The Prayer of Stopping: Just be
In his recent column “A priest’s rest” (January 10), Fr Chris Townsend wrote about how he looks forward to his annual holiday and getting away from his daily responsibilities as parish priest, and just spend time in nature, simply enjoying God’s creation.
I can fully relate to that. I have just returned from a two-week road trip with a friend from overseas.
In our two weeks away, we tried to hit as many nature reserves as we could. The aim of the holiday was to show my friend as much as I could of the breathtaking beauty our country has to offer. It turned out that it was also a journey of discovery for myself.
South Africa really is an incredible country. Not just the fire and gold sunsets, or the gracefulness of a kingfisher catching its dinner or a herd of elephants cooling down at a watering hole. Ours is a country of abundance, from the generosity of strangers to the picture-postcard landscapes.
When Was the Last Time?…
Yet, we often miss all this as we race about our daily lives.
When was the last time I woke up early enough to catch a sunrise over the ocean, even though I live two blocks from the beach?
When was the last time I sat down to dinner with strangers, and shared a bottle of wine and just enjoyed the companionship of the moment, sharing the stories of lives that are very different from my own?
When was the last time I had nothing planned and just drove the car wherever the road led me?
The truth is that modern life places such demands on us, and we are taught early on that time is money. Time should not be “wasted”.
As children, we are reprimanded for staring out the window and daydreaming in class. As adults, our diaries meticulously map out every hour of busy days and we anxiously try to fill up every empty hour with some form of activity, even if it is just to schedule in enough time to binge-watch the latest TV series.
Stop and Breathe
When I am old, will I remember the plethora of activities to which I dedicated my life? Probably not. But I will remember the couple in Cathcart whose B&B was not just a place to spend the night, but rather a place where six strangers could share some wine and stories of their lives.
I will remember climbing a sand dune in Colchester and watching the sunrise from a hill in Graaff-Reinet with a good friend. I will remember the joy of watching a bird drinking water out of my coffee cup and the wonder of watching a cheetah with her cubs.
I can remember these things only if I take the time to just be. I need to take time out of my meticulous schedules, routines and responsibilities, and stop my busy mind to be able to take in the beauty around me.
And I shouldn’t wait for my annual two-week holiday to this. There is wonder in every day. Each day presents opportunities to build relationships with others, to appreciate a warm evening breeze or the soft pitter-patter of rain, and give thanks for the life-giving power of a Highveld storm.
There should be time to stop each day.
How about making this a Lenten resolution? The Church calls us to do something extra for Lent — more time for prayer, to engage in works of charity, to get off the couch (as Pope Francis would say). All these things are good and it is an important part of our Lenten journey.
But in our busy lives, especially in the cities, perhaps the real challenge to encountering God is simply to stop for a few minutes and just be. Let’s call it the “Prayer of Stopping”.
The Prayer of Stopping calls us to be present in each moment and slow the pace of our daily living. Who knows what generosity we may find in friends and strangers; what beauty we may discover in our ordinary, everyday surroundings?
In this prayer, we will certainly encounter the God of creation and of time itself. In that encounter, we find Jesus, the One who walks with us through all our days.