year B

The first thing I do when I wake up in the morning is to pray the Divine Office. Before you think of applauding my seemingly pious efforts or think that I’m attempting to elicit some positive appraisal from you, it would be good for you to know what I have to struggle with almost every day. First, I have to fight off the grogginess and sleepiness; being alert in the morning isn’t a strong point for me. Second, I have to fight off the temptation to check my emails, my messages and of course, my diary. Already, a whole bucket list (an endless one) of things-to-do is racing through my mind and anxiety begins to build up. Third, I know that if I put off praying in the morning, I would simply neglect it and forget all about it in the busyness of the day. I can resonate with the White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland as he shouts, “I’m late! I’m late!” No time to be wasted. Sometimes I feel like telling God, “Lord, you’re wasting my precious time.”  For some people wasting time is a source of guilt (I would fall into the “heavy guilt” category), for others it’s a way of life. You know what I'm talking about.

But today, our Lord invites His apostles and all of us to simply waste time with Him. Time with the Lord is never wasted time. We can imagine the apostles tired and weary after a long day of preaching and ministering, coupled with the emotionally draining news of the death of St John the Baptist. They must have been overwhelmed by the mobs that thronged the place. The gospel tells us that they were so busy, the “apostles had no time even to eat.” How many of us relate to that? I know I do. Or, mothers know how it feels when your little ones don’t even give you two minutes of peace to use the bathroom. Or it could be the non-stop interruptions you have when you are trying to finish a project before the deadline.

The apostles had been busy ‘building’ the Kingdom of God, or at least, that was what they thought. In truth, they were building their own little kingdoms, behaving like mini-saviours, making themselves indispensable and now returning to the Lord to boast of their achievements (“all they had done and taught”), holding up their report cards whilst beaming from ear to ear, hoping to get some affirmation and approval from the Lord. But instead, the Lord seems to ignore all their efforts and cuts to the chase. What they need more than anything else is not a pat on the back or a certificate for a job well done, but away time, quality time with the Lord. In their busyness, in their incessant desire to perform and to please the Lord, they had forgotten that what is most crucial is their own spiritual well-being – their relationship with the Lord. They needed to empty themselves of their ego and pride in order to make space for the Lord.

Creating an empty space is one of the most daunting challenges we face. For most of us it takes both courage and discipline to do it. Wasting time with God goes against our nature. It doesn’t look so good either with other folks rushing around us! Just like the disciples in our gospel tale, we all want to impress. Our too busy lives leave us over-stimulated, sometimes anxious and often on edge.   We are always available when our cell phones are switched on and in our pockets.  We don’t have time to think, as we rush from one appointment to another.  When busyness isn’t our problem then often enough, entertainment is. There is a vast industry created to amuse and distract us; from mobile games to the internet.  I think many of us have experienced the near panic and meltdown when we lose our phone or when there is no internet coverage in our locality.    

That is why it is so essential to learn to waste time with the Lord. If we want to know how, let us take a closer look at the invitation of Christ. “Come away to some lonely place all by yourselves and rest for a while!” “Come!”  His words almost shock us with its loving invitation and its powerful command. And we need to listen to Him. He will accept no excuses, no trying to get out of it!  The trouble is that so many of us do – we give all kinds of excuses for being too busy to pray, to spend time with Him. “No time” is a lame excuse. We always have time for what is important, for the things we value. When we say that we have no time for prayer, no time for God, it betrays His true value in our lives. “No time” equals “He’s not important!” All of us are busy, no doubt about it. Life isn’t slowing down, it’s speeding up. Yet that is precisely why we need to take time to pray.  Prayer is what keeps us going.

“Away!”  Our Lord even expands this concept and adds “to some lonely place.” I don’t think He meant for us to run away from our responsibilities and work. But there is always a need to create that sacred space away from the congestion, busyness of the world and all its demands. We priests have institutionalised the regiment of going away for days of recollections and retreats. The good news is that so may lay people have also caught on and the seriousness they give to these spiritual exercises would put us priests to shame. It is an excuse when we claim that our prayer is work. Ultimately when that happens, prayer is often neglected. Our lives are so cluttered that there is nothing left for God or even others. That is why we should “get away,” set aside time, prime time for prayer, for reading and reflecting on the Word of God, for spending time before the Blessed Sacrament. This “away” time for prayer and reflexion should interrupt our well-ordered and well-organised lives, to remind us of what is truly important and what is not. It should not just be occasional but habitual. A good disciplined habit of prayer is needed.

“Rest!”  The invitation is not to go out and do errands. It is a request to just rest. As simple as it sounds, it’s so much harder when you actually try to put it into practice. The guilt of wasted time often makes us feel like we need to scramble to make up for it. Or, we confuse rest and laziness. The Lord instituted the Sabbath rest precisely for the welfare of man. He understood that though work is good and sacred, there is a danger of running yourself to the ground if there are no pauses in your life. The Sabbath rest was intended to remind man that the fruits of our work ultimately proceed from God and though man ceases to work, God continues to work, the work of salvation never stops. At the end of the day, wasting time with the Lord reminds us that time is a gift, not an entitlement. And this helps us set our eyes on the things that matter.

“A While!” We all know that we cannot ignore our duties, especially to the ones we love. We are needed and we know what to do and what must be done.  So the invitation is only for a while, not permanent retirement.  Just enough time to regain our strength, our composure, our love and our compassion. Enough time to be rooted once again in the Lord who gives us the Water of Life, the Shepherd who leads us to green pastures and quiet waters, the Way who points us to Heaven. Then we can return, refreshed and ready to work and care again.

On the seventh day, God rested. When He got tired, Jesus took a nap on the back of the boat. When they were overwhelmed with crowds and the scope of their ministry, Jesus invited the disciples to come away to a quiet place, and rest for a while. Much as we try, we are not Superman or Wonder Woman. And God knows they needed rest too. We cannot do everything and we don’t have to do everything. Even Jesus took time apart from the crowds and His disciples -time to refresh and restore; time in solitude and silence; time to commune with God. Wasting time with the Lord is never wasted time. The beauty of wasting time with the Lord is that when we give Him our time, He gives us back so much more. We all need time apart to fill our cup and renew our spirits. May we take that needed time – time for solitude and prayer; and time with family, and with our spiritual family, the Church. May we emulate the God of rest, and remember the words of Jesus, who invited us to come away, and rest for a while.

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