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Restlessness in a Time of Rest

by Dan Madden, O.S.A.

I’ve been thinking a lot, lately, about restlessness, one of the pillars of Augustinian spirituality. Augustine begins his classic spiritual book, The Confessions, with a prayer to God. Really, the entire work could be said to be a prayer, for Augustine is always in dialogue with God throughout. Augustine sets the tone with the first line by explicitly praises God – “great are you, O Lord, and exceedingly worthy of praise; your power is immense, and your wisdom beyond reckoning…you have made us and draw us to yourself” – and then gives his famous line – “and our heart is unquiet until it rests in you.”

The spiritual life, in one sense, is summed up in that last line. We are on a journey toward God, and we will not be at rest, will not feel restful, until we are with God.

I’m thinking more about this spiritual truth because of quarantine. Continued stay at home orders make us anxious, in many ways. Many people are necessarily anxious to return to work. Many are eager to get outside for fresh air without fear. Many want to be able to see family and friends in person. We are growing restless for change, for something more, for an end to this.

This physical and emotional restlessness reveals a restlessness of the spirit. Restlessness of the mind and body often points to a restlessness of the spirit. We happen to notice this restlessness more, these days, but, in fact, it is our general condition while on earth. In normal circumstances, work and study and family and social activities can provide enough meaning and purpose that, for the most part, we ignore the restlessness of our hearts. But it is always simmering. Now, it feels as though the burner has been turned to high.

Restlessness, it needs to be said, is a good thing. The restlessness in our hearts reminds us of the journey we are on. It does not let us grow complacent. It encourages us to continuing growing, to continue seeking God.

So maybe the invitation these days is to really listen to that restlessness, to where God is calling you. Maybe God is calling you to spend more time with him in prayer. Maybe God is inviting you to pick up the phone and reconcile with a friend. Maybe God is encouraging you to practice patience. Maybe God is calling you to a different path in life. Listen to the restlessness, for it drives your journey toward God.

There is, of course, reason to be active, to exercise, to bake, to have zoom socials, to learn a new skill. But there is also an opportunity to spend time thinking about who you are, where your life is going, and who you want to be. It is, ultimately, an opportunity to listen to the restlessness, for in the restlessness, God is speaking to you and calling you to himself.

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Mary
7 months ago

This article truly opened my eyes to now. It expresses everything in my head and heart. Prior to pandemic and political turmoil, I was praying to the Good Lord to change my anger . At least Lord show me where it starts with me. Listen Mary Listen. I try hard to do that now. Through out all the disrespect, all the judgement all the hatred. Like Me just love and follow Me. I seem to be very content with my new life prayer, cooking and cleaning in that order. Paying attention to the One who deserves the attention. Thank you