📚The Value of Rest
Reading the Monk & Robot books over the holiday weekend.
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Here in the US, we are returning to work after the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.
Thanksgiving is, like much of life in the United States, a historically and emotionally fraught holiday. It is rooted in American myth, which aims to be one-size-fits-all, but is ill-suited and ill-fitting for all the expectation we foist upon it.
And sometimes holidays serve as a reason to get together and have a huge meal with loved ones. (We hosted this year, which explains the relative quiet round these parts while we prepped both the house and the food.)
It was a very nice weekend, and it ended with rest—which, after several weeks of prep and house projects, was absolutely necessary.
Christianity is ostensibly a religion that should prioritize rest. Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest, modeled after the Jewish Sabbath. But burnout has become a standard feature in American life, and pastoral & volunteer positions within churches are not exempt. (In a society like the United States, with such feeble social safety nets, it’s no surprise.)
This imbalance has plagued life here for a long time, but despite the persistence of “rise & grind” culture, an upswell of people have rejected the upsell of relentless capitalism—none more so than Tricia Hersey, creator of The Nap Ministry and author of the new book, Rest is Resistance: A Manifesto.
The book, which I have just started, pulls no punches early on and expands on the work that the Chicago-based theologian has been doing since 2016 on Instagram and elsewhere. In the preface, Hersey writes: “If we are not resting, we will not make it. I need us to make it. We must thrive.”
No holidays are universal, but they offer an opportunity all people need: an opportunity to rest.
The Solace of Fiction (& Fictional Religion)
I love the inventiveness of the sci-fi and fantasy genres. While religion is not always the first thing one thinks about when they think of sci-fi or fantasy, I love when sci-fi & speculative fiction authors invent new forms of religion. Because they are usually the vision of a single author, they have a particular point of view; because they are invented, they are seeking a novel solution to particular human problems.
I first developed an appreciation of fictional religions from Kurt Vonnegut. The Bokononism of Cat’s Cradle was so refreshing when I read it just after graduating Christian college. It had a sort of lightness to it that I could no longer have to my Christianity at that time, and the hopeful cynicism that marked Vonnegut’s work was just what I needed.
Our faith of origin can cause us pain. In those times, the fictional practices of invented religions can be a source of comfort.
Lately, I’ve been finding comfort in the Monk & Robot series from Becky Chambers.
Over the last month, I’ve read both novellas in the series (the 2021 book A Psalm for the Wild Built and the recently-released A Prayer for the Crown Shy) and been absolutely entranced. The books take place in a world where robots gained consciousness during The Factory Age; the robots came to an agreement with the humans where they would no longer work for humans, and they were free to go out to the wilderness and explore the world they had woken up in—and humans were free to remain in the settled areas.
The books take place about two hundred years after the robots left for the wilderness, and human civilization has become much kinder and ecologically sustainable. There are all manner of hopeful sci-fi touches—a post-capitalist economic system, a non-binary understanding of gender, advanced but sensible technological affordances, etc.—but I love the religious elements, too.
The POV character is Sibling Dex, who serves as a tea monk. They make their rounds around villages serving tea and providing a listening ear to anyone who needs one. Their religious order serves the “child god” Allalle, among a family of six gods who are named in the prologue to A Prayer for the Crown Shy:
Praise to the Parents.
Praise to Trikilli, of the Threads.
Praise to Grylom, of the Inanimate.
Praise to Bosh, of the Cycle.
Praise to their Children.
Praise to Chal, of Constructs.
Praise to Samafar, of Mysteries.
Praise to Allalae, of Small Comforts.
They do not speak, yet we know them.
They do not think, yet we mind them.
They are not as we are.
This monk who serves the God of Small Comforts eventually becomes restless within themself, and they venture into the wilderness on a pilgrimage to an old temple that was reclaimed by wilderness. Along the way, they meet the robot Mosscap. The robot has been commissioned to travel among humans and learn what they need.
Through the story, the human and the robot learn about each other’s culture. They learn what they both need and desire. Dex devoted their life to providing comfort to anyone who needed it, and while happy still felt restless. But it’s in the small acts of devotion, and of exploration, that I find solace.
I’ll have more to share later.
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Thanks for the heads up that the next Monk and Robot book is out! Always love thinking about the intersections between sci-fi/fantasy and religion.