“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.”
As I interpret these words, Jesus is recalling us to the Christ Self – which He was and is, and which is our innermost Identity too.
"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." (Matthew 11:29) We are weary and burdened on a soul level – an inevitable consequence of believing we are separate individuals, apart from the Whole, doomed ultimately to wither and die. To borrow the analogy used in Chapter 15 of John’s gospel, we are living our lives as branches that have been cut from the vine.
Sometimes, when working at my computer or carrying out some household task, I catch myself becoming impatient; wanting the task to be over so that I can move on to the next – more interesting – thing. Completion of the task has become my goal, and I’ve lost touch with my primary purpose, which is about my state of mind.
My primary purpose can be described variously as being at peace; being whole; forgiveness (as understood in A Course in Miracles); coming to Christ; remembering my Self.
Whenever I find myself getting impatient, hurrying, agitated or not at peace, it is time to pause, take a deep breath and, as John Butler advises, "feel my feet on the ground". Can I now resume the activity and be at peace? If not, it would be better to step away from the activity and give my mind space and time to return to stillness; to return to Christ.
That is the yoke I yearn to take upon me. And it is my primary task.
“I rest in God.” This thought will bring to you the rest and quiet, peace and stillness, and the safety and the happiness you seek. “I rest in God.” This thought has power to wake the sleeping truth in you, whose vision sees beyond appearances to that same truth in everyone and everything there is. Here is the end of suffering for all the world, and everyone who ever came and yet will come to linger for a while. Here is the thought in which the Son of God is born again, to recognize himself.
"There was a care on my mind so to pass my time, as to things outward, that nothing might hinder me from the most steady attention to the voice of the True Shepherd." (John Woolman, writing in the 1740s)
In his journal, the Quaker John Woolman writes of the temptations, or distractions, that he and his contemporaries faced. Two he mentions are spirits (alcohol) and spending money on fine apparel (clothing). Today, the range of distractions is much wider: the internet; films and box sets on demand; and planes, trains and automobiles that make it so much easier to explore the world, near and far. Our choices appear almost limitless. To quote the old Microsoft advert: "Where do you want to go today?"
But perhaps, in truth, this seeming myriad of choices can be reduced to one. Ours is the same decision that John Woolman had to make: which voice do we choose to listen to? Will we jump to the tune of our ego, or will we take heed to the promptings of Love?
The voice of my small, separate, self would have me seek "things outward" to complete me - but it is never satisfied with what it gets. If I observe its urges carefully but don't immediately act on them, I may discern another voice. This is the voice of what Woolman called the "True Shepherd", and which we might call our Greater Self. If we give that loving voice our steady attention, and remain true to it alone, it may lead us to a simpler life - one with fewer distractions. It will surely lead us to greater fulfilment and peace.
I blogged some time ago about one of my biggest outward distractions - the internet. I go on-line with good intentions, but frequently I fall down a rabbit-hole on YouTube, or check the Polish lower-division football scores. The longer I sit in front of the screen, the harder I find it to pull myself away. I wonder what Woolman would have made of the web? I expect he would reflect on whether or not it helped him to stay in touch with his Inner Guide. If he found it a hindrance, he would lay the distraction aside.
I sometimes think there should be a 12-steps programme, similar to Alcoholics Anonymous, for people who are addicted to their computers, television or phones.
In the absence of such a group, I've devised my own rule (in the monastic sense of the word), which I'll try to observe from now on…
Questions for reflection
What outward things may be hindering you from paying steady attention to the voice of the True Shepherd?
What rule might help you remove those blocks to Inner Peace?
Peter Parr: Quaker, writer and former member of the British minigolf team. (Actually those are all just roles I play. Words can't describe who any of us really are.)