“Sabbath” is where you stop and don’t do. I guess I could consider myself in Sabbath training. I didn’t clean my house. My to-do list isn’t all checked off. I didn’t stop by the pharmacy to pick up my prescriptions…again. I don’t get up at 6 am on a Saturday. Except for yesterday. I got started early so I could learn how to stop. At least that’s what the Power of Pause workshop description advertised. To take time to simply pause, cease activity, treasure quiet time and take back the life God always intended me to have. Say that sentence again and how do you hear it? Don’t the words come out of your mouth like molasses. P-a-u-s-e    c-e-a-s-e    t-r-e-a-s-u-r-e. At that moment I was doing all those things…under the comfort of down and a heated mattress pad. I should have ordered the CD and done home schooling. But the workshop fee was paid for and the aroma of French roast was calling my name from the kitchen.

As promised, the conference delivered. Terry Hershey was entertaining and informative. Our table of 8 gathered together and we each colored our “clump.” We all have one. You know…that ball of “all.” People, places, things that call out our name, want our help, and demand our attention. So how do we cut through our clump to let the light shine through? We stop and rest and practice the sacrament of the present moment.

I learn best by doing. I took good notes and had a lot of helpful information to take away. But the last part of the workshop was unexpected. We had an assignment. Our task was to leave the building and take a walk. We could go anywhere we wanted but it had to be done in a certain way. First, decide on your destination and stay focused on that location. Then walk as fast as you can for 3-4 minutes until you get there. Second, stop and b-r-e-a-t-h-e. Turn around and go back the same way you came but take 12-15 minutes to return. I think the first thing most of us worried about if we weren't wearing a watch was … how will we know when we’ve been gone long enough? I know I did.

So the mind chatter began. If I come back before 15 minutes I will I be perceived as uptight? If I’m gone longer than 20 minutes will they think I’m showing off and trying to earn extra credit? Where will I go? Turn right, turn left, go straight? One minute equals how many steps? Oh, just be quiet and focus.

Out the door I went, taking a quick left. I tried to stay away from the conference attendees with the same assignment. They were easy to spot by their large white name badge. Of course I was supposed to be focused on a location but I had to quickly scout the area. I wasn’t interested in competing or making it a team sport. I wanted my space to practice this pausing thing. I didn’t mind being around a bunch of strangers who had no clue what I was up to other than wandering around silently introducing myself in black sharpie marker, “HELLO….my name is Nancy” but was uncomfortable sharing my turf with other workshoppers who might be critiquing my walk out the corner of their eye. Oh, get over yourself.

I took off at a good pace. As I focused on my destination I realized it was all uphill. And I was going against the flow of traffic on a one-way street. The story of my life! I started to worry about my location choice. I’ve spent countless hours in physical therapy and wasn’t wearing my ankle braces which I’m really supposed to when I’m walking any kind of distance and I have problems with my hip if I do hills. You would think l’d stop, regroup and start over. No, no. I’m not a quitter and I’m going to make this journey. But I do have enough sense about me to invite God along.

Please Lord tell me when it’s time to stop. The first light ushers me through with the white blinking pedestrian symbol, the second and the third the same. At the fourth intersection, the symbol with the red hand begins to blink and I thank God for the “sign.” Ha! I’m having a hard time catching my breath and my ankle hurts. When Terry Hershey told us that Sabbath is an aerobic sport that takes a certain amount of time and days per week for it to do any good…I guess he wasn’t kidding. And I’m out of practice. I stop and b-r-e-a-t-h-e and invite the calm to join me on the way back.

You really do have to slow down to take 3-4 minutes and turn it into 12-15. I didn’t pick a very scenic route. No retail shops or park nearby. Some office type buildings with empty parking lots on a mid-Saturday afternoon. Condos and apartments with neat curbsides and minimal graffiti. A man and boy park their car on the street. I wonder if they live there or are visiting. An older man sitting on a bench by an empty parking lot. I say hello. On the way back the flashing red hand pops up and orders me to stop. At each and every intersection. Interesting.  

The trees are bare and the ground is dry. As I near my starting point I look over a ledge and see in the corner of an empty parking lot a pile of dirty snow all alone in the shadow. I wonder how long that will stay there while everything else begins to get painted with spring's new colors and given a new life.

Downhill is much more pleasurable than the struggle it was to get uphill. I’ve forgotten about time and am learning to enjoy the journey. I’ve taken in my surroundings looking ahead and from side to side and over the ledge. As I look up, I see a sign that speaks so clearly to me. God has something to tell me.

I enter the building and return to the classroom. I glance at the clock and it’s been 20 minutes. And I smile.

Enjoy the pause,

Nancy Nickoley

I loaf and invite my soul. ~Walt Whitman

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