Between Notes

The French composer Claude Debussy once famously said, “Music is the space between the notes.” The greatest blues musicians are able to captivate us by playing less, not more. Artists refer to the idea of ‘negative space’; the absence of content that itself carries weight. Legendary playwright Harold Pinter crafted an entire career around his mastery of the pause between lines of dialogue, that pregnant moment that brings significance. Comedians may say that timing is everything, but what they really mean is that it’s the pause before the punchline that makes it perfect.

The idea of a need for rest is completely ingrained in us, solace from work, from stress and toil. There are scores and scores of stories, mostly farcical, that humanity tells over and over about the search for rest. A whole silly sub-genre of cinema exists in which the protagonists are seeking rest—an uninterrupted vacation with the family, a celebration, a simple holiday meal—and are denied it for ninety-odd minutes (with hilarious consequences, naturally). We need physical rest, R.E.M. sleep, without which we can fall into a cycle of depression and recurrent illness. But the idea of vacation or physical rest is a shadow of the true spiritual rest that all of us search for, some of us spending our entire lives chasing that moment of stillness. We cry out for it.

In God, we have that rest we seek, and it’s a beautiful thing, a harmony we lack in ourselves. In that rest, we have a freedom—a freedom from anxiety, worry and fear, things we’re devastatingly prone to without it. God’s rest is that rest He sought on the seventh day after the work of creation, His own freedom from toil. That rest hasn’t ceased since the beginning of days, and it is always available to us in Him. 

God’s rest allows us freedom, and without it we are bound—by the world, and the heavy weights it seeks to yoke us with. Anxiety, worry and fear. The negativity that comes with dwelling on our anger, our bitterness and our resentment is a dangerous thing, the spiritual equivalent of that absence of R.E.M. sleep that can so damage our physical and mental equilibrium in life.

But God’s rest isn’t synonymous with slumber or laziness. It doesn’t denote inactivity—God isn’t about stasis, but is rather possessed of a spiritual dynamism that we seek to emulate in our own lives. He’s perpetually in motion, and it’s this great engine to which we attach ourselves, to power our own spiritual journey. When we rest in God, we are most emphatically not asleep, but powering forward, because it’s forward motion that counts the most. 

Rest is not laziness! Paradoxically, it requires work. We’re given the gift of God’s rest freely, but to retain that rest takes hard labor. Hebrews 4:11 says, ‘Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience’, referring to the failure of God’s people to practice the kind of faith that would allow them access to the gift of His rest. We relax into our faith in the Father, our faith in His goodness, those qualities we seek to take on within ourselves. When we don’t have that personal discipline of rest and peace, we remain undeveloped. We remain underdeveloped—stunted in our growth, unable to move freely. 

With that discipline is twinned the capacity for rejoicing, the giving of thanks. The serenity of God’s rest is a symphony, bringing us together in worship. Peace comes hand in hand with joy, and allows us to leave our baggage behind to continue our journey with a lighter heart.

Think to yourself of the moments of rest in God that you’ve experienced in your spiritual lives. What do they look like? When you lay your head down at night, do worries and anxieties crowd behind your eyelids clamoring to keep you from a good night’s sleep? It’s time you learned again to relax into God’s arms, to rejoice in Him, to remember the lightness of being that comes with that serenity of purpose. Remember who you are in Him, how He sees you and has always seen you, the endless, boundless forgiveness and warmth in His heart. We have no room for bad thoughts in God’s rest. There’s no space for negativity.

As we seek that perfect pause in the arms of God, close our eyes and bask in the symphony of that Presence, we can finally feel the dynamic shifts of tone and rhythm that our lives so desperately need, as we recognize that music is nothing without the spaces between the notes. They’re not called movements for nothing.