Starting With Scripture: A Sacred Pause

Starting With Scripture: A Sacred Pause

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Rev. Dana Allen Walsh is the Senior Pastor of South Church in Andover.

Scripture: Psalm 46:1-3 (NRSV)

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change,
    though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea,
though its waters roar and foam,
    though the mountains tremble with its tumult. 

Reflection: A Sacred Pause

 

The Psalmist names the unpredictability of this human experience and the unknowns of the world: the earth changing, the mountains shaking, waters roaring, the children’s tantrums, COVID fears, holiday jitters, and economic worries.
 
The psalmist declares, “God is in the midst” – God is right there – in the midst of whatever earth-shattering moment we are experiencing – it could be the fear of an overcooked turkey or the grief of an empty chair at the dinner table. The psalmist asserts, God will help. God is there, right in the midst of it. 
 
And yet, when the earth is changing and the seas roar, rarely can we find the mental space to step back and gain perspective. Rarely can we see God’s presence because we are in survival mode – just trying to get through the moment. 
 
Viktor Frankl, a neurologist and Holocaust survivor once wrote: “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” 
 
It’s taken me all of my years on this earth to realize that there can be a space between the stimulus and my response. Most of what I’ve seen in my life and in our world is that something happens, someone does something, someone says something, and then we immediately react: we panic, we apologize, we scream, we blame, we criticize. We forget that there can be a space. That we can choose a response. We forget that there might even be growth and freedom in that space. 
 
In the world of neuroscience, according to Dr. Christine Lawther, there is a term for this: it’s called the amygdala hijack. It’s when we are triggered by an experience or an emotion: fear, criticism, trauma, worry. 
                                                                                                                                                           
The stimuli travels up the brainstem and moves into the amygdala before it reaches the prefrontal cortex which means any complex, rational thoughts come to a halt. This survival mechanism is designed so that we can react before the rational brain has time to mull things over. 
 
There is no space between the stimulus and your response. So you might say or do things that sabotage your own self interest. You might regret your actions or words later.
 
Of course, the amygdala hijack is our survival response to a threat. But it doesn’t always serve us well in everyday life. It’s an automatic stress response, not necessarily the best or most logical one. 
 
Another helpful neuro-science fact: it takes the chemicals that are released during the amygdala hijack about 6 seconds to dissipate. What can we do with those 6 seconds? That’s our space between stimulus and response. That’s our space to breathe deep and pray and hear the words, “Be still and know that I am God.” Even though the mountains shake and the waters roar, we are safe in God’s love. 
 
As a pastor and a parent, I’m learning the value of this sacred pause. When there is a stimulus, I don’t need to react right away. I can pause before I say “yes.” I can pause before we react to the child who refuses to brush their teeth and go to bed. I can pause and choose a more patient, grace-filled, and loving response. 
 
When there is shakiness, we can choose stillness. When there is uncertainty, we can hold space and intentionally choose our response. When there is tumult, we can trust the one who proclaims and promises, “I am your refuge and your solid ground.” 

PRAYER

God, you are our refuge and strength. When the earth changes and the mountains shake, may I breathe, pause, and choose a response that leads to freedom and growth. Amen

New Prayer Requests:

We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Marlene Gasdia-Cochrane at cochranem@sneucc.org.

Prayers of Intercession:

  • For the people of Ukraine whose lives continue to be shattered by war.
  • For those grieving or suffering due to the ~38,000 gun violence deaths in the US this year
  • For the friends and family of The Rev. John J. Adams who passed on October 18, 2022, and served in ministry for 40 years, including at South Congregational Church in Pittsfield, MA; Christ Church United in Lowell, MA and South Congregational Church in East Hartford, CT.
  • For the friends and family of The Rev. Alice L. O'Donovan who passed away on November 8, 2022.  She was a member of the Storrs Congregational Church in Storrs, CT.

Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:


 This Week in History:

November 18, 1978 (44 years ago):  Peoples Temple founder Jim Jones, a charismatic churchman, led hundreds of his followers in a mass murder-suicide at their agricultural commune in a remote part of the South American nation of Guyana.  [History

“Study the past if you would define the future.”
Confucius

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Dana L. Allen Walsh

Rev. Dana Allen Walsh is the Senior Pastor of South Church in Andover.

November 14, 2022
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