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  • Luigi Gioia

Resting in God

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A recurrent theme in the book of Psalms is rest. Proper rest. We know how to take a break, have a nap, but we might be surprised to discover that we do not really know how to pause in a way that truly restores us. Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him[1] -say Psalm 37- and My soul waits in silence for God or, according to another version, Truly my soul finds rest in God [2] -Psalm 62.

The context generally is a level of trust in the Lord such that we can sleep without anxiety, in a way memorably described in Psalm 127: Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain. In vain you rise early and stay up late, toiling for food to eat— for he grants sleep to those he loves.[3]

I once met a priest who for years had tried to raise money for a building his parish desperately needed but in vain. Then one day the owner of an extraordinarily lavish home just few dozen meters away gave the building to the parish, without any explanation, unsolicited. The reason I particularly remember this episode is that the priest called this house Nisi Dominus, which is the Latin translation of the two initial words of the Psalm just quoted, Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain.[4] This is not to say we should wait for luxurious accommodations to fall into our lap, but is an acknowledgement that without the Lord all our efforts are vain: Apart from me you can do nothing,[5] as Jesus says in John’s Gospel, and that if we truly trust him, everything can happen.


So the Lord grants sleep to those he loves![6] Such a heartening promise! Like sleep, the habitual disposition of counterbalancing worry and anxiety with trust is a way of resting in the Lord, of waiting for him to act. It is not a form of passivity but in many ways the most effective way to be awake and present to what is happening: I slept but my heart was awake,[7] says the Song of Songs.

Often in my life I have seen that it is not good to be too voluntaristic about things. Rather, I do my best to discern what is the right kind of action, try to set it in motion, but then I always step back a little, pause and wait to see if things fall into place. I have met people who are not believers and excel in this – they say to me: Sometimes, you have to trust the universe!

This attitude is the exact opposite of laziness. Nothing is more demanding than keeping our cool in the countless occasions of our lives when we are faced with trials, unsurmountable difficulties, deep uncertainties about our future or the success of a course of action, injustices, and any situation where our possibilities of intervention are limited. We are tempted to fret or give over to panic, anxiety or anger when this is precisely the time to be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him.[8]

This can become a lifestyle, beautifully captured by the short and delightful Psalm 131 that compares the person who puts her hope in the Lord to a weaned child in its mother’s arms: My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty; I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me. But I have calmed and quieted myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content.[9]

As the French Orthodox theologian Olivier Clément beautifully puts it, in prayer as in life, it is good sometimes just “to pause and listen, savour rest, become a chalice ready to be filled, pause in silent waiting”.[10]


[1] Psalm 37.7. [2] Psalm 62.1,5. [3] Psalm 127.1f. [4] Psalm 127.1f. [5] John 15.5. [6] Psalm 127.1f. [7] Song of Songs 5.2. [8] Psalm 37.7. [9] Psalm 131. [10] Olivier Clément, Pregare il Padre Nostro (Bose: Qiqajon), 88.




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