I first heard of Shirley Hershey Showalter as president of Goshen College, and now I’ve had the privilege of getting to know her on Twitter and through her blog. I so appreciate her generous spirit and wisdom, and look forward to reading her memoir when it’s released later this year. Thank you, Shirley, for your willingness to be the first stop on my Sacred Pauses blog tour–I hope we can sit down together over a cup of tea one day!
[Since the link to Shirley’s original post is no longer active, the interview portion of the article with her questions and my answers appears below.]
1. Tell us what your book is about and what prompted you to write it. What is Sacred Time, and why do people need it?
A few years ago, I was going through a very intense time–a dear church member went into hospice care and passed away soon after, my father-in-law had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour and died around the same time, my own mother was not well and in need of more care. I was feeling stretched and stressed out–personally and pastorally–so my husband and I arranged to take a break for a few days away. I went to bed early and slept late, had a leisurely breakfast instead of rushing out the door, wrote in my journal, took long walks, browsed in a favorite book store, ate ice cream, and just enjoyed being refreshed
That experience made me wonder–instead of waiting for a weekend or for a vacation, what if I could pause and be refreshed by God every day? And I began to think about spiritual disciplines in a new way as spiritual practices, as spiritual pauses that can refresh and renew us. I didn’t have the language for it then, but I came to think of these as sacred pauses.
All of our time is Sacred Time because it’s a gift from God. But sometimes we get so caught up in the busy-ness and pressures of everyday living that we forget–we lose that sense of the Sacred in every day, we lose that sense of larger perspective. That’s why it’s important to take a step back, to pause, to become more grounded, to re-connect with ourselves and with God, with other people and with creation.
2. What did you discover about yourself as a result of writing this book?
I discovered a new depth in the classic practices of Scripture and prayer, and I discovered that I also needed some less typical spiritual practices like making music and having fun. One of the stereotypes of the Christian life is that it is serious, even joy-less, but joy and humour are spiritual qualities. They are gifts from God and can be part of Sacred Time as much as fasting and prayer. What all these have in common as spiritual practices is their capacity for refreshment and renewal as we allow God to work in us.
In writing this book, I also became very aware that sacred pause is part of my creative process. Writing is not only about putting words together. Writing also means pausing–to remember and reflect on past experiences, to pray, to re-read the last chapter before moving on, to go for a walk to clear my head, to sit quietly in the presence of God.
3. How did you structure your own sacred time as you wrote your book? Was it easy or hard to do this?
I’m mainly a morning person and often read my Bible, pray, and journal before breakfast. But I will just as often read a part of Scripture during a random part of the day, talk to God while going for a walk, or journal late at night. I’m not particularly disciplined about particular times, so for me it’s easier to think in terms of sacred pauses woven into my day.
One of the challenges for me is that when I’m working on a project that I love, I become both a morning person and a night person. So some of the book was written in the early hours and late at night, around my regular pastoral ministry and everyday life. That kind of pace is actually easy for me until suddenly it’s not! I need to take care that I don’t flame out somewhere in the middle. I need sacred pause and rest. Thankfully, I also had some sabbatical time for writing, and I’m grateful to my church for their support.
4. When Mennonites left their rural communities in large numbers and joined the ranks of urban (suburban) professionals, they wanted to bring with them values from their roots. Simplicity was one of these values. In your opinion, has this desire been realized? What practices aid or obstruct this desire?
I don’t know that I can speak of Mennonites in general, but in my part of the church I think it’s an ongoing challenge. The obstacles to simplicity are many: the oh-so-present consumer mentality, the real or imagined peer pressure to keep up with others, the always-on world of technology, the sheer number of available choices. It’s not so simple to live simply in suburbia. In my observation, while people may still want to value simplicity, the definition of simplicity has itself changed. Now a simple family supper might be take-out pizza instead of a homemade soup and a loaf of bread fresh from the oven. And simplicity tends to be defined mainly in an outward, physical sense with little regard for the inner spiritual quality. But the two go together. Simplicity isn’t only about eating certain kinds of food or owning fewer things. It’s also about setting aside distractions, about being more focused, more intentional about life. I find that silence, prayer, reflection, and other spiritual practices can nurture that kind of simplicity.