Tiny Empire, at Rest

Love turns work into rest. – Teresa of Avila

On Saturday, between drying clean dishes and making the windows shine, freshening a vase of flowers and fluffing bed pillows to life in the nearly springtime(!) afternoon light, a phrase entered my mind, and got stuck.

Tiny empire.

Setting a collection of dusty damp paper towels aside, I leaned down to ruffle the soft scruff of one of the dogs, scratching her upturned belly, thinking, This is our tiny empire. It’s ours to make of it what we will. What a beautiful, tremulous, wild idea. What a gift. And it’s so true.

I pondered this for a moment more, feeling grateful, then launched back into cleaning. But it struck me how I had come to this realization while I paused. Not while hauling the vacuum upstairs, or scrubbing the sink (yes, my cleaning sprees usually occur on Saturdays, I like to make it snappy, because I’m not exactly naturally domestic, and, well, you get the idea), but while pausing and resting. While giving attention to a quiet, uncommitted moment, snuggling a sweet dog (in lazy, blissful repose herself).

And since then, I’ve been thinking about rest. This simple (albeit, four-letter) word sounds like luxury–like music, like silk, like the stuff of dreams, at least to me. Like most, I lead a busy, productive, ‘modern,’ and multifaceted daily life, and I’m naturally worn in body and spirit as the long day folds into itself; at night, I’m often cooking for two, tidying up, walking the dogs, running, climbing at the gym, attending a class, reading, writing . . . and, when I can’t muster another movement, when my eyelids flutter mid-sentence, falling asleep late and awakening too soon.

So I wonder, could I learn to incorporate rest–some simple pause, even if brief–into each day, into my tiny empire? We make all kinds of choices in cultivating a home, in deciding the particular tenor of that sacred space. It doesn’t seem too difficult to list obvious methods of rest, especially while at home: a twenty-minute nap, a lavender bubble bath, sipping a glass of bright red wine in the evening. All of these things are wonderful, restoring, even necessary. When I’m intentional, they’re quite attainable, too.

But I wonder about those hectic days, the ones where rest is so easily neglected and lost amid the noise of everyday living. Can we locate it, even if our schedule doesn’t allow for a lazy bath, or a power nap? Is it praticable to lead an invested, sometimes frenetic existence, busy and full, but rooted in rest? Can we hold on to stillness in the soft, quiet moments, but also in the midst of movement?

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In attempting to answer these questions for myself, I think the answer is yes, absolutely, but also no, not always. I’m not entirely sure what it looks like, this inner rest in the midst of activity, but I have begun to see it in small glimpses, now that I’m on the watch for it. On a particularly hectic afternoon in the office, I take a lengthy walk in a quiet neighborhood during lunch, breathing in blue clear skies and crisp air. I choose reading over Netflix (sometimes it’s hard, admit it), or sing in the car rather than mindlessly absorbing radio banter during my morning commute. I pray, wordlessly.

But there’s a limit, too. Sometimes rest comes only with absence, with true quiet and solitude that’s allowed to linger. During Lent, at our church, the postlude is omitted. At first I missed the beautiful organ, beckoning the day triumphantly as we made our way out of the pews and into the chill March afternoon. But there’s something holy, too, something restoring and needed in the occasional quiet, the noticed absence of music. Soon, it will resume. It will greet us once again, like the warmth of summer on your skin, when you thought winter would last forever. (That’s how it goes in Ohio, you know.) The pace will increase, and we’ll greet it again, joyfully.

But for now, it listens, and allows us to be heard, to rest–and in each of our own tiny empires, it’s ours for the taking, the protecting, and discovering.

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4 thoughts on “Tiny Empire, at Rest

  1. I liked this, and it put me in mind of a song that sort of explains what happens in the absence of the restfulness you describe. Look up “Fake Empire” by The National. I’d love to hear what you think.

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    1. Oh! I love that song (and The National). “Half awake” is how it feels at times. There’s something about the restless percussion and slow lyrics of Fake Empire that captures the longing for rest, too — what a great connection, Kelly 🙂

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