Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Thoughtful Pause

My quote from Viktor Frankl in last week’s post about our very human desire to leave “an immortal ‘footprint in the sands of time’’ made me remember a poignant archeological find. Fossilized footprints of several human-like ancestors crossing volcanic ash millions of years ago were discovered in Africa.  As archaeologist and anthropologist Mary Leakey described her discovery, at one point only the female paused and briefly turned, as if to gaze in another direction—at a scenic vista? Looking back toward home? The road not taken? Toward an ominous sound? Then the footsteps continue on an otherwise straightforward path. Leakey concluded, “This motion, so intensely human, transcends time.”

I was deeply moved to think that her momentary pause was recorded in the sediment of ground for all time, now known by people like me she would never know or even imagine but whose imaginations are captivated by her mysterious turn. Was hers an “ah-hah” moment, a sentimental reflection of things past, a vision of another possibility, or simply a cautionary glance? 

The image is an icon, the story is a parable, a Zen story or koan whose inscrutability is the very thing that attracts me, causing my own thoughtful pause, stilling what Buddhists call my “monkey mind.” 

In the preface to my book, Communion of Life: Meditations for the New Millennium, written for spiritual seekers rather than a particular faith group, I write of “the thoughtful pause.” I mention poets as “secular mystics” whose choice of words and cadences, like scripture, require a thoughtful pause after each phrase or line to allow seeds of comprehension to germinate. For me, the thoughtful pause is the food of the spiritual life. 

Lord knows we need thoughtful pauses, bombarded as we are continually by IMs, texts, tweets, e-mails, news, spam, ads, pop-ups, radio, TV, cell phones, iPads, iPhones, iTunes, honking horns, rumbling condenser units, sirens, overhead planes, police helicopters, and shrill beeps telling us our food is ready, the dryer is done, our time is up! I could go on Walt Whitman-like with several pages of things that vie for our attention, but you get the idea. 

To take a moment to turn, to gaze, to think, to contemplate, to reflect, to really see—is almost countercultural. Yet that’s a purpose of the contemplative life. During workshops I encourage what I call “monastic moments” for people to turn inward to consult themselves, their stories, their heart before engaging in dialogue. Otherwise, too often, someone else will speak up before others can formulate their own thoughts, their own answers. 

Jesus often searched out a lonely place to pray. If he needed to do so, given his apparently natural affinity for the sacred as well as the relative quiet of first century Palestine, think how much more we need to find such places!? And he said, “Whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door…” The room implied is a pantry, at the center of a house, with no windows—in modern terms, no distractions, no Windows (sorry, I couldn’t resist). 

My youthful prayers were filled with words. Now my prayers are filled with silences. I need the silence to offset the noise of my life, to (in the words of technology) re-set, re-boot, refresh. 

The woman who turned so long ago reminds me of all the saints whose thoughtful pauses gave rise to insights passed down to us. And she reminds me what I also need.

Copyright © 2012 by Chris R. Glaser. All rights reserved. Permission granted for non-profit use with attribution of author and blogsite. Donations to this ministry are welcome! 


Gay and bisexual Christian men are invited to join Chris Glaser and David Mellott as they lead a retreat on “Claiming the Blessings! (Despite the Burdens)” Oct. 4-7, 2012, on the scenic grounds of Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center in Pennsylvania. 

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  1. Let me say Thanks be to God for you, Chris Glaser. Thank you. Thank you.

    1. Thanks be to God for you, Chuck! I am grateful for your comment!

  2. Chris,
    I am pausing more these days, and contemplating nature, a tree or a bird in my garden, a cloud or a sunset. Even staring into space can be useful, just a tiny pause, before having to re-engage with the world or a conversation. Some may find my speech a bit slower and my thoughts too, but I'm happy just to be in a different rhythm and a another pace and place,just for a while. It's very refreshing. Merilyn

    1. Thanks, Merilyn. Thanks for offering these insights to readers and to your world and to me. warmly, Chris