A Bishop's Perspective Bishop Burns

The balance of work and rest

A BISHOP’S PERSPECTIVE, in the Juneau Empire – May 25, 2014

Now that Memorial Day weekend is upon us and we are approaching the month of June, many of us are either taking some time off or planning on doing so this summer.

Juneau bishop calls Alaska's Shrine of St. Therese a place where everyone is welcome, regardless of their religion
Bishop Edward Burns enjoying a recent retreat at the Shrine of St. Therese in Juneau. (Nancy Wiechec photo/CNS)

Our vacation may not be much longer than an extended weekend spent at home in the garden or out on the water, or it may be for several weeks or even months traveling across the globe. But whatever particular form it takes, we need to take time off from our daily routine of work in order to be fully human.

Part of what makes us human is the deep satisfaction we experience when we have done a good day’s work, whatever that work might be. I believe that all human beings, made in God’s image and likeness, are called by nature to participate in the creative work of God in the world, whether that work is designing buildings or waiting on tables. Even, when as workers we are motivated primarily by duty, obligation or necessity, or we find the work that we do to be difficult or even burdensome, our work is still an expression of our dignity as human beings. But as important as it is, there is much more to who we are than the work we do.

Within my faith’s tradition, the practice of Sabbath rest, the observance of Sunday as the Lord’s Day is important. In Genesis, the first book of the Bible, we read the account of the six days of creation, during which God brought into being everything that is. Yet on the seventh day of creation, God ceased his labors and rested.

The weekly rest of Jews and Christians on the Sabbath is patterned on the model of this Divine rest at the beginning of creation itself. For religious believers, commanded to keep the Sabbath day holy, the day of rest is a day set aside to honor and worship God as a community, to renew our family relationships and to intentionally slow down and spend time rejuvenating oneself.

Summer also provide for such rest. Ever since I was young, I always longed for summer and the wonderful opportunities that accompany the warmer weather. Summer comes with the chance for outdoor sports and activities, as well as addressing the various chores needed around the house. Many times, my ministry affords me the opportunity to spend a couple days in our various communities.

A few years ago, I was in Skagway for an extended weekend covering the ministry in our St. Therese Parish. That weekend provided wonderful weather, and I was sitting outside our church just enjoying it. While something inside prevents me from sitting idle for too long, I decided that I was going to cut the grass around the church. The parish has a significant lawn and it kept me busy for a couple of hours.

As I was finishing up my task of bagging all the grass clippings, a woman was walking by taking some pictures of the church. Recognizing that she was off one of the cruise ships, I greeted her and asked where she was from. She said she was from Sydney, Australia. I shared my previous experience of Sydney a few years earlier while attending an international Catholic gathering led by the Pope. She indicated that she attended the same event and asked if I was the pastor of our small parish there in Skagway. I told her that I was not the pastor but I am the bishop of the Diocese. And she remarked, “And you’re cutting the grass?” She caught me off guard with the question, but I wanted to have fun with the moment and simply asked in reply, “Why? Doesn’t your bishop come to your parish and cut the grass?”

Even summer chores can be sources of rejuvenation, as they offer us a chance to renew ourselves in the process. She asked me if she could take a picture of me pushing the lawnmower so that she could put it on her Facebook page. I politely declined.

Summer is a great time to reflect on the balance between work and rest in our lives. The weekly day of rest and leisure that the Jewish and Christian traditions call the Sabbath gives us the regular opportunity to bring our everyday work and routine to a halt, and to provide us with a needed respite. One day out of th week, we should rest and allow others rest as well.

The sign of people on vacation are all around us in Juneau. It is great to see the docked cruise ships, the busses filled with sightseers, the shoppers downtown and chartered trips for people to enjoy all that Southeast Alaska has to offer. Summer, like the Sabbath day, is an opportunity for rest — a chance to balance the time we spend at work.

From my perspective, whether we are religious or secular, our human life is one that should have a rhythm of work and rest.

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