Midweek Faith Lift
May 19, 2021
“What’s In a Pause?”
Rev. Deb Hill-Davis
Do good, get good. Goodness radiates and sticks to people.
— Ajahn Sumano Bhikkhu in Meeting the Monkey Halfway by
Ajahn Bhikkhu Sumano, Emily Popp
To Practice This Thought:
Become sticky with radiant goodness.
To answer my title question, “What’s in a pause?” it is the place where we can become sticky with radiant goodness. Recognizing that we need to pause and developing the mindfulness to actually pause when we need to do so are incredibly important lessons in our spiritual journey. We get many messages to ignore the pause and our culture has all but obliterated the “pause of the Sabbath.” It used to be that there were NO athletic events for kids on Sunday mornings because families would pause to attend church and to have a Sunday dinner together. That sadly disappeared in the 90’s as people no longer attended church on Sunday mornings. The thinking was that as long as people were not “doing church” on Sundays, they could be “doing sports” and more games could be scheduled and on and on.
This is not just a cultural value, however. Our addiction to “busyness” is deeply personal and when we can believe we are “doing good” we can easily justify perpetual motion and activity. Cell phones, tablets, websites, Bluetooth speakers, Zoom, Facebook and the Internet are like an invasive species which compound our addiction to distraction and noise. Now they have a useful place, but we never pause long enough to think about what that is. I just recently learned about something called “”FOMO” or Fear of Missing OUT!! Oh my Goddess, please let me miss out! But I am just as guilty as the next person at not having strong boundaries around these invasive species. However, this is nothing new. The devices may be new, but the process is not.
Last Sunday, on Mother’s Day, I mentioned that there were many stories of Jesus interacting with women in the Christian Scripture. Well, there is one that seems especially pertinent to the idea of the Pause that we are exploring today, and it is one that I have long wrestled with to be honest!
Jesus Visits Martha and Mary
38 Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. 39 She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. 40 But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.” 41 But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; 42 there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.” (NRSV)
Well, then, I guess I consider my “Martha self” quietly rebuked and redirected by Jesus. Humph! I am often distracted by my many tasks and wondering aloud to Jesus, “If I don’t do them, who will…YOU?” You’re going to want some dinner after all your preaching and teaching. Where is that going to come from do you suppose? It won’t just magically appear despite your loaves and fishes miracle. Here in the real world, someone has to get the groceries and then turn them into a meal! And who do you think washes the dishes and cleans up after the meal so the house is tidy and pleasant and comfortable?? Mary?!?! Not likely! Harumph!!! Oh my, my, I can do Martha so very well! Complete with resentment, irritation and a fully planned guilt trip for Mary and Jesus to boot!
I suspect I have company in this, too! Are there other Martha’s out there?? Won’t someone help me, for heaven’s sake or do I have to do it all myself!!! Whoa, hold up, Deb, and listen to the whole story! Mary sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. And then Jesus noted that, “Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken from her.” Mary has chosen to pause, be fully present to Jesus and to listen to him. This can never be taken away from her. Wow, let’s all pause and ponder what Jesus is trying to get through to the Martha in all of us. This is an important message for all of us as it highlights our feeling nature or the Divine Feminine.
In this passage Jesus is so powerfully illustrating what we, in our human journey do with our feeling nature and highlights that we have a choice about this, specifically saying that Mary has made the better choice. As I sat with this in a moment of pausing, it became very clear that Martha in all her busyness will not pause to feel her feelings, even when the Christ shows up! The message of Jesus is not that she should not “do” what she needs to do, but that when the “Christ” of her shows up, recognize it, stop the “doing” and pause, be still and listen. So often, we don’t want to pause because we are afraid of what we will find in that empty space, that time of Silence. What lurks there that we don’t want to feel, see or experience? We would rather stay busy, resentful and indignant than really feel our sadness, loneliness or fears. Even when we are celebrating the fruits of our labors that are meant to bring us joy, we can’t fully enjoy that because we start thinking and worrying about the next thing, or how long will this last and on and on and on.
Tara Brach begins her chapter called “The Sacred Pause” with a story of US Air Force pilots in the 1950’s who attempted to fly outside of the pull of gravity which put their planes into a flat spin they could not control. In a desperate attempt to regain control, the pilots would plummet to earth, dying in the crash. It wasn’t until Chuck Yeager inadvertently discovered how to navigate this by being knocked out in the spin and then coming to as his plane gradually descended by itself into a lower altitude where the aircraft controls were effective. He then safely landed the plane! It was in that sacred pause of doing nothing, of being knocked out, that control was restored. Wow! The power of the pause saved his life! Disengaging his thinking brain and just free floating was the answer, not to be discovered until he was knocked unconscious!
Down here on earth, it is frequently the “cosmic 2x4” event that forces us to pause and finally be fully present to what we have been trying to avoid feeling or experiencing or acknowledging. We are caught in circumstances that we cannot escape which require our full presence and participation. Life threatening illness, a spouse cheating on us or our own cheating, overspending, constant social media, email addiction….all are like the flat spin of the Air Force Pilots outside of gravity. Unlike Mary in the story, we don’t make a choice, we go until we have no choice but to stop, to pause and see what is really there. Jesus is telling us that it doesn’t have to be like that for us. We can chose to pause, be with our discomfort, our pain, our vulnerability, whatever is there, and that the Christ is always there with us, always.
Charles Fillmore likened gravity to love, and when we get overly distracted, it becomes more and more difficult to actually feel the pull of love, of compassion and true caring for ourselves and others. Tara Brach’s description of this is Radical Acceptance and she says, “ Learning to pause is the first step in the practice of Radical Acceptance. A pause is a suspension of activity, a time of temporary disengagement when we are no longer moving toward any goal.” (p.51) We pause, shift into neutral, no longer frantically asking what do I do next. There is no next, there is just now, this moment. What do you feel right here and now? Let yourself be present to whatever is here, no matter how awful it feels and just notice what is there. It is a practice to do this, to truly pause and be present. When we do that, we can see the wants and fears that have been driving us.
Tara Brach quotes Zen teacher Charlotte Joko Beck, saying that the secret of the spiritual life is the capacity to “…return to that which we have spent a lifetime hiding from, to rest in the bodily experience of the present moment—even if it is a feeling of being humiliated, of failing, of abandonment, of unfairness.” In the sacred act of pausing, we develop the capacity to stop hiding, to stop running away from our experience. As Jesus says to Martha, we like Mary, have chosen the better part, which can never be taken away from us. There is much richness and depth in the feelings of our shadow when we pause to experience it.
Our own Myrtle Fillmore in How to Let God Help You, in Chapter 15, “The Secret Place of Spirit” talks of the stillness, of the Silence. This is for sure a spiritual pause that holds much wisdom and fullness for us. She says, “The silence is a kind of stillness, a place of retreat into which we may enter and, having entered, may know the Truth.” (p.89) It is not a place to be unconscious, like Chuck Yeager, it is a place to be fully conscious so that we can be fully present, realizing while we are awake that all we need do is be present, letting go and letting God. Myrtle describes Silence as “like the sun: it is always shining. It brings forth the best that is within us….” It is not just being quiet, it is a special kind of quiet, a pause that makes room for God, for Spirit, for that which is greater than we are as we do nothing.
It is a pause that allows us to really do good, not what our thinking self believes to be good, but what our heart knows is truly good. In that pause before we speak or act, we truly connect with Spirit and what happens next is that kind of good that allows us to be “sticky with radiant goodness.” May you pause often each day and become sticky!
Blessings on the Path,