A Sacred Pause to Listen
The poet David Whyte has a book on ‘words’. He takes a word, presumably a word that has evoked something within him, and he writes a poetic prose reflection. It is as though he is doing lectio divina on each word that he reflects on. For example, here is how he begins his reflection on the word ‘confession’: Confession “is a stripping away of protection, the telling of a truth which might once have seemed like a humiliation, become suddenly a gateway, an entrance to solid ground; even a first step home” (Consolations, p.33). In his ‘lectio’ reflection Whyte opens this word up for us showing its fuller reality, its deeper meaning and how it leads us to our true home. We use words so easily and so quickly without too much thought on what they are communicating. We all know the Rule of St. Benedict begins with one word: ‘Listen’. Have we, though, taken this word enough into our consciousness to let it guide and instruct how we live, how we are in our prayer and daily interactions at any given moment? What if we would each take this one word ‘listen’ and write a prayer reflection on it as we begin our day? I wonder if this type of lectio on this ONE word would help our listening, deepen our listening, open our hearts just a little more to hear the Word, Christ.
‘Listen’…and then listen with the ‘ear of the heart’: this is the beginning of the Rule and this one word is like an arch, it spans the entire Rule. If we don’t grow into listening in the monastic way we will not ‘arrive’ (the last word in the Rule) at what we are all seeking: freedom, union with God, becoming one with the heart of Christ and his consciousness. In our retreat with Abbot Paul Mark he began one of his conferences with a quote from Sr. Macrina Wiederkehr, osb, who was writing about “sacred pauses”. To me the following quote from her expresses one very important dimension to ‘listening’. She writes: “Sacred is the pause that draws us into silence. Nourishing are the moments when we step away from busyness. Teach us the wisdom of pausing. Reveal to us the goodness of stopping to breathe” (Seven Sacred Pauses, p.82). How quick we are to respond in conversation with one another. How quick the thoughts come up when we sit in silence to pray. What about this sacred pause? What is this all about? The pause draws us into the silence of the heart….but for what? What do we hear? It seems to me that pausing interiorly enables us to hear the ‘small still voice of the Spirit’. At Jesus’ baptism the voice of God says: “listen to him”. Does the Divine voice compete with all our other voices? I don’t think so. I think it is ever-present…present in the pause. What would happen if we did pause, just long enough to hear the Divine voice speaking to us, reaching into our consciousness with its wisdom word, its word of life, its healing word? Today if you hear God’s voice harden not our hearts: this is the evocation of psalm 94….Always and
today the Divine voice speaks.
The other aspect of ‘pausing’ before speaking is that it enables us to become aware of the emotional content that circulates around our words: sometimes our words are laced with hurt, anger, resentment. Other times our words are put forth to puff us up before others. The pause helps us to hear this stuff and then the Spirit can cut through it so that we can back off from it and meet the other with more authenticity and truth.
The fruit of contemplative prayer in daily life is to remind us of the ‘sacred pause’, a listening moment that helps us re-center, re-connect to the One who is our life and is the foundation of all that we are and do. There is no contemplation without listening. Imagine if we would practice, outside of prayer times, as we are being ‘busy’ with ‘many things’: ‘pausing’, pausing to listen, pausing to drop beneath our many words so that we hear the one Word which is Christ. Perhaps we would less react to one another. Perhaps we would learn something about how God becomes ‘all in all’ in simple ordinary lives, lives lived with such consciousness, dedication and hope. Perhaps our many words will become less and have a new quality about them, the quality of silence, a silence that is breathing God forth in and through our lives.