Friday, October 18, 2019

Whole Rest

When I was growing up in the 1950’s and early 60’s, I took piano lessons from a marijuana-smoking, jazz musician named Eddie Greenberg, who lived on our street. Eddie was a secular Jew of the beat generation who made money playing night clubs and giving music lessons to neighborhood children.

Looking back on it, I am surprised my parents entrusted me to his influence for an hour every week during those impressionable years. I am sure it was because his wife was one of my mother’s friends and a member of our Congregational church. Plus their twin sons were among my closest friends and in my Sunday School class.

Today I can barely put two notes together on a keyboard, but Mister Greenberg did succeed in teaching me how to read music, however imperfectly. It is a gift that I have appreciated all my life. From him I learned the types of notes and also, of course, the various types of rests. For some reason the rests always fascinated me.

The eight rest looked like a lightning bolt, and I envisioned it as sounding like the quiet between the lightning flash and the following “boom!” Shorter rests – the sixteenth, thirty-second, and the rare sixty-fourth rests - reminded me of pennants flying from a castle’s tower. The half rests and whole rests looked like seats or benches, inviting the weary musician to sit down for a moment and take a break. They were like little vacations in the middle of the score.

Today this knowledge of musical notation serves me in my spiritual practice. When I sit down to meditate, thoughts are running through my mind like jazz, capturing my attention and carrying me away. After a while I become aware of my entanglement in thought, and I stop and look for the rests.

There are tiny spaces between even the most densely woven inner monologue. To be in the presence of God, all we have to do is dwell in the rests between the thoughts, however brief they are. God is in the rests – even quarter rests or eighth rests. If you pay attention to them, they expand into whole rests, and even whole minutes of divine Presence.

Such rests are respites from the inner noisiness of our lives. When I focus on the whole rest, then that little black box in the score of my inner life becomes a door that opens into a world beyond thoughts. It is a window into the promised land of Sabbath Rest. It is the eye of our soul through which we see God.

As Meister Eckhart said 700 years ago, “The eye through which I see God is the same eye through which God sees me; my eye and God's eye are one eye, one seeing, one knowing, one love.” Whole Rest is a place of peace hiding in plain sight in the midst of our busy lives. When I am in Whole Rest, time stops and I dwell in eternity, which is the background of our lives.

The phrase “Whole Rest” has become part of my spiritual practice. I use the phrase in centering prayer. During contemplative prayer, when I notice my mind spinning its meandering melodies, I repeat the phrase “whole rest” and the noise stops, if only for a beat. With practice the beat become a measure, and then a line. Whole Rest becomes a cushion upon which I sit in the Presence of God.

There is a reason why the ancient Hebrews pictured God, not in a graven image but as the empty space between the cherubim in the Holy of Holies of their tabernacle. God was associated with the quiet spaciousness of the Most Holy Place, which itself is a symbol for the innermost sanctuary of our soul. Emptiness and silence are where God dwells. That is why Jesus got off by himself to pray so often.

Whole Rest can be found not only in prayer and meditation, but in all of life. For that reason I always end my time of meditation with a few minutes of sitting with my eyes open, noticing the quiet spaciousness of God in my surroundings. Meditation is not different than regular consciousness. It is simply paying more deliberate attention to what is always present.

I invite you to Whole Rest, to enter the door into silence. I think this is what Jesus meant when he said, “The Kingdom of God is within you.” Maybe Jesus took music lessons! Not piano lessons from a jazz musician, of course. But maybe he took lessons on some other instrument from that guy down the street from the carpenter’s shop in Nazareth. 

After all, his ancester David, the greatest of Israel’s kings and poets (and author of most of the psalms in our Bible) started out as a harpist. In any case Jesus certainly knew Whole Rest. He called it the Kingdom of God.

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