Sacred Pauses on Beyond Evangelical

I had such a great time on my February blog tour and will continue stopping in at different blogs, although not quite as often—once a week was wonderful for my tour, but my blog stops will be more spread out now.

The following interview was part of my tour, and first appeared on Beyond Evangelical, the blog of Frank Viola, a well-known blogger, speaker, and author on deeper Christian living and the organic missional church. Thank you, Frank, for hosting me!

Frank Viola: Instead of asking, “what is your book about,” I’m going to ask the question that’s behind that question. And that unspoken question is, “how are readers going to benefit from reading your book?”

April Yamasaki: Thanks for the question, Frank. Sacred Pauses: Spiritual Practices for Personal Renewal is a personal and practical guide to spiritual disciplines. From “Creating Space” to “Ending Well,” each chapter highlights a spiritual practice that is grounded in Scripture, illustrated with personal stories, and geared for everyday living. Some of these are classic spiritual disciplines with a long history, like Scripture, prayer, and fasting. Other practices like making music and having fun, have not generally been recognized in the same way. But with all of these, the benefit to readers is the opportunity to explore them as sacred pauses—with engaging examples and practical exercises to try for themselves.

Frank Viola: Tell us a bit about the experiences that shaped the insights in the book.

April Yamasaki: As a book, Sacred Pauses began with my own longing for rest and personal renewal. Several years ago, I was going through an intense time both pastorally and personally. A dear church member had been admitted to hospice and then passed away very soon after; that same month my father-in-law died from an inoperable brain tumor; both my mother and mother-in-law were also unwell and needing more care.

With all that was happening, I needed a break too, so while other family members stepped up, my husband and I arranged to go away for a few days. I went to bed early and slept late, I wrote in my journal and went for long walks, I browsed in my favorite book store and ate ice cream, and generally let go of being responsible for a time.

I returned home refreshed and with some new questions:  What if, instead of having to wait for a few days to get away, instead of waiting for a weekend or a vacation to feel renewed, what if I could pause and be refreshed by God every day, in the midst of daily life? What would that look like? Was that even possible?

I had long been interested in and practiced journaling and other spiritual disciplines; I had written and published some shorter pieces on Scripture, simplicity, and silence; as a pastor, I had practiced and taught about prayer—my own longing for renewal just at that time seemed to bring all of those things together as a I began to think about and explore spiritual disciplines in a new way as sacred pauses.

Frank Viola: Give us two or three of the most important pieces of advice for people who say they get nothing out of praying . . . . they instead find it dull and boring.

April Yamasaki: One way to get out of the same old routine is to try different ways of praying. So when I’m bored with the sound of my own voice, I might listen to music instead.  When I’m tired of my own words, I find it helpful to pray words written by others including prayers from Scripture—Psalm 103:1-5 is a wonderful psalm of blessing, Psalm 77 is my don-t-mess-with-me-I’m-having-a-bad-day prayer.  Or when I’m tired of too many words at all, I turn to silence.

For some, prayer may seem boring because nothing seems to be happening. So I’d suggest something more active like going for a walk or run and seeing God at work in nature. Or practice simplicity by giving away things that you don’t need or no longer use. Give yourself in service. These may be less traditional forms of prayer, but they can also be ways of connecting with God and allowing God to work in us.

In all of this, I also find it helpful to remind myself that prayer is not for my entertainment, that prayer is not ultimately about me. If I find my prayers dull and boring, I wonder does God feel that way too? Then the question isn’t so much how to make prayer more interesting, but how can I be more authentic? And that’s something I try to address in the book, that we can come as we are in prayer.

Frank Viola: What has the response been to the book so far?

April Yamasaki: The book was released at the beginning of February, so it’s early yet. But there’s been a lot of interest in the book so far, and I’m delighted by some of the responses I’m getting from readers. Some have started sending me pictures of the everyday icon that they’ve chosen which is one of the first practices I talk about in the book. One reader took a copy of the book with her while travelling through India. Another says she is “savouring it in small chunks.” I appreciate your willingness to interview me for your blog, and I’ve just been contacted by a writer in Australia who’d like to interview me about the book too.

Frank Viola: What do you say to the person who says they never feel God’s presence when they pray?

April Yamasaki: It can be tough to persevere in prayer when you don’t feel God’s presence, but that was the experience of Mother Teresa. She spent years faithfully serving God and caring for the poorest of the poor. She was widely admired for her spiritual life, yet her private letters disclose that she struggled with her faith and felt an emptiness in prayer. So whenever we can’t feel God’s presence when we pray, we’re in good company with Mother Teresa—for her, that emptiness lasted for years; for any of us, it may also be for a long time, or perhaps here and there. But even when we don’t feel God’s presence, God is with us. As the psalmist says, “I come to the end—I am still with you” (Psalm 139:18). As Jesus himself assures us, “I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:20). I may not feel that way, but I can rest on these promises and allow them to carry me when the way is hard.

Frank Viola: List the two or three most important spiritual disciplines that you explore in the book that have been the most significant in your own life.

April Yamasaki: At this point in my life, slowing down and becoming quiet are two of the most significant spiritual practices for me: slowing down, because the pace of life today seems so fast, and becoming quiet, because life today can be very noisy—from the ever-present music in offices and other public places, to the beep of another text message, to my own noisy thoughts. As Henri Nouwen has written, “Half of living is reflection on what is being lived.”  Slowing down and becoming quiet allows me to engage in that kind of reflection.

Frank Viola: How is your book different from the many other books on spiritual disciplines?

April Yamasaki: The 14th century Cloud of Unknowing says, “You only need a tiny scrap of time to move toward God.” Sacred Pauses is about using those tiny scraps of time. It’s a simple guide to spiritual practice—an uncomplicated introduction for those who may or may not think of themselves as spiritual, who may or may not be particularly disciplined. At the same time, for those more experienced, the discussion of Scripture offers more depth, and the breadth of spiritual practices is unique with both classic disciplines like Scripture and prayer, and some perhaps more surprising ones like making music and having fun.

Frank Viola: What else do you want readers to know about your book?

April Yamasaki: Although Sacred Pauses is about spiritual practices for personal renewal, it’s not entirely individual or isolating. It’s a book you can read and explore on your own, but it’s also a book to share with others, to read in groups or as a congregation. It includes valuing relationships and Christian community.  It joins personal prayer with praying for the wider world.

Yet for all that, the book is far from being comprehensive. There is so much more to explore and learn. So I continue to experiment as l blog about spiritual practice, faith, and life on AprilYamasaki.com. I welcome anyone to visit me there, and thank you, Frank, for hosting me on your blog.

Order Sacred Pauses: Spiritual Practices for Personal Renewal from Herald Press, from Amazon, or from your favourite online or local book store.

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