Pause, Wayfarer

Rev. Jonathan Mitchell

Wayfarers Chapel

May 18, 2003

Psalm 131

Mark 1:32-39

This morning I invite you to direct your attention to the “Wayfarer’s Poem.” It is found in much of our literature here at Wayfarers Chapel, and in particular on the back page of your service bulletins. I understand that it was written by a group of people including Rev. Erni Martin, who is here with us this morning. It may be very familiar to some of you. Yet I think it is valuable to return to it periodically. It reads,

Pause for a moment, Wayfarer, on life's journey.
Let the beauty of holiness restore your soul.
May the harmony of sky and water, leaf and rock,
Nourish the creation and growth of your inner being,
As you fare through this life and on into the life beyond

“Pause for a moment, wayfarer . . .” First, of all who is the wayfarer who pauses? By the dictionary definition, a ‘wayfarer’ is a traveler, especially a traveler by foot. Less literally and more generally, the wayfarer who pauses is anyone who is in the midst of a journey - the journey “though this life and on into the life beyond.” Since the journey has already begun, the wayfarer has a story to tell, and since the journey resumes after the pause, the wayfarer is someone who is moving toward a goal, whether this goal is consciously grasped, or whether this too is yet to be discovered. In sum, the ‘wayfarer’ is anyone who is journeying through life and has a story to tell.

I will speak more next week about the wayfarer’s tale. Today I want to speak about the value of pausing. And as an introduction, I would like to engage you in a exercise. I invite us all to you to stop for a moment and to pause. We can begin by surveying our senses. What do you hear? What do you see? Smell? What is your level of alertness this morning, your level of emotional energy? What preoccupying thoughts are with you this moment? What worries? What memories? What plans for later today?

Our lives contain cycles within cycles, on larger and smaller time scales, and so there are pauses of various lengths. In some professions there is a practice of the sabbatical, a year off for travel, and for continued education and research. A sabbatical year offers one the chance to reenter one's ongoing career with new knowledge, perspective and insight. Vacations perform a similar function on a yearly scale. Ideally, we return from vacation refreshed and able to look at our work with fresh eyes. The biblical Sabbath day was intended to place a recurrent pause in the rhythm of the week, to allow us to rise above our day-to-day worries and concerns, and to return to a sense of the holy. I particularly want to hold up today the pauses that can enter into the daily routine. These traditionally take the form of times of prayer, meditation, and reflection.

David Brazier, a Buddhist author I've been reading recently, describes a particular strategy for inserting pauses into his day. Apparently at his Zen center a bell is rung every fifteen minutes. His practice is to pause every time he hears the bell to take the sort of inner and outer survey we just did together. Well, the interesting thing is, we ring the chimes every fifteen minutes here at Wayfarers Chapel as well. So I thought I would adopt this practice for myself, while I am here on the grounds. I have two things to report about this. First, it is harder than it sounds. When I do hear and pause at the bell, I often ruefully realize that it has been well over an hour since I last paused at the bell. In between I had been so caught up in what I had been doing that the sound of the bell had barely registered. But second, however, these pauses, when I remember to take them, or any other brief pauses I take in the course of a day, are highly worth while. They help keep me calm, they help keep me focused on what is important to me. It may seem that things sometimes get too hectic to allow for pauses. But the opposite is true. When we are racing to meet deadlines, when we are in moments of chaos or crisis, these are the very moments when it is the most helpful to pause. Slow down -- and get more done!

Pausing allows us to step out of the flood of events and to observe what is happening around us and within us. This stepping out of the rush of our ongoing lives gives us two things: perspective and freedom. Perspective, its power and appeal, is illustrated by Wayfarers Chapel itself. Here at Wayfarers, we are blessed with a view of the ocean if you look in one direction and a view of the hills if you look in the other. This is a large part of its beauty. An ocean view and a view of the hills are both inherently calming. We are attracted to them for the expansive vistas they give, for the sense of being above it all, for the ability to see the surrounding terrain laid out with its all its interconnections. In pausing, we can experience an analogous sense of perspective at the emotional level. We get the broader view, we see how things interconnect and we are able to rise above the all too insistent pressures of the moment.

And with that greater sense of perspective we gain in freedom. We are free at every moment of course. But our freedom becomes more effective as we gain a richer and clearer sense of the possibilities open to us. When we see that there are alternative responses to the pressures of the present moment, beyond our initial impulses, we have greater effective power to choose and to choose wisely. With the gain in perspective and freedom comes increased confidence within ourselves and increased compassion toward others.

In all fairness, however, I feel I must issue you a warning: pausing can be dangerous. Many spiritual leaders, Eastern and Western alike, have speculated that the constant busyness of contemporary life, the propensity people have today to overfill their time with activities, is based on an underlying anxiety. People are afraid to pause because they are afraid of what they might see if they did. It has been said to me that people are afraid of themselves, and I suspect there is some truth to that. But I think it goes deeper. I think pausing is dangerous because you might hear God calling you! It is my belief that God is calling all of us, and that which God calls us to is the very thing, the very kind of useful service, the very kind of love of God and neighbor, that our souls, deep down, would find the most satisfying. So we can trust Gods call. Yet just as surely  God'scall will require us to move outside our current compromises with life, outside our current comfort zones. Pause, wayfarer, I dare you to!

Jesus understood the value of pausing. We see this especially in the Gospel of Mark. We see him engaged in an active ministry of healing. How the crowds press upon him! In the passage we read this morning we see him rising before dawn, after the previous hectic day of healing the crowds, to spend time alone in prayer. In the midst of this, Peter "hunts" for him (interesting choice of word, isn't it?), finds him and says “Everyone is looking for you.” One of the ways God can call us, I believe, is through other people. The call here is coming to Jesus again, in this instance through Peter. In the pause is heard the call. Jesus’ response is notable. If I were in his position I know I would have been tempted to say something like, “Peter, really, I'm tired! I spent all day yesterday tending to the needs of the crowd.  Can'tI have even one moment of peace?” In fact, though, Jesus says, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also. For that is what I came out to do.” Jesus knew the value of pausing. He paused to hear the call again, and to reenter his ministry with renewed energy and commitment.

Pause for a moment, wayfarer. . . I pray for myself and all of you this morning that we might learn the wisdom of pausing and pausing repeatedly. And in that pausing may we hear God calling and be inspired to enter that life of service which we came out to do.