‘I still and quiet my soul…’

…that was the title of the retreat that we attended recently at the Northumbria Community. Based on a phrase in Psalm 131:2, it describes the aim of the retreat where we were joined by a fascinating mixture of characters, ranging from an Anglican priest about to start a new role, to a wandering nomad travelling the world!

Life during that week was centred around the meal table where community was built up as we talked together; and around regular, short services or ‘offices’ held at 9am, 12 noon, 5.30pm and 9.30pm. Being a non-guided retreat, the rest of the time was our own to use as we saw fit, for reading, reflection, or simply resting in our (very comfortable!) room or enjoying the surrounding Northumbrian countryside.

As we read and rested, both of us were reminded of the priority that God places on rest. In his book ‘The Day is Yours’, Ian Stackhouse (senior minister at Millmead Baptist Church in Guildford) describes rest, and not humanity, as the climax of the creation account. And in a world where so often our identity is tied up in what we do, I was particularly challenged by John Ortberg’s conclusion, in his book ‘Soul Keeping’, that doing nothing is a valid and essential part of Sabbath rest.   ‘Doing nothing is doing a lot’, he concludes. As we strolled slowly through the fields one afternoon, we understood a little of what he was saying. We noticed some of the local wildlife out of the corner of our eye, which we simply would have missed had we been busy or in a hurry. It was as if God was saying, ‘don’t forget to spend time walking slowly enough to notice what I’m doing out of the corner of your eye!’ Because it’s only by seeing what God is doing that we can join him in it.

Of course, Sabbath rest is not a privilege reserved solely for ordained ministers; nor is it something to be enjoyed just once every seven years! All of us need times of rest on a daily, weekly and seasonal basis. As Vince Havner wrote, ‘if you don’t come apart for a while, you’ll come apart in a while’ – it’s why Jesus set aside times of rest, and encouraged his disciples to do the same. So… when was the last time you did nothing? And when was the last time that you didn’t feel guilty doing it? Doing nothing is one of the most important things we can do, because it’s in those times that God, as he restores our souls, becomes our focus of attention once more. After all, as Christians our identity is found, not in what we do, but in Christ… in who we are.

With our love and prayers
Matthew & Pauline Scott

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