by Bishop Marty Shanahan
Come to me all who labor and are heavy burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.
You see my friends, I believe this Gospel has much to remind and teach us on this 8th day of July 2017.
We live in a world that seems to have forgotten this Gospel, and yet when the angel of death visits us we often sing those words don’t we.
You see, we live in a world that measures our value in our production, or in our ability to produce something – anything – and preferably something that someone else can somehow, or in some way, be used to collect a fee.
We often find ourselves totally culturally conditioned by what we “do”, as if that is the measure of our worth for the world.
Yet, one of the greatest lessons of life that I have learned, came from one of my Spiritual Directors. It was at a time in my life when I was leaving one job to take on another. Of course I thought it was going to be the job of all jobs. The mother load of cash and happiness.
I met with my Spiritual Director shortly before the move, and as we talked, I think she saw deep into my soul. As we hugged goodnight, she grabbed my shoulders, holding me inches from her face, and she said, “Remember Marty, you are not what you do, or the title you wear. You are most valuable, just because you are a child of God.”
I wonder if, in many ways, we have not lost this invaluable lesson in our world. We are valuable, not because of what we produce, we are valuable, simply because we are a child of God. And here is the really awesome part – so is everyone else!
No one I know will ever pay us to rest in the yoke of God’s embrace. If I show up at the prison on Monday morning, and I go into my office, close the door, shut off the lights, turn on some music, put my feet up on my desk, and rest in the yoke of God’s embrace, I will guarantee you, it will be the last time I have that opportunity, to do that exercise, in that environment.
I could imagine what my supervisor would say. As I was writing this homily, I laughed, thinking how awesome it would be to produce my quarterly report, and the goal for the quarter would read:
Rest in God’s Embrace!
I could most likely write that I achieved that goal by doing absolutely nothing, but resting and praying, for eight hours every week.
The measureable outcomes would probably be something like:
A) I was more productive because I was centered in my purpose and could focus on the tasks of the quarter.
B) I was more tolerant of others as my level of judgementalism dropped from the experience of prayer and solitude.
C) I was more compassionate and present to those who needed the services of the office of Chaplain.
Those are all probably true and good. But I would still venture to guestimate that I would not get far in that experiment. Most likely, I would end up dismissed or disciplined.
And yet one of the Commandments is to keep Holy the Sabbath – to rest – to rest from cell phones, computers, ipads, game systems, roku, and xbox. To rest from all those things that keep us from resting in the yoke of God’s embrace.
It is hard to do – It is hard because we often become accustomed to measuring our worth, or our value to ourselves and our families and our world, by what we “do”, or what we “produce”. And yet Sabbath rest, I am coming to believe, is vital to our Spiritual Life.
Maybe we have to begin small. Maybe we have to carve out an hour, or an evening, for rest. I have also learned that Sabbath rest just doesn’t come the minute we plan it either. It takes time to slow down and let our hearts sink into just resting in God’s embrace. No prayers have to be said, no words have to be spoken, no tasks have to be done.
Just hang out with God. Because when we hang out with God, the rest of life takes on a perspective of relevance. I can do better and more important things because I know my own value and others’ value as well.
I have found it helpful to suspend my judgement about what I do to hang out with God. For example, maybe one time I use music to lift my heart; maybe another time I take a walk; maybe another time I sit quietly; maybe another I sing; maybe another time I hold Kathy’s hand, or play a card game with Kelly, or find bugs with Teagan. Sometimes I pray and other times I might not pray. But the one thing I really am trying to do, is to just “be” with God, in all the joys, sorrows, struggles, hopes and dreams, and see what happens.
I have a long way to go in this practice in my life. Maybe you find it to be a struggle too – so let’s suspend judgment; let’s just leave our time of hanging out with God at the level of purposeful intention. Let happen what happens – and see what God has to say to us.
One of my best priest friends gave the best and shortest homily ever. It is also one that profoundly impacted my life. He said this:
Life is short.
Eternity is long.
Think about it!
– Bishop Marty