Over at the Undeceptions podcast, John Dickson has been hard at work looking at the value of resting well. Special guest Alex Pang (author of Rest: Why You Get More Done When You Work Less) covers the science of rest and work. The discussion touches on Darwin and Lubbock, two nineteenth century polymaths with prolific literary outputs who both developed systems of rest that helped them produce more fruitfully. I came away more convinced than ever that rest is the fruitful partner of work.
But the real highlight for me was the discussion of rest in the Hebrew and Christian traditions, including Dickson’s 5 Minute Jesus on rest in the Gospels and the Letter to the Hebrews, and his interview with Rabbi Elton. We appear to owe the concept of the weekend, in large part, to the Jewish Sabbath, which seems to represent the first attempt in human civilisation to offer a day of rest to everyone—including servants and animals—living within a given locale. Dickson and Elton also cover the relationship between rest and redemption, with the great prelude to the Sabbath command outlining the rationale for rest: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery”.
The episode resonated with three ideas on rest which I have come to over the years, through conversations with others*.
First, rest is often re-creational or active in nature and not purely passive. Rest doesn’t always look like lying on a beach with a Pina Colada in hand…though it might. Either way, the Sabbath is given for the benefit of the human person, rather than the other way around. This is perhaps a point of departure from Orthodox Jewish Sabbath practices, which Dickson sensitively compares with the Gospels in his 5 Minute Jesus.
Second, as Rabbi Elton beautifully outlines, rest reorients us to what matters through providing time for contemplation about who we are, as individuals and as part of a people, and where we are going. We provide ourselves space to contemplate the bigger mysteries of life and, most crucially of all, our direction in life. As Rabbi Elton puts it, “we are constantly going. If you’re always going and moving, then when do you have time to think about where you are and where you want to be?”
Third, rest often involves retreat or withdrawal from the rest of the world. To reorient ourselves often means a denial of certain experiences, activities and pleasures to enter into a state of rest and quiet contemplation. It could mean an individual escape into certain activities and stories that remind us of the good. Or, perhaps most meaningful of all, a movement into community and family life—whether through ties of blood or religious faith—and into an alternative polis that reminds and re-minds us of where we are, where we come from and where we are going.
*I owe these thoughts to conversations over a decade with Graham McLean.