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Finding Rest

“As I went down the village street on my way to bed after midnight, the high Alpine valley lay silent in its frozen stillness.  For days it had now lain thus, even the mouths of its cataracts stopped with ice; and for days, too, the dry, tight cold had drawn up the nerves of the humans in it to a sharp, thin pitch of exhilaration that at last began to call for the gentler comfort of relaxation.  The key has been a little too high, the inner tautness too prolonged.  The tension of that implacable north-east wind, the bise noire, had drawn its twisted wires too long through our very entrails.  We all sighed for some loosening of the bands—the comforting touch of something damp, soft, less penetratingly acute.”

I read these lines from Algernon Blackwood’s short story “The South Wind” while seated on our deck during a late April morning, one of the first warm and sunny days following several cold, rainy ones in which winter seemed unwilling to lose its grip.  My initial reaction was twofold.  The first was envy.  I wished that I could write that well.  The second was an admission of the truthfulness of the sentiment, even by one such as I who likes the cold, bracing feel of winter.  Even that pleasure I have in winter is, to use Blackwood’s words, “a sharp, thin pitch of exhilaration,” a “tautness.”  Yes, it was time for “some loosening of the bands,” “the comforting touch of something … less penetratingly acute.”  It was time for spring.  I sat back, felt the sun on my face and relaxed with a sigh.

Then, because of the interrelatedness of life, my mind turned to the stay-at-home order during this corona virus pandemic.  My feelings were contradictory.  On the one hand, it has been rather pleasant for me.  I’m an introvert; so, I enjoy being alone.  However, I am a fortunate introvert. My wife and I have been able to continue receiving our salaries.  We have a nice home, living in a nice area in which walks are pleasant and it is easy to maintain social distancing.  We remain healthy, have not suffered from the loss of loved ones, and have no small children to care for.  On the other hand, thousands have died, or lost their health, jobs, and loved ones.  Others, more socially oriented than I, are suffering emotionally from the isolation. Their nerves are taut, and they need a break, “some loosening of the bands.”

While fully cognizant of those terrible losses, since this life of ours is contradictory,there is a benefit to the sheltering, now of nearly two months duration.  The workload at school was heavy.  I was tired but did not realize it until we had to shift to online teaching.  True, there was work to do and technology to conquer or be conquered by, but the pace was different.    My wife, who was placed on administrative leave, was home.  I slept more and was less tense.  We took more time over our meals and in prayer.  We went for walks together.  The period was a kind of rest.

Let me repeat that this has not been the experience of the many who have been hit hard by the disease or directly involved in fighting against it.  Nevertheless, the lesson in slowing the pace of our lives is important for all.  Biblically speaking, we are made in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27).  Therefore, as God worked, so we were created to work (Genesis 2:15).  With the right attitude work can be fulfilling and a pleasure.  Yet, just as we need to be reminded that as the image of God, we are called to work, so also we must remember that we are called to rest, as God did after his work of creation (Genesis 2:1-3).  One of the Ten Commandments that God gave to Israel was to cease from their labors one day a week to honor him.  The reason given for this is that God himself had rested on the seventh day (Exodus 20:8-11).

I mentioned that my wife and I take walks and spend more time at our meals.  Today’s families do not regularly eat meals together and often live almost separate lives, each with their own devices watching whatever is of interest to the individual family member.  We moderns tend to be rushed or to make ourselves busy even when we’re not at work. The current difficulty of eating at restaurants and going to the movies and sporting, while real, can become an opportunity to slow down and spend time getting to know other family members.  Rest can allow us to deepen our relationships with those nearest to us.

The mounting death toll from the corona virus also serves as a somber and admittedly unwelcome reminder of our own mortality.  Awareness of our mortality can cause worry and stress and lead some to believe that life is pointless.  However, Hebrews 4:9-10 promises, “So then, there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, for whoever has entered God’s rest has also rested from his works as God did from his.”  The eternal rest promised to God’s people is not like the rest of a Sunday afternoon nap—delightful as that can be.  It is rather, the entrance into the fullness of life, a celebration in God’s presence with all his people, and the end of all striving and doubt and suffering.

Algernon Blackwood’s story describes the arrival of spring with the south wind bringing “that sweet and welcome message of relief” from winter’s harshness.  As I savored the warm sunlight and reflected hopefully on the end of this “winter” of quarantine and of all life’s sufferings one day, the last line of Blackwood’s story, a quotation from Job 37:17, eased my mind. “He comforteth the earth with the south wind.”

4 thoughts on “Finding Rest

  1. Thanks Bill,
    Wise words and the quote is so apropos for experience today. Some teachers I know have found the online work very tiring/frustrating. Sounds like you’ve “conquered” it,bravo.
    May the Lord keep and bless you both.

    1. Thanks for the comment. it has gone reasonably well for us at Cair Paravel, probably because, along with God’s grace, the administration took quick action and our students and their families were willing and able to adjust.

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