On with the sermon by Rhesa Storms. Yesterday I left her with shared realization that modern progress is not delivering what has been promised. Instead of lots of leisure time we are now constantly working, even in our off hours because all the gadgetry keeps us in touch with our offices even on weekends and during vacations. Texting about a project at 9 PM on a workday has become totally normal.
Not only we have less time for leisure, we use it less productively, too. We just don’t know how to relax anymore. She was speaking about New Yorkers but this kind of culture is all-pervasive and it doesn’t spare anyone. Internet has brought us all under the same standard no matter where you live. Things need to be done fast everywhere in the world, but rest can’t be rushed like that. It takes its own sweet time and it doesn’t like scheduling.
Then she gets to another important point I’ve mentioned a couple of days ago – it’s not just the culture, or Kali yuga, that is constantly pushing us forward with no rest allowed, but our own fear of seeing ourselves for who we really are and not liking it.
It shouldn’t be a problem for devotees, as I explained earlier, but someone completely unaware of his real situation and his eternal connection with God this realization can come really heavy. Rhesa then tells a story of her friend who was forced to rest by circumstance and after a while, when she really started looking at herself and her life, she just broke down in tears. Personally, I didn’t find this story very impressive but the point still stands, which is we need to be really thankful to Kṛṣṇa for keeping us in touch with our inner self. Not so common for Christians, as it turned out.
What they do have is Sabbath and a commandment prescribing to keep it holy. It’s as if God knew that people of this age will be so busy with their lives they’ll forget life exists outside of work. Was this a big problem thousands years ago when the commandments were given to Moses? Perhaps it’s us finding a new meaning while Sabbath was something else for ancient Hebrews. They still can’t agree which day of the week it falls on so differences in interpretations shouldn’t be unusual.
In this sermon the focus is not on religious duties associated with Sabbath but with taking a rest from the rest of the week. Perhaps it used to be a day set aside for God while now they talk about setting a day aside for themselves. Modern times, modern Christianity, what can they do? They’d rather listen about importance of sitting down and staring at their own navel then getting up and going to church. Once again, we should be grateful that self-awareness is inbuilt in our practice that we don’t need a special day for it.
We, indeed, don’t have a Sabbath, we don’t have weekends, no Sundays, nothing. We have religious holidays but there’s nothing in Vedic culture that could be compared to a weekend. There’s ekādaśī but it comes only every other week and we do not consider it a day for rest, it’s a day when we can finally work more for Lord’s pleasure and less for our own, hence fasting and reducing daily routines in favor of chanting and reading. We are not rested at the end of ekādaśīs, rather the opposite, we are hungry and exhausted, but we know this tapasya is appreciated by the Lord so we don’t mind.
Rhesa sees Sabbath as the day of rest, the day when we should just stop, let our hands down, and just be. She says God desires us to take rest and become free from our own busyness, free to delight in God, in his creation, and in our relationships with each other. God says that rest is important to human lives so people have to do it regularly and ritually. Hmm, their Christian God is meant to serve us so nicely.
She then quotes some theologian who sees Sabbath as a rebellion against turning our lives into a commodity, that there’s this one day when we declare that we do not belong to this world but to God. Well, being with yourself and pleasing God are somehow interchanged here, too, but it’s a nice sentiment and I appreciate it very much. I guess turning rest into a counter-cultural and spiritual movement is just a trick to attract those in the audience who are especially attuned to words like “counter-culture” and “resistance”.
Then she gets to the most memorable part of the sermon – the Psalm 46.10: “Be still and know that I am God.”
She interprets it as an injunction to rest and, reading it this way, it is indeed beautiful. There’s no need for us to rush anywhere and try to accomplish anything – it all makes no sense in the presence of God and all our “achievements” pale in His glory. We need to trust Him and surrender our lives to Him explicitly, and let Him run the universe. It’s not our job to control the world, it’s not in our best interests, and it’s not in God’s interest either.
Sarva-dharmān parityajya – abandon all your worries about things you have to do, abandon all your duties and obligations, and simply surrender unto Me, says Kṛṣṇa. We all think that by keeping ourselves busy we making the world a better place, or making progress, or even making spiritual progress. We just can’t let it go and leave it to the Lord, we don’t have enough trust in Him and hope that our contributions will bring improvements. Nope, forget it all and surrender ONLY unto Me.
Of course our lives won’t stop there and we’ll have plenty of things to do under Kṛṣṇa’s guidance but we shouldn’t confuse working under His direction, which is pure bhakti, with our own efforts. At this point we are simply trying to attract His attention in hope that one day we’ll be purified enough to actually surrender and become His puppets. We still reserve the power of all decision making to ourselves, even our gurus can offer only suggestions and blessings, we still think we are free to implement their orders the way WE see fit.
“JUST STOP ALREADY and stay still, and know that I am God,” says the psalm, or at least in Rhesa’s interpretation, which, I checked, is not the most traditional one – others read the psalm differently. Apparently there was a battle against some invaders and in the morning people woke up to see the enemies defeated, and “be still” might be addressed to remaining resistance. It could also be addressed to the river flowing through Jerusalem rather than the people of the city, God knows.
As non-Christians we do not have to worry about conforming to their tradition and so we can read whatever meaning from this verse that suits us. I like to see this as an equivalent of sarva-dharmān parityajya and I don’t see any reason why I shouldn’t.
PS. Or we could read it differently, as if God was talking to these brats who just couldn’t comprehend their fortune and kept ignoring Him: “Sit still and remember that I am your God.” They just don’t get it, do they?