Reviewed by Cynthia Stewart
When I'm feeling battered by life and need inspiration, I tend to go to the works of ancient sages. But looking for dating help in the Tao Te Ching or career advice in the Bhagavad Gita just doesn't work for most people. Good thing, then, that people like Terry Hershey have written works that speak to our spiritual needs in ways that are accessible to many.
In The Power of Pause, retreat leader and garden designer Hershey asks readers to weave pause and stillness into the fabric of their days, to "rest in the solace that God is present, having nothing to do with our faith or our efforts to invest the moment with meaning" (pg. 12). He draws us away from the "let's pause more and better and faster" mentality, wisely diagnosing our tendency of trying to "correct our situation by using the very same tools or resources or thinking that got us into the pickle in the first place" (pg. xiv).
Moving through the seasons and the cycle of experience within each season, Hershey invites readers into a weekly conversation about the frenetic pace of modern life, the nature of stillness, and the grace the comes from allowing it to work its blessings into our days. For each week he offers a story, a point of inspiration, and a suggestion for a way to move into a space of pause in the midst of everyday life. Some of the stories recall us to the wonder of childhood, others help us look more deeply into what we value as shown by where we spend our time and energy. Many are drawn from his own life, and I found that these struck a truer note than some of the more preachy, let-me-hand-you-a-moral-on-a-plate stories that dot the book. Hershey's suggestions for pausing vary from the not clearly conceived (such as the instruction to spend a day using only one sense) to the profoundly helpful ("Spend some time with your calendar and planner -- and take off at least one item from this week's list").
I was somewhat dismayed with the opening chapter telling me at length why I need the book and directing me a to a website with an online assessment of my pausing abilities. The result? I am apparently a Part-Time Pauser: "The Power of Pause will help you move from part-time to full-time pauser and offer ways to respond when stress and commitments threaten to overwhelm you." Hershey spends so much time warning of the dangers of ads trying to sell us easy fixes that I found this disconcerting, and couldn't help wondering if there was any remote chance that the online assessment would tell the perfect pauser, "You're doing great, you don't need this book."
I'm still more likely to turn to the ancient sages for help in finding Sabbath rest in the middle of the workaday world, but Hershey's book makes the path to those moments easier to find -- and from where I stand in my own busy world, that's got to be a good thing.
Cynthia Stewart, a regular contributor to Patheos, has taught courses in the history of Christian thought, theology, philosophy, and medieval studies. She is the author of The Catholic Church: A Brief Popular History (St. Mary's Press, 2008).