To celebrate the last day of my month-long blog tour, I’m practicing being in two places at once with 5 Ways to take a break and be refreshed in the midst of a busy day AND my interview with Mennonite Women Canada. I received some great questions yesterday from Waltrude Gortzen, answered them early this morning, and wow, the interview has been posted for hours already—she certainly doesn’t let any grass grow under her feet. Many thanks, Waltrude!
The following interview first appeared on the Mennonite Women Canada blog.
Mennonite Women Canada: In 1988, you wrote the devotional guide, Where Two are Gathered. In 2003, you wrote Making Disciples as a Mennonite Publishing Network resource. Now, Sacred Pauses: Spiritual Practices for Personal Renewal, which is a resource for “those seeking rest and personal renewal.” What motivates you to write resources for the church?
April Yamasaki: There are already so many great books that I sometimes wonder, why write at all? Why not just keep reading? And yet with all that’s available, there is still more to be said, still more to explore, and I find myself still drawn to write.
In the case of Sacred Pauses: Spiritual Practices for Personal Renewal, the book is for all those seeking rest and personal renewal, and that includes people in the church and people without any kind of religious affiliation at all. In the book I draw on Scripture, on the example of Jesus, on some of the history of spiritual practice, on my own experience and the experiences of other people—all of that focused on rest and personal renewal which is for the church and for everyone.
Mennonite Women Canada: When did you first become interested in writing and what did it take for you to actually write your first book?
April Yamasaki: I’ve been interested in writing for as long as I can remember. As a child and teenager, I wrote poetry and short stories. In university, I did an internship at a magazine, and soon after started writing and publishing short articles in various places. Where Two Are Gathered was my first book—it was a series of responsive readings for two or more people to read together, so it was like a series of short pieces. It took a while to find a publisher—I sent my proposal to eight different publishing houses before the manuscript was finally accepted! So both writing the book and persevering to find a publisher took creativity, time, patience, and a stubborn faith.
Mennonite Women Canada: How do you decide what you will be writing about?
April Yamasaki: Most often it feels quite the other way around—that it’s not really about my deciding to write something, but about what questions or ideas have taken hold of me. So for example, Sacred Pauses came out of my own experience and questions about spiritual disciplines. The word discipline can come across as harsh, as a kind of punishment. But I discovered that spiritual disciplines don’t have to be a burden. They can be a delight, like sacred pauses in our day to refresh and renew us. My own longing for that kind of spiritual refreshment became a book that I wanted to share with others.
Mennonite Women Canada: What are some of the joys and challenges of being a woman in church leadership?
April Yamasaki: I love sharing my story as a woman in ministry, how God called me and led me in such a surprising way—from not at all thinking about pastoral ministry, to an interim role that I thought would be for a limited time, to now almost twenty years as a pastor. I am still amazed at that! It’s always a joy to share the movement of God’s Spirit in my life, and I find that it encourages both women and men in seeking God’s leading for their own lives too.
As a woman in church leadership, it’s sometimes a challenge to be in the minority, but for me that operates on a number of different levels—as a woman, as a third-generation Chinese Canadian, as someone who hasn’t grown up in the Mennonite church, as a member of a relatively small denomination. I’ve had more than one visitor tell me on a Sunday morning that they came to the church because they had never heard a woman preach before—it can be a challenge to be the object of someone’s curiosity or opposition, but there’s also tremendous opportunity in that to share God’s grace and good news.
Mennonite Women Canada: What are some of the challenges of combining church leadership and being a writer?
April Yamasaki: One challenge is simply having time for everything in my life—not only church leadership and writing, but home life, personal life, extended family, friends—like most people I know, it seems like I’m combining a lot of different things, and I want and need to give each their due. I’m a morning person, so this morning I was up just before 5:30 a.m., started writing this about 6am, and will soon be ready to put it away and get to the church for 9 a.m. To some that might sound gruelling, but for me it’s a great way to start my day.
Another challenge is that both pastoral ministry and my writing beyond my local congregation involve a lot of work with words. I love it, but sometimes all of those words can also be too much of a good thing. I think that’s partly why I’m so drawn to silence as a sacred pause.
Mennonite Women Canada: Compare writing your first book to this book. What has changed and how is it still the same?
April Yamasaki: What hasn’t changed for me is that writing still takes creativity, time, patience, and stubborn faith. But new technology has made a big difference. Some of my reading and research now takes place online. For my new book, I was able to submit my manuscript digitally as an email attachment. I’m doing this blog tour. We’ve been giving books away on Goodreads and Twitter. All of these things were unheard of years ago.
Mennonite Women Canada: What are some of the joys and challenges of being a writer?
April Yamasaki: I love to play with ideas and words, to immerse myself in Scripture and prayer, to write something as an offering to God that I hope will also inspire and teach others. All of those are deep joys. But writing is also hard work, it can be a struggle to communicate in ways that connect with people, and there’s always a gap between what I imagine and how it turns out on the page.The joys and challenges are all part of the creative process.
Mennonite Women Canada: With Sacred Pauses, what has been your personal highlight connected to this book?
April Yamasaki: I am most amazed by the gracious response the book has received. Even before it was published, people I didn’t even know were willing to endorse it. My church has been very supportive. A friend passed her copy on to a friend who passed it on to another friend, and now the first two friends each have another copy of the book and are re-reading it. A few people have sent me pictures of their everyday icon which is something I introduce in chapter one. I love hearing how the book is being read and put into practice!
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