In Wouldn't Take Nothing for My Journey Now, Maya Angelou shares a compelling definition of rest: "Every person needs to take one day away. A day in which one consciously separates the past from the future. Jobs, family, employers, and friends can exist one day without any one of us, and if our egos permit us to confess, they could exist eternally in our absence. Each person deserves a day away in which no problems are confronted, no solutions searched for. Each of us needs to withdraw from the cares which will not withdraw from us." In her words, our concerns and anxieties don't willingly leave us, but we can make a conscious decision to leave them, at least for a brief respite so that we can recover the energy to enter the fray again.
Rest is more than a good idea. God actually demands and models it, as we read in the opening chapters of Genesis. "By the seventh day God had finished the work He had been doing; so on the seventh day He rested from all His work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it He rested from all the work of creating that which He had done" [Genesis 2:2-3]. God worked so we work. God rested so we rest.
Yet we are not sure what we are supposed to do when resting. Is it the absence of activity or engaging in alternate activities? Is it doing something or doing nothing? I was thinking about this one late Shabbat afternoon in a prayer service. We ask, in our silent meditation, that God accept our rest. In other words, it has to be a rest that is divine-worthy. So let's say I go to sleep, but I wake up and do not feel rested, that might not get God's metaphoric stamp of approval. It does raise the bar on what a great rest might look and feel like. The passage that precedes this statement hints at what divine-worthy rest looks like:
"Splendor of greatness and a crown of salvation is the day of rest. You have given Your people...a rest of love and generosity, a rest of truth and faith, a rest of peace and tranquility, calm and trust; a complete rest in which You find favor. May your children recognize and know that their rest comes from You, and that by their rest they sanctify Your name." It seems like our rest needs to be loving and generous, truthful, faithful, peaceful, calm, trusting and complete. And it needs to be recognized as God-sanctioned. Instead of offering clarity, this prayer seems to make rest harder to attain. Imagine a mattress store advertising its wares this way: our beds are guaranteed to make you generous and trusting.
My other question is why tell us this as we're almost parting from Shabbat? It would make more sense to put this up front, say on a Friday night, to create rest expectations or, my newest made-up expression, "great restpectations." Instead we insert it in our prayers when we've already gotten up from a nap. I was discussing this with my friend, Adina Israel, and she suggested that the language used here is not uncommon. We hope, after we do particular Jewish rituals, that they have been done well, the prayer equivalent of a survey or evaluation. Rate your resting, 1 to 10. Would you recommend this rest to a friend? It comes at the near-end of Shabbat to help us look back retrospectively and ask ourselves if we truly rested, and if we achieved not only physical recovery and calm but an inner calm that allows us to be less harried, more generous, more loving, more trusting. If you wake up from a nap grouchy, your Shabbat rest may not be what God had in mind.
You can disconnect from technology and not really disconnect mentally from the week behind you. Shabbat can become just another busy day, one over-stuffed with social activities and obligations of a different kind. But rest was built into creation as a weekly gift of recovery and renewal, and it should be so deep that it makes us better human beings.
What can you do to feel really rested?