A Pause for the Cause

When I get feedback from my writing, it feels good.

I love it when people find something to chew on, something to make them think. And, when my story resonates with something that has happened with them, or something they are currently going through, it is soul satisfying.

Even when someone brings critique to my point of view, it’s good to feel like I have been engaged in that human encounter of minds.

Or, even when my favorite people, English teachers, who taught me to love literature, to not use too many commas, or clauses, or split infinitives (doing this on purpose), point out  my grammatical miscues……. I love it. I am glad they are reading my little blog, South of God.

During my Thanksgiving pause down on the island, I reflected on a certain rhythm in my life, a habit of writing a column a week, and a sermon every week. It was part of my weekly schedule. And J was trained, like a seal, to like the deadline feel for writing that forced me to produce. I learned early on how uncomfortable it was to go into a Saturday with no sermon, so I learned to carve out blocks of time for study, reflection, creative noodling, and writing. It was my life.

When I began this crazy life of ministry, I made a vow to God and myself that I would never enter the sacred space of a pulpit unprepared. It would be a sin to do such a thing, to waste people’s valuable time. I generally began my preparation two weeks in advance on any sermon, a righteous practice taught to me by my preaching professor, Dr. Joe Roberts, pastor of the historic Ebeneezer Baptist Church. Joe had trained with the great pulpiteers at Princeton and brought a rigor to sermon preparation. He pressed this value deep into my soul, so I was always prepared.

The problem was that I sometimes was trying to do the impossible pull things together in a way that could make sense of the scriptural lessons assigned for the day with what was going on in the life of my parish and in the life of my people. There’s the rub!

As my first boss, Dr. Bill Lancaster, was fond of saying, “Sometimes I have something to say, some times I just have to say something!”.

Truth is, sometimes I delivered at a high level and other times, I did not. But it was never because I did not put the time in to research, to be creative, and to craft. Sometimes it just didn’t work. I learned to block out time for this process, which is not always easy when  you are essentially on-call all the time.

For my writing then and now, it meant blocking out time for this work. I confess that I traded on college, seminary, and doctoral work to provide a rich trove of material for the first ten years of my work. But midway, I realized my well was running dry and so I began a habit of a sabbatical day each week, to fill my tank, or sharpen my saw, as Covey called it. I guarded that time with my life because I knew that my spiritual and intellectual life depended on it.

But I found that the same was true for my Self, that part of me that was my core of being, beyond the paid hired gun, religious professional, who did the bidding for others. How to nurture my Self?

The answer for me was to make the time for a pause.

In the middle of a full-tilt sprint or in the steady pace of a marathon project, I needed to carve out some time in my schedule to stop, slow down, pause so that I can pay attention to what is going on. As St. Ferris of Buehler said to his disciples: You got to take time to look around, or you might miss your life. Truer words!

For me, the image of a “pause” is effective in re-minding me of my need to take the time to tend to my Self.

I want to be a self-aware person, so I need to pause to look inside, to see whats going on in my psyche. I want to develop ways to review what has happened in my past that has contributed to who I am today. That means looking in the rear-view mirror to get a sense of all the happenings and relationships that have formed me.

I have found that a journal works for me, by that I mean, blank pages and a pen, to write down some of the things that come to mind. I try to write down the raw experience as fresh as I can, and then expand my reflections on the meaning of the moment. I have come to value the richness of experience, even the painful parts, where I am invited to dive deeply into the mystery that connect us all.

But this self awareness needs to move beyond the self-centered musing and include the connections I have with the community. David Brooks has renewed my passion for this in helping me to name four areas of commitment that define my character: vocation, marriage, faith, and community. I keep a section of my journal dedicated to these four to re-mind me every time I take a pause..

My sense of vocation has changed as I have gotten older in that the scope has broadened. Seeing my work in terms of church has grown to define my parish beyond the parochial ghetto limits, to include healthcare,, business, and the public square. My parishioners include those who seek God within the bounds of the church, but with a special eye trained for those who are the seekers, who are searching. They have always been my secret love, the people I want to help find a connection and resonance in the bigger picture. Coaching leaders and persons seeking to develop and grow is my new parish.

The crucible of marriage is the place where I have learned the most about intimacy. As my teacher, Tom Malone, taught me, the task is learning how to be your self in full, while sharing that with an other, without bending that self out of shape. I have been fortunate to find my partner, sitting across the balcony in a Decatur church thirty-nine years ago. How could I know that she would shape my life so profoundly  when I took the risk to ask her to join me for a drink at the Lullwater? My first real date with her was in my green Jeep as we shared the secrets hidden in both of our families of origin, within the ragtop Tent of Meeting.  We have poured ourselves out, raising two children, encouraging them to follow their passion. We have worked our way through the valleys, and enjoyed the high points along the way. It is in my marriage that I have learned more about how to be in relationship with other people. That’s what the marriage rite intends, that you would learn about life and love in this particular and peculiar relationship, and then reach out to others.

I pause to think about my faith a good bit. You simply can’t say, I gave at the office, and shut the door. Soul searching for what one values ultimately, how to spend the limited time and energy you have been given, and how to break out from the lines that limit who counts…..this is the real work of the Spirit. I have found odd partners in this quest: Trappist monks who quiet me, Tibetan Buddhists who press for practical compassion, Evangelicals who call out commitment, a rabbi who reminds me of the covenant of relationship, professors who demand rigor, a bishop who trained me to look deeply into symbol, a consultant who taught me about change, and an owl on the Appalachian Trail at twilight that taught me to pause, to ponder, to reflect.

Finally, one is embedded in the context of community, like it or not. I have tried, throughout my life to be engaged in the work of the community with the hope that we can form a better place for all people. My original community passion was for racial equality in the South where I was raised and claim as my own. My grandfather was my incarnational teacher, embodying the way to treat all people fairly, and with respect. There are no better ways to learn those lessons than experiencing it in flesh and blood, and Atlanta Police Officer Glen Pollard was my Yoda, schooling me in the way of the Jedi. I have since extended his teachings to gender, religion, sexual orientation, and any other adjective you might mention to modify or  denigrate the worth of a human being.

With all this on my agenda, you might wonder how I have any time to DO anything of substance. It’s funny. As I have gotten better and better at taking  my pause for the cause, I am using my time more effectively. I am choosing more wisely how to spend the minutes, the hours, and the days that I have left to me on this earth. I am still learning to take a pause for the cause, especially in times when busyness threatens to overwhelm me with urgency.

How have you found ways to take a pause? Is it something you need to work on? And how do you plan to do that? It sometimes feels overwhelming when you first face your busyness. But if you are beginning a new habit, a new discipline, start with a small step. What about taking a five minute pause at the beginning of the day? A pause when a break in your work comes? A pause at the end of the day to reflect? If you interested in learning on methods of taking a pause, let me know. I have resources and I would be happy to talk with you about it.

Do you need to take a pause for the cause? A pause can make a world of difference.

6 thoughts on “A Pause for the Cause

  1. David, there are so many jumping off places in this column for me that I hardly know where to start. However, I will choose two. The first is about preaching. Someone asked me the other day if I missed preaching. My answer was yes, but even more, I miss the discipline of study and preparation for preaching. Second, the pause. My discipline is to pray morning prayer each day, followed by time writing in my journal. Obviously, in times of deep inner work, the journaling becomes quite intense. In other times, much less. But both the prayer and the writing are critical for my journey towards wholeness or, as Brené Brown puts it, wholehearted living.
    I’m happy to be one of your dialogue partners. Thanks and blessings.


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