The youth of the diocese went on retreat this past weekend at Procter Camp and Conference Center. Marilee Oldstone Moore, a senior from Christ Episcopal Church in Springfield, was the design team leader, and shaped the retreat around the idea of rest. Rest is something that’s in short supply for students, and it only becomes harder as they move from high school to college. But rest, Marilee said, is something that they all deeply need.
The retreat was centered on the Exodus story and took chapter 33, verse 14 as it’s refrain: “My presence will go with you and I will give you rest.” One of the ten commandments is that we honor the sabbath day and keep it holy. This basic demand to rest is really an invitation to align ourselves with the nature of God. God rested after the creation, and if we are to have some contact with divinity we, too, must rest. More than that, the commandments, all ten of them, are meant to tell the Israelites how they should act as free people. Free people rest. People who are in bondage, who are slaves in Egypt, don’t. Which underlines the basic question of the retreat – why have we put ourselves back into bondage by refusing to rest?
The solution that the youth offered was a spiritual teaching about different forms of prayer. We might not be able to take whole days of rest. We might have trouble setting aside the to-do lists that keep us up and worried all night, the demands that invade our attempts to relax. But we can learn to pray, and prayer itself can be a kind of traveling rest, a form of sabbath that we can take with us.
On the last night of the retreat we gathered in the chapel. The counselors had set-up different stations and people moved between them, drawing in sand, doing yoga, having their feet washed. They drew mandalas and sat in silence and gave themselves over to rest in the form of prayer. It was a small practice of sabbath time, and a small glimpse of the Kingdom of God.