Labor Day and New Seasons
“First day of 12th grade.” That’s what the sign read as my oldest son held it up and I snapped a picture of him. The last ‘first day of school’ for him as he sets out on a new school year, and we all set out on a new season.
Labor Day comes and goes in the blink of an eye. The last holiday that, for many of us in the United States, marks the end of the summer season, and the beginning of Fall; even though the calendar says Autumn doesn’t technically arrive for 3 more weeks. Labor Day, for all intents and purposes, is the date of demarcation where we collectively shift out of our relaxed summer rhythm and return to the rhythms of school, work, regular meetings, and fall sports schedules, undergirded by the hustle and grind of the year ahead.
Labor Day is the US federal holiday celebrating work, workers, and the labor movements of the past and present. A single day that many of us gladly take for a holiday, and often use to mentally and physically ready ourselves for the transition away from summer vacation, back towards the daily tasks of what can feel like uninterrupted work.
Though we might make this turn begrudgingly, work is good. Work was something that God established. There was work in the Garden of Eden. God commands Adam and Eve to name the animals and creation – an ancient form of data entry – and he purposed the first people to tend to the Garden. However, in the beginning, work wasn’t the chore and frustration that it is now, on this side of the Fall. There remain a myriad of ways that our work points to the creative nature of God and God’s redemptive work in the world, even if it’s hard to see that in Monday staff meetings and weekly spreadsheets. Fair, honest, hard work is good.
Yet, for so many of us, work can become an idol in our lives. Work can make demands on our lives that seem never-ending and insatiable. Work can break our bodies, and our spirits. Something that is intended to be good and God-honoring, can also be withering and soul crushing. Work can become identity-forming and worth-giving in the most distorted of ways. Work is good. Work was something that God established. God commands Adam and Eve to name the animals and creation – an ancient form of data entry – and he purposed the first people to tend to the Garden. Click To Tweet
Arrythmias of Life
All of Creation – humanity included – was created for work; but for work within the rhythm of a created order. We were created to follow a beat, a pulse, a cadence – and that rhythm included regular rest.
God worked to create the world in six days, and then God rested. There are life cycles and water cycles; a pattern to the seasons each year – leaves fall in autumn and then are reborn in spring as new buds.
Spoken word artist Harry Baker lives in the British coastal town of Margate and in a piece he wrote recently reflecting on his life, work, and rhythms he says:
I’ve been looking up the tide times.
Imagine where and when you go decided by the phases of the moon.
Knowing you are part of something much bigger than you.
Oceans, as big as they are, have rhythms too.
Modern lifestyles can give few reminders of the life-rhythms we were meant to keep. We used to start and stop our days with sunrises and sunsets. Life used to follow the agricultural seasons – seasons of planting and harvesting. We even kept seasons when the ground was to lay fallow and empty, so the soil itself could rest.
Now we live in a 24/7 world – constantly at work, continuously plugged in, turned on and well lit, yet still expected to be fruitful year–round. Where we once rested when the sun laid its head below the horizon, now we work into the dark, driven to create our own light in the middle of the night. Journalist Latria Graham considers this ‘driven to work / constantly lit’ phenomenon upon visiting the Bare Dark Sky Observatory in Burnsville, North Carolina – one of the last remaining truly dark patches of sky east of the Mississippi River, observing:
Some sleepless nights I am unsure of how the world works…There is so much pressure to create my own light, with little thought of the emotional or environmental costs. When it burns out, I’m left fumbling, searching for something to sustain me during life’s pitch-black moments.
We weren’t meant to be constantly lit.
Rhythms of dawns and twilights were always meant to be gifts we enjoyed.
It seems that our lives – and our souls – have an arrhythmia to them.
Arrhythmia is most associated with an abnormal heartbeat. It’s when your heart doesn’t receive the proper electrical signals and it beats too fast or too slow, out of rhythm. Arrhythmia can cause pain in the chest, confusion, dizziness, fainting, and in some extreme cases, even lead to death.
Life arrhythmias do the same. When our lives are lived under the constant arhythmic patterns that we weren’t designed for, it makes our hearts hurt in our chests. It clouds our minds. And in its worse cases, a life in arrhythmia can lead to a slow death.
Our lives were meant to have rhythm. That’s what Jesus is offering us – A life with him that carries a cadence of grace in it. Consider Jesus’ well-known yet all too infrequently embraced invitation in Matthew 11:28-30:
Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30) For so many of us, work can become an idol in our lives. Work can make demands on our lives that seem never-ending and insatiable. Work can break our bodies, and our spirits. (1/2) Click To Tweet Work, which is something that is intended to be good and God-honoring, can also be withering and soul crushing. Work can become identity-forming and worth-giving in the most distorted of ways. (2/2) Click To Tweet
The Window Unit vs. Afro-Cuban All-Stars
I live in a 100 year old row house in Washington, D.C. To keep our house cool, we have window air-conditioning units. I love window units. They look terrible, but in the summer, I have to say that there’s nothing better than going to sleep under the cold hum of an A/C window unit. The thing about our window units, especially the one in the living room, is that they can be very noisy.
That same hum that rocks you to sleep can also annoy you, especially when you’re trying to talk to someone in the same room. There is a constantly loud whirr in the background of every room you are in. When we have folks over, whoever sits closest to the A/C has to bring a jacket, and we have to nearly shout at them! They are endlessly noisy, droning on and on.
But there’s another sound that’s often heard at our house. Latin music, mostly Afro-Cuban music. My wife’s family is originally from Cuba and often when we’re doing chores, or when the kids come home, or when we’re cooking, we’ll hit play on the Cuban station on Spotify, and we’ll dance our way through the tasks at hand. You can’t help but move when you hear the horns, the drums, the cadence and call of the singers…it’s intoxicating! As soon as the music starts, my daughter will run to me and stand in front of me wanting to dance.
There’s something in us that longs for rhythm. We are meant for punctuated lives.
As singer-songwriter Tyler Childers reminds us in his haunting love ballad In Your Love, “We were never made to run forever.”
We are not air conditioners. Even air conditioners need a break.
I worry that if I’m not careful, I’ll drift into living like the rhythm-less hum of my window units rather than the soulful sounds of Juan de Marcos Gonzales.
We used to start and stop our days with sunrises and sunsets. We once rested when the sun laid its head below the horizon. Now we work into the dark, driven to create our own light at night. We weren’t meant to be constantly lit. Click To Tweet
Not Simply A Rhythm, But A Fermata
The invitation that Jesus has for our lives though, is far more than work-life balance or better schedules. Matthew 11 doesn’t simply have Jesus saying, “Come to me all who are weary and I’ll give you balance…or come to me and I’ll give you rhythm…or less work.” No. He says, “Come to me…and I will give you rest. Take my yoke…learn from me…and you will find rest for your souls.”
In Christ, we find rest. And not rest, like a nap. For we all know that we can sleep for 10 hours and wake up tired or return from a vacation exhausted. But what Jesus is offering is something deeper.
It isn’t only about a healthy rhythm, but it’s also about a rest within that rhythm.
Years ago, my friend Don purchased a 100 year-old Victorian home in downtown Fresno, CA. When he bought it, it had been abandoned for years and was falling apart. I remember walking through the house with him, making sure to not fall through the floor boards, seeing the dilapidation in every corner of Don’s home. All the copper wires had been stripped out of the walls, feral cats and rodents had taken up residence, and there was trash and stench everywhere.
The house was in a beautiful but economically hard hit neighborhood. But for all of its eyesore, the house captured Don’s heart. He bought the house and spent nearly a year restoring it. He has long since restored it to its original glory, and he’s won historic preservation awards for his house.
Don’s house has a women’s shelter directly behind it – a home for women fleeing domestic violence. There’s an immigration attorney’s office to the immediate left of his house. Directly across the street from Don is a community center for disadvantaged youth.
In many ways Don’s house is surrounded by places of pain and hope and in that regard, Don’s house fits right in to the story of the neighborhood.
His porch is a sign of hope for his neighbors – many of whom often stop and spend time on his porch, or linger on the sidewalk when the sound of Don playing the piano wafts out of the open windows and fills the downtown air at dusk.
Don is a musician and he named the house Villa Fermata.
I asked him about the name and he told me that the word ‘Fermata’ is a musical notation.
When written into music, fermata means to pause or rest for an unspecified length of time. There isn’t a set number of beats or counts to a fermata. It is at the musician’s discretion. It is a rest. For an unspecified length of time.
When Johan Sebastian Bach would place it in his concertos and chorales, a fermata was a deliberate musical cue to take a breath.
For as long as you need.
I suspect I’m not the only one who needs more fermatas in my life.
As we consider the seasons ahead of us, let us remember Jesus’ invitation to join his graceful and grace-filled rhythms.
And in a world like ours, and at a pace like ours, my sense is that Jesus wants to offer us a few more fermatas – a few more rests of unspecified length – so that we might know the rest that comes from the One who truly renews. In a world like ours, and at a pace like ours, my sense is that Jesus wants to offer us a few more fermatas – a few more rests of unspecified length – so that we might know the rest that comes from the One who truly renews. Click To Tweet
Matthew Watson serves as Pastor of Teaching and Outreach for Christ City Church, a dynamic, multiracial congregation which meets in the H St Corridor community of Washington, DC. Matthew holds degrees from Southern Methodist University, Golden Gate Seminary, and a doctorate from Bakke Graduate University, where his research focused on churches bridging racial and class divisions. Matthew is married to an amazing woman of God, Lisa Rodriguez-Watson (National Director for Missio Alliance!), and together they have 3 children. In his free time, he can be found in the kitchen and over the grill perfecting his slow smoked ribs. You can follow him on @watsonopolis or @ChristCityDC.