Sunday, July 7, 2019

The Value of Pauses

Pause - a temporary stop or rest, especially in speech or action; a cessation of activity because of doubt or uncertainty; a moment of hesitation.

A few years ago,  I tunneled through frenzied Christmas shoppers at a local mall to reach a place of quiet in the second floor movie theater. My youngest daughter, Anna, had seen the movie "Brooklyn" in mid-November and thought I would enjoy it too. Since I was spending a few days with Anna at the end of the week, I wanted to make sure I saw it before our reunion.

My friend, Emily, who was almost twenty, joined me. After the movie I appreciated her observations giving me a youthful perspective on the plot.

The story was about a young, Irish woman, Eilis, who ventured to New York City to start a new life. She lived in a boarding house, found a job in a department store and quickly met a charming young man. Although her early months go smoothly, she misses her mother and sister.

Pauses in the Movie

Throughout the movie, I was captured by pauses that occurred. "Brooklyn" wasn't fast-paced, the plot evolved slowly and deliberately.

The pauses occurred in many spots, more than I remembered in most movies. When her boyfriend told Eilis he loved her, she paused, looked at him, put her face down and walked away. The audience was held in suspense wondering what she would say to an expression of love early in their relationship. Her pause and non-verbal reply seemed appropriate.

Whenever Eilis received letters from home, she held them in her hand before opening. Her pause  reflects her anticipation and excitement for the greetings from her mother and sister.

One day at the store, Eilis saw the priest of the church she attended and watched him move slowly toward the counter. She paused in the middle of a sale and watched his actions. Her affect continued without expression as the customer leaves. The priest paused, trying to find words to deliver the news of her sister's unexpected death.

Pauses in the movie illustrated the value of taking time to reflect before responding or experiencing the gift of a letter communicating unknown, but treasured contents, and wondering about the visit of a priest to a place of employment.

Pauses in everyday life offer space to think before speaking or writing. Quick answers during conversation can result in words not chosen well or feelings expressed in anger. Taking a few moments to pause before answering can lead to healthier and more meaningful conversation. The odds of harmful words or inappropriate expressions can decrease when pauses happen.

How Did Jesus Pause?

In John chapter 8, verses 1-22 Jesus was confronted by the teachers of the law and the Pharisees when they brought a woman to him who had committed adultery.

"Teacher," they said to Jesus. "this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery. In our law Moses commanded that such a woman must be stoned to death. Now, what can you say?" They said this to trap Jesus so that they could accuse him."

Now this question carried great meaning and importance as Jesus was being "put to the test" so to speak by well-respected people in authority. Jesus, however, took a moment to pause before answering. He bent over and wrote in the ground - or as some described "in the dust that covered the land." His pause caused the Pharisees to pause, too, which might have increased their distress over not receiving an immediate answer.

Jesus finally replies, "Whichever one of you has committed no sin may throw the first stone at her."

After Jesus answered the question, he paused again, bent over a second time to write on the ground.

The Pharisees and teachers did not receive the answer they expected, so they went away.

Jesus demonstrated that pausing to reflect before answering questions is an important part of communication.

Can We Pause Today?

Pauses in our age seem few and far between. We push the pause button on movies to get more food or use the bathroom and then resume our feature. Often our answers to questions are "rapid fire," so we can move on to other topics. The art of pausing to reflect on an answer before speaking can give us time to collect our thoughts, to organize words so we can say what we want to convey.

Pauses in conversation are often seen as "awkward silences," but this awkwardness can give those engaging in conversation valuable time to reflect on what has been said, plan words and put together sentences that are most helpful.

A Way to Pause Last Lent

I recently found a book that I used during the past Lent called Pauses for Lent - 40 Words for 40 Days. The author invited the reader "to make a commitment to pause during each day of Lent, to read each brief meditation, and reflect on the word for the day." I appreciated the way the art of pausing created space in my life to listen to God and have continued to pause more frequently during my days to hear God's voice.

Emily and I left the movie theater chatting about our impressions. We were touched by the poignant scenes when Eilis said good-bye to her mother and sister before leaving Ireland. Emily focused on Eilis' character development throughout the movie, while I mentioned the pauses. The pauses framed tender moments in the movie making each one stand out in importance.

Later that evening, I remembered how Jesus paused twice before responding to the Phariseses. I appreciated the pauses practiced during Lent, encorporating the practice in every day life.

Prayer: Pausing seems counter-cultural, God, in our busy world where we are so connected with others, but must be intentional to stay connected to you. Guide our moments to include pauses when we can stop and reflect, for in these pauses we can seek you for words or insight as a way to dwell deeper in you. Amen.

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