Practice the prophetic pause

Friendly Reminder: A weekly reflection from the Quaker Leadership Center

A few weeks ago, I had the opportunity to speak at Wilmington Friends Meeting in Ohio. It was good to be back among Buckeyes, and I was inspired by the folks there doing faithful, local work. The message I felt strongly led to offer was called “Practice the Prophetic Pause.” It was based on the Gospel story in John 8, when Jesus is confronted by religious leaders with “the woman caught in adultery” (or, as N.T. Wright calls it, “the men caught in hypocrisy”).

In that story, the social and religious leaders confronted Jesus using the logic of law and violence. Jesus responds using the logic of grace and truth. But before he says anything, Jesus disrupts the whole toxic encounter, by pausing and doing something unexpected. It was a spiritually centering move. It was a skillful leadership move.

Jesus doesn’t react, he writes. He pauses, bends down and draws in the dirt. We don’t know what he was writing, or drawing. I don’t think that’s the point. The point is that he didn’t respond in kind. He was able to offer a prophetic response because he first practiced the prophetic pause.

Hopefully you aren’t being confronted by religious leaders (but maybe you are). Nevertheless, we are always being confronted by voices—on social media, on television, around the water cooler or holiday meal table. They are so often anxious and angry and demanding, like the people in the text: “Now what do you say?” (8:5).

(You can read the full manuscript at…/practicing…/)

In the midst of all these voices, we have to find ways to practice the prophetic pause. Whether it’s bending down and touching the Earth, like Jesus. Or engaging creative practices that enable us to “write” or “draw.” Journaling is a critical practice for me, for example. Others have different spiritual and centering practices. Whatever you do, find your way of pausing and keep your practice, because we live in an anxious and angry age. It’s easy to get entangled inside it. Even leaders. Even Quakers.

We are also entering the season of Advent. It is a season in which we are encouraged to pause, to wait, to remember the surprising ways God comes to us. And to open ourselves to the ways God can speak to and through us. If only we are willing to pause.