Can a Cold be a Sacred Pause?

Prayer does not come easily when I have a cold.  In times of “real” sickness and pain, I can at least cry out to Jesus.  But mostly I just want to sleep when I have a cold.

I’m thinking Jesus understands.  I would guess that being fully human means that Jesus caught a cold or two back in the day.  Do you suppose that’s why he was so snappish with the foreign woman he called a dog?  Because I recognize that kind of snappishness this week.

The thing about a cold is that I and everyone else know it’s not really that bad.  I am not elderly and I don’t have any particular weaknesses that will make this more than a minor inconvenience.  Three days in and I’m already on the mend.  There are a million and one things I should have done yesterday, but I didn’t even have to let anyone down by cancelling an appointment to lay on the couch and cough all afternoon.  Even in the world of colds, I am pretty blessed this time.

I can’t even lift up that eternal question to God, “Why me?” this time.  My son had this cold last week.  I know enough about science to know how the germs spread.  There is no cosmic mystery.  Colds happen to the best and the worst of us.  I could make a big theological point about it reflecting the brokenness of our world, but that seems a bit extreme.  That’s part of the problem with a cold – it is so minor that any complaint seems extreme, and yet in the midst no complaint seems strong enough to capture my distress.  It’s a blessing to me and everyone around me when I finally do fall asleep!

I did have time yesterday between coughing fits and naps to continue reading April Yamasaki’s book, Sacred Pauses: Spiritual Practices for Personal Renewal.   I’m hoping to use it in a workshop this fall, so reading it helped make the day fee less like a complete waste.

Ms. Yamasaki’s purpose for the book is to help us integrate small spiritual practices into our everyday, hectic lives so we can stay connected with God.  She offers a host of traditional and perhaps not so traditional spiritual practices, questions and “how to’s” to help even novices integrate them into daily life.

With my medicine-bleary mind making connections between what I was experiencing and what I was reading, I began to wonder if having a cold wasn’t one way of hitting the “pause” button in our life.  Now I give Ms. Yamasaki credit that she never suggests that having a cold is a spiritual practice for personal renewal.  That’s all my hare-brained idea.  But I can’t shake the feeling that it is a body-enforced “sacred pause” in an otherwise too busy life.

We do not always take the pause that is offered.  Sometimes we push on, either because we have to or because we can’t imagine how the world would continue turning if we just took the day off to pause and recover.  That usually ends badly.  I once almost spent Thanksgiving in the hospital.  I was getting ready for my in-laws to arrive even though I was battling a cold.  A couple days before Thanksgiving my doctor informed me that I would either spend the next few days in bed at home, getting up only to eat the turkey dinner I had allowed my family to prepare, or I would spend them in the hospital battling the pneumonia I was on the verge of.

Sure, colds are miserable and not fun.  But they are also our bodies’ way of telling us that they are not strong enough in that moment to fight off the germs that are constantly invading.  Why do I only feel like sleeping?  Because that is what I need.  I can thank God this time that I had the ability to take a sacred pause – and I’m already feeling better.

When I turned to prayer today, I prayed not only for my own aches and pains and struggles, but for those who cannot take a break, because of the poverty or oppression or responsibility that keeps them going even when they so desperately need a pause. I think not only of the poor, who are always in my prayers, but of parents to young children.  Those young ones can’t care for themselves if mommy or daddy just lays on the couch for an afternoon.  My son is now old enough to bring me a glass of juice when I’m sick, but that was not always the case, and there were many days when his needs had to take priority over my body’s need for rest.

I also prayed for a society that tells so many people they cannot pause even when they really could.  I prayed for those who need to feel needed and tell themselves that the world would end if they sat down and rested.  I prayed for businesses and workers who tell themselves that there is not time for rest when there is money to be made.  I prayed for those who think their value is only in what they do and not in who they are as children of God.  May God offer them rest too.

How are you at “pausing” in life?  Are you a good patient when you are sick?  Has your body ever said, “You must stop now?”  What did you learn from that experience?

If you’re in the Savannah area, I hope to have a multiweek “Sacred Pauses” workshop in the fall.  We will read April Yamasaki’s book together and talk about what sacred pauses in own life might look like.  I’ll announce it on my facebook page when I set the dates and times.


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