Psalm 69:1-3, 32-34; Mark 6:30-32
Black History Month
In a New York Times article, organizational psychologist Adam Grant identified the “dominant emotion of 2021” as “languishing.” He went on to describe this unfortunate state in a variety of ways: a sense of emptiness. Despondency. A lack of hope. Aimlessness and joylessness. The “dulling of delight” and the “dwindling of desire.”
At around the same time, researchers noted a rise in pandemic-related insomnia, despite the gains made in vaccinating the population, lowering mortality rates, and resuming some measure of normal life. In other words, what began over two years ago as a natural flight-or-fight response to a global state of emergency has now morphed into something shapeless and sinister. We’ve lost a sense of balance and rhythm. We can’t get started. We can’t wind down. We’re anxious, sleepless, overstimulated.” (https://www.journeywithjesus.net/essays/3076-the-gift-of-rest) Pandemic fatigue is real – and many – if not all of us – have experienced it to some degree in the past couple of years.
On Day 7 of The United Church of Canada’s 40 Days of Engagement on Anti-Racism, Rev. Mitchell Anderson explores the concept of racial fatigue – and defines it as the accumulated stress, weariness, and worn out feeling that Indigenous and racialized people experience from the combination of the inherited effects of past violence and trauma, the injustices of today, and the daily experiences of being a person of colour. For racialized people it’s about finding ways to deal with the impact of trauma and the energy required to just exist in a world designed by and for non-racialized people. For non-racialized people it’s about staying engaged when energy is hard to come by, when people are overwhelmed by the enormity of the scope of anti-racism, by guilt, by fear of making mistakes, by unlearning and learning. It’s about staying engaged when the temptation sometimes is to use white privilege to back away. ( https://united-church.ca/sites/default/files/2021-10/antiracism-40_day07.pdf)
So, what do we do when we experience this kind of fatigue? Rev. Mitchell Anderson is a United Church minister in Saskatoon and serves on the executive of the General Council. He is dënesułiné and a member of the English River First Nation. In this video he reflects on racial fatigue and what that means to him and how racial fatigue connects to all of us doing the work of anti-racism.
VIDEO (linked at the end of this reflection) – Rev. Mitchell Anderson
Start: 10:07 “Yeah, if you’re tired of hearing about it…”
End: 12:48 “I don’t think it’s what God wants us to do.”
Rev. Anderson’s image of singers coming in and out of a song – allowing themselves to take a breath when they need a break is a beautiful image to look at the ongoing work of anti-racism and right relations. No one person can sustain all the work all the time, he says.
As much as we are a people of action, I think we need to re-claim and embrace being a people of rest. Scripture is grounded with calls to holy rest. Weariness, being tired, a sense of the ongoing nature of struggle, is certainly a frequent theme in the stories of our faith.
In our first reading for today, the Psalmist is tired of crying, their eyes exhausted from waiting for God (Psalm 69:3); the cry “how long” echoes in dozens of places through the Scriptures. Scripture depicts many instances when even Jesus is tired. And I am grateful for such images because they call us to recognize rest as part of this work. Today’s gospel reading offers us a portrait of Jesus we don’t always consider. A Jesus who believes in rest.
When I read the Gospels, I tend to envision a brisk and efficient Messiah — full of purpose but short on time — striding from village to synagogue to hilltop to seaside, a whirlwind of miracles, parables, and life-changing conversations swirling around him. In fact, for a long time I looked to Jesus as a sleepless renegade, striving to save the world before his time runs out. But this is not who we witness in our Gospel reading this week. Instead, we find a Jesus who recognizes, honours, and tends to his own fatigue. We encounter a teacher who pulls his overheated disciples away from their mission and ministry.
“This passage from Mark describes the return of the disciples from their first ministry tour. We see them fired up and full of excitement. They’re literally bursting with thrilling stories of the healings, exorcisms, and effective evangelistic campaigns they’ve pulled off on their own for the first time. They are wired. Caffeinated. Ready. In their minds, what they need is their next project from Jesus. Their next divine mission. In their minds, the crowds are waiting, and it’s time to go.
But Jesus disagrees. Where the disciples see energy, Jesus sees overstimulation. Where the disciples see a tightly packed schedule, Jesus sees a poor sense of balance and rhythm. Where the disciples see invincibility, Jesus sees need. The need to debrief and reflect. The need to eat, pray, play, and sleep. The need to learn the art of solitude.
Of course, this lesson isn’t new; it runs through Scripture from its earliest pages. In Genesis, God rests on the seventh day, and calls the Sabbath holy for all future generations. Honouring this is no small feat in our modern lives, where every hour of every day is measured in profits gained or advantages lost. And I’ll be honest, for me, rest never comes naturally. I forget about it. I fear it. I resist it. To remember that God rests, that Jesus rests, is startling and humbling. How dare I keep running on fumes when Jesus himself insists that his followers do otherwise? The Sabbath is the only thing in the creation account that God calls holy.” We would do well to pay attention and perhaps even embrace it in our work of anti-racism. (https://www.journeywithjesus.net/essays/3076-the-gift-of-rest)
Rev. Anderson recalls the phrase “refuse to be worn out”. Just as stories of weariness are everywhere in the Bible, so too do stories of refusal to be worn out abound and he reflects on this phrase in this next video segment.
VIDEO – Rev. Mitchell Anderson
Start: 16:12 “A lot happened this summer…”
End: 18:47 “And that’s what refusal to be worn out means to me.”
We refuse to be worn out. These acts of refusal, both individual and collective, are vitally important.
How do we keep going when there are so many competing stressors in our lives? As people of faith, what are practices we can hold on to for this work. Rev. Anderson offers these thoughts:
VIDEO – Rev. Mitchell Anderson
Start: 37:39 “In addition to what I’ve named, I would also…”
End: 39:14 “…and help me to continue and keep going on.”
What are the spiritual practices in your life that give you rest? That allow you to recharge? That energizes you once again to sing the song of justice and re-commit to the work?
Combatting racism through rest may seem paradoxical, however, allowing time for the mind and body to power down while working toward social justice is not a contradictory concept. In fact, in 2021 La Salle University committed to this through academic enrichment days. Rest as Resistance was the theme of the first academic enrichment day—one of three built into the academic calendar.
The concept of Rest as Resistance centers around a belief held by noted scholars and authors who contend that “since racism is a trauma on our bodies, any effort to heal racism begins with healing our bodies. Rest can then be a form of inoculation against the virus of racism, since resting allows us to heal and our healing can have a ripple effect in our communities.”
Religion and Theology Professor Maureen O’Connell who is a member of the Anti-Racism Working Group there noted: “Those of us involved in this enrichment day heard from members of our university community about the need for rest, especially since we’re still grappling with a global pandemic…We decided to use this day to call our university community’s attention to peoples of colour, especially Black women, currently advocating for rest as a form of resistance. These luminaries remind us that we as a nation have long relied on the unpaid labour of people of colour, particularly women, to make our economies and institutions work. For them, rest isn’t a luxury. It’s about survival.” (https://www.lasalle.edu/blog/2021/02/01/using-rest-as-a-tool-to-fight-racism/)
Rest as resistance. Rest as sabbath. As holy. Our faith tradition embodies rest as an essential element of our living and moving in this world. Where else can we draw from to find rest? Rev. Anderson reflects on this in our next segment:
VIDEO – Rev. Mitchell Anderson
Start: 39:47 “We’ve looked a lot at biblical examples which is important of course…”
End: 41:46 “What can I learn from bears and geese and trees.”
We’re meant to “come away.” To honour the rhythms and borders of work and play, inside and outside, online and in-person, sleep, and wakefulness. The natural world teaches us this.
It’s not a coincidence that Jesus asks his disciples to leave the noise and crowds behind. Sometimes, we need deep silence. We need to unplug. We need to hibernate. We need to let others continue singing the song of justice while we take some breaths, rest, and prepare to join in once again.
Fortunately, we have the model of Jesus who is unapologetic about his need for rest and solitude. Who sees no shame in retreating when he and his disciples need a break. Who does so even when the needs around him continue to press in on all sides.
Jesus can do this because he trusts God enough to let go. To trust that there will be others to carry on the work. Even as he honours his vocation, and keeps his commitments, he honours the need for rest, and reminds his disciples that their faith does not make them invincible. We are precious and beloved, yes, but we are not indispensable. It is okay in the midst of this work to take holy pauses. It is more than okay to rest and then carry on.
Rev. Anderson encourages us to “Refuse to be worn out. Both individually and collectively, practice the kinds of rest and restoration that God models for us and instructs us all to practice. In the week ahead I invite you to reflect on what practices sustain and enliven you? How can you make those more and more a part of your everyday life? At the same time, what in life wears you down, and how can you practice refusing those things?” He goes on to say, “If you’re Indigenous or racialized, know how the stress of navigating both individual and collective experiences of race can be exhausting. What can you do to refuse to be worn out—to put your well being first, to find time for rest, to engage in practices that sustain your body and spirit, to say no to things that leave you weary? If you’re not Indigenous or racialized, what would it look like to create space for your Indigenous or racialized family, friends, or colleagues to refuse to be worn out?”
Friends, the work continues. In our efforts to do this important work individually and collectively, may we hear this call to refuse to be worn out – but to also recognize rest as resistance and necessary in our work of anti-racism. May it be so. Amen.
Rev. Heather Power
Video segments found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=phrqAS1f6vI
Day 7 – UCC 40 Days of Engagement on Anti-Racism: https://united-church.ca/sites/default/files/2021-10/antiracism-40_day07.pdf