Sometimes We Need to Hit Pause
Sometimes we just need to pause and reflect a little, writes Chris McDonnell.
Often, when I was preparing young children to read at assembly in school, I would use the phrase “remember the space between words”.
To make any sense of the written word put into speech, the pauses can be as informative as the words themselves. They lend importance and significance to the idea being put across, they are an essential structural part of the story.
This is true for any spoken presentation, but especially so when a community comes together to celebrate the Eucharist. The words we share will be appreciated when spoken in the context of a measured, inclusive tone with clear enunciation, rather than rushed and mumbled.
Often we rush speech when we are nervous, not used to speaking in public. Using microphones at assembly enabled children to concentrate on clear articulation, whatever their age.
There are many occasions when pausing is of benefit, when thinking before acting is the better part.
In many games of skill, the time of reflection increases the chance of success, be it planning a move during a game of chess, or the pause before a ball is put into the scrum during a game of rugby. The pause in the action heightens the impact when the action takes place.
The word “retreat” is a familiar part of the Catholic lexicon, whether it refers to a group activity, a parish event or time away alone. It’s a time of taking stock, of where we are and who we might become.
It is usually led by someone we don’t know, whose voice is unfamiliar, and whose fund of stories is new to us.
This “time away” is shared by many faiths and manifests itself in different ways. There are common threads. There is quiet time, when unnecessary conversations are put to one side. There is an emphasis on prayer within the context of the particular tradition.
To help with our focus, wooden beads are fingered, hands held together, or opened with upturned palms. The position we assume might involve kneeling or sitting, standing or bowing, or walking.
The ultimate goal is the same, a heightened awareness of relationships with each other and with God. Understanding where we are is helped by sharing ourselves with others.
Time alone is time without a hiding place, facing a wall without the company of others with whom we might converse, with whom we feel secure. It is a time of risk, when we admit to questions that we have been hiding from, circumstances we would prefer not to face.
It is through such a time of reflection that the blank wall becomes a mirror and we face, sometimes for the first time in many years, ourselves staring back. That might not be a comfortable experience, it might demand we consider change that will be difficult to manage.
Monastic life for a small number of people offers a more radical pause, a dedicated community living by groups of women or men who have deliberately chosen a way of life that recognisably sets them apart.
A Cistercian nun, Sr Sheryl Chen, writing in her book Prayer is My Business, wrote: “I entered the Cistercian Monastery because I wanted a life of prayer. I got God instead. I have come to understand a life of prayer as finding God in each moment of the day, not just the times when we are in church.”
When we had tape recorders, there were two buttons in the rack of five—one said “pause”, the other “rewind”. Sometimes both options are of help to us.
We can be surprised by a pause in the headlong rush so many of us experience. We live in a swirling pool of continual activity, where one thing follows another without a space to breathe between. We rush and we do, we talk, work and shop, collect children, make meals and finally drop into bed exhausted.
Maybe we should pause and just be for a few moments of reflective calm each hectic day.
This article was first published in the Catholic Times.