I once had a writing teacher who laid it out for me. He said everyone thinks if they just had the right space, the right tools, the right time of day, the right beverage… they’d be able to sit, concentrate, write, and produce the magnum opus they just KNOW is within them. But, he went on, writing is just about sitting down and doing it. There’s no magic. It’s just work.
I thought of this conversation as I read Revgal April Yamasaki’s excellent book Sacred Pauses: Spiritual Practices for Personal Renewal. Rather than asserting that one’s devotional time will be a direct pipeline to the divine if just done correctly, Yamasaki gently explains that there are a variety of ways of connecting to the holy. In fact, you may already be practicing some of them. Furthermore, any one of these spiritual practices may work for you, but will not necessarily always leave you feeling refreshed. Spiritual discipline is work, but holy and worthwhile work.
We can’t always wait for the next retreat or even our next day off. Yamasaki explains:
Spiritually speaking, a retreat is really less about physical space and more about personal focus and being deliberately attentive to God; less about seeing the wilderness and more about placing ourselves before God. (21)
Placing one’s self before God doesn’t require a packed suitcase and a charged Kindle. It can be time with a cup of tea, a few rows of knitting, the silence during a midnight nursing, or simple gratitude while cleaning the bathroom. The sacred pause is focused not on the activity of the hands or body, but the openness of the mind.
One of the excellent aspects of this book is Yamasaki’s biblical work. Each section, which describes a different spiritual practice, has multiple Bible verses and stories. These notations flow in and around her writing in a smooth style, supporting and moving the narrative along. Yamaski offers chapters on “Creating Space”, “Valuing Relationships”, “Giving”, “Praying It Like It Is”, “Having Fun”, “Fasting”, and “Confessing” among others.
I enjoyed the section on “Being Alone without Being Lonely”. In this chapter, Yamaski talks about being transformed by solitude. The act of being alone, even for the chattiest extrovert, creates a chance to rest in our skin and head. We are able to divest ourselves of the expectations of others and wait on the Lord. But reaching this place takes patience.
Even if we do all the “right” things- use the right toothpaste, develop a hobby, join a club or a church, form good friendships, marry, and have children and grandchildren- we’ll still be lonely at times. But in spiritual terms, … we might also say blessed are the lonely- not because it’s good to feel bad, but because loneliness can function as a spur toward God. Blessed are the lonely who are able to look beyond their loneliness. Blessed are the lonely who realize their own need and turn to God. Blessed are the lonely who develop a capacity for solitude. (78f)
Each chapter has reflection sections, journal prompts, or additional information from other resources. (Thanks for the LifeJournal idea, April!) This book would neatly flow into a retreat format- group or personal- or serve as a good devotional focus for an individual or small group. The best feature of this book is Yamasaki’s tone. There’s no shaming or pressure to instantly CHANGE and IMPROVE one’s devotional life. Instead, she is gentle and compelling about why sacred pauses are crucial for spiritual wellbeing. Yamasaki is, above all else, a realist. Her own confession support what is possible in a sacred pause and what is not.
There are limits, of course. I don’t always feel better after I play the piano or listen to good music. The riddles of my life are not always solved so neatly. But… in music I sometimes find respite from the stress of life. Sometimes I find clarity on what I need to do and the energy to go and do it. In the meantime, as with all spiritual disciplines, I wait for God. (117f)
This is such a refreshing statement. It is so easy to feel embarrassed about the state of one’s devotional life or lack thereof. Here you find someone willing to admit that she spends the time, but does not always reap what she thinks she’s sowed. Nevertheless, she moves forward- trusting God’s presence with her. The only way to fail is by not pausing, by skipping these small ways of connecting with the Holy.
I strongly recommend that you consider this book for college students, for new retirees, for men or women looking for ways to develop individual devotional practice, for a meditation or prayer group, or for a weekend retreat.
Yamasaki, April. Sacred Pauses: Spiritual Practices for Personal Renewal. Herald Press; Waterloo, Ontario. 2013