Seven Sacred Pauses
Seven Sacred Pauses: Living Mindfully Through the Hours of the Day
by Macrina Wiederkehr
Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books, 2008
Reviewed by Karen Frank
I could have spent hours with Macrina Wiederkehr’s insightful questions if I hadn’t been too busy…which is precisely her point. Seven Sacred Pauses: Living Mindfully Through the Hours of the Day is countercultural, offering the reader an opportunity to incorporate a monastic rhythm of prayer into everyday life. Wiederkehr invites us to intersperse contemplative time for being into our daily work, and to connect with our Source during our active doing.
The Christian Liturgy of the Hours, a formal prayer to mark the hours of the day, includes Matins or Vigils (midnight to dawn), Lauds or Morning Prayer at dawn, Terce or the third hour of the active day, Sext or the sixth hour, roughly corresponding to noon, None or the ninth hour for a midafternoon break, Vespers or Evensong at twilight, and Compline or Night Prayer.
For each of these sacred pauses, Wiederkehr provides a theme, a personal reflection, and a selection of prayers, poetry, chants, and antiphons to celebrate these seven “breathing spells for the soul” (22).
The questions Wiederkehr slips into her discourse caught me repeatedly and are relevant for both spiritual directors and directees. Examples include the chapter “Living Mindfully” where she writes:
“Ask yourself: Is it possible to be less busy and still productive?” (21).
Wiederkehr suggests that when we begin to feel stress and push to accomplish more that we act counter-intuitively, and pause. Sext, or midday, is called The Hour of Illumination and it, too, brings questions for us: “Do we find ourselves focusing on the fact that the day is half gone or feeling delighted that much of the day is still ours with vast opportunities to use wisely?” (95). At The Twilight Hour during Vespers time, Wiederkehr suggests she can “symbolically take off my work clothes and put on the robe of prayer” (135). She asks many questions that would be helpful in spiritual direction. For example: “Why do we stop working at the end of the day?” (137). Certainly I am tired by then, but I also long for the time that opens my heart to spirit. I believe I am responding to the natural rhythms of life, a theme that underlies Wiederkehr’s emphasis on making room for pauses.
Finally, Wiederkehr notes that when we grow up we lose our pure spirit and begin to question the value of breaks during the schedule of our day. As children, when it was time for recess, we were ready—and so, undoubtedly, were our teachers! She writes: “It is doubtful you questioned the value of that pause” (75).
I do not question the value of the “breathing spells for the soul” (22) celebrated in Seven Sacred Pauses: Living Mindfully Through the Hours of the Day. It is a good and prayerful question to determine if we can incorporate one, two, or possibly seven breathing spells during the course of our day and evening. If so, perhaps we can enter The Great Silence with “eyes of mercy and delight” (155).
Karen Frank graduated from Seattle University in Washington, USA, and is a spiritual director in PortTownsend, Washington. She writes a regional spirituality column.