Most Bibles say that God rested on the seventh day of creation. “Rested” is a good word. I have always imagined God relaxing on Sundays — maybe kicking back in an armchair and watching the world progress, or maybe taking a Sunday nap. It’s a nice image.
“Rest” is a pleasant word, but the original text implies a much deeper rest than mere relaxation. What we translate as “rest,” the word shavat, may more accurately be translated as “abstained.” The 12th-century Torah scholar, Nachmanides, interpreted the passage to read “[God] ceased to perform all His creative work.” God’s rest, then, surpassed kicking back in a lawn-chair for an afternoon — God stopped creating entirely. He stopped his processes. He Rested.
To relax is hard enough; Resting is nearly impossible. The body may be still, but the mind goes on, full tilt. We rarely indulge in the Rest that was part of God’s creative process.
That lack of Rest is to our detriment. Studies are beginning to show that our contemporary disdain for true Rest — our immersion through technology, to news, to each others’ social lives, to our work — has a huge, negative effect on everything from our sleep cycles to our manners to our creative abilities. We are, as Tolkien wrote in The Fellowship of The Ring, “thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”
It was with this thought that I left for the mountains to traipse around Asheville with a large group of friends. It was not a restful weekend. We climbed waterfalls, we toured pubs, we sat around a fire pit and hacked small trees into firewood with hilariously inadequate hand-tools. We watched a rockabilly band in a dive bar and sampled hoppin’ john from a cook with a black eye and a crocodile mask. We collapsed into bed, exhausted, every night and rose again each morning with full schedules. We did not rest, but we Rested. We set aside worries about work, endless social feeds, familial obligations, and personal stressors to fully enjoy the beautiful surroundings and the companionship of others.
And what a difference it has made. Now firmly ensconced in my regular routine, I again find myself planning projects and chores when I should be relaxing. I worry, as usual, about deadlines and relationships and obligations. I fret about not sleeping enough which, humorously, prevents me from sleeping. But now I have the energy to do so; I have mimicked God’s seventh-day practice. I am no longer butter scraped over too much bread. I have Rested.