Halting Notes on Rest

I have found myself engaged in discussions about rest quite a few times over the past few days. A couple things have become clearer to me in these discussions.

First, one has to distinguish between two sorts of anxiety: the anxiety that arises appropriately from work that needs to be done and the anxiety that arises from vanity, fear, or lack of love.

In the first case, the cure is to do the work that needs doing and to do it attentively; without thinking about the other things that need to be done.

In the second case, the cure is to repent and act from love instead of vanity, fear, or selfishness – remembering always that true love is the practical attempt to seek the flourishing of the object of that love.

The second thing I’ve been learning is that the rest we are to be diligent to enter requires that we, as it were, carve out a space of rest within ourselves through simple prayers. When we are working, we ought still to be praying and there are at least two ways to do that, with words and without them.

We can create a space of rest within ourselves with words when we repeat a prayer such as the prayer of the tax-collecter: “have mercy on me the sinner.” A slightly expanded version of this prayer says “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner.”

This prayer calls upon the name of the Lord and invites Him into any situation. It clears a space for Him and thus draws one into His rest.

We pray without words when we offer Him the work of our hands. If a job demands close attention, especially verbal attention (like writing), then the work itself can become a prayer by making it an offering to our Lord.

Even so, one ought occasionally to withdraw from attending to the work exclusively and enter into one’s own soul and there meet with her Beloved with a simple prayer, such as those outlined above.

It is through such prayers that we can continually rest in our Lord even when there is a tornado blowing around us. It is through such prayers that our souls can be washed by the grace of God.

“But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou has shut the door, pray to the Father which is in secret.”… The soul enters its closet when the mind does not wander hither and thither over worldly things, but remains within our heart…. and in this way our mind… by its secret and inward prayer is united with God our Father.

Gregory Palamas commenting on our Lords words on prayer in Matthew 6

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