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It's time to Stop – Br. David Vryhof

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Br. David VryhofExodus 20:8-11 and Mark 6:30-32

During this season of Lent we Brothers are inviting you to explore with us our relationship to time.  We believe time is a gift from God, and that often we abuse that gift by rushing through life, or by overcrowding our days, or by squandering our time on things of lesser importance.  We want to imagine with you how we might reorder our relationship with time, so that it may be the gift God intended it to be in our lives.  Tonight we’ll be focusing on our need to stop and to slow down. Then, over the next four weeks, we’ll be asking how we can make time to pray, how we can manage our time for work, how we can incorporate play into our days, and how we can take time to love.

Most of us are aware of how the pace of life has quickened.  Undoubtedly this has been the case over the whole course of human history, but in the last few centuries, with industrialization and the advancement of technology, the pace of life has increased dramatically.  A study done in 2006 showed that the pace at which people moved in large cities had increased by 10% since the early 1990’s. (1) As a result of this quickened pace, many people today are suffering from higher levels of stress and anxiety, from the lack of adequate sleep and physical exercise, and from a constant pressure to produce.  Many of us find it difficult to keep up with the demands of modern life.  We are constantly in motion, moving from one task to another.  We have forgotten how to stop.

The need to stop – to pause and rest from our labors – is built into our DNA.  Our Scriptures tell us that even God took a day of rest after completing the creation, and that God commanded us to rest for a full day each week by keeping the Sabbath.  Not only were the Israelites to refrain from work on the Sabbath; their servants and even their animals were to enjoy a full day of rest each week as well.  In the act of creation, God set an example for us to follow, and in the Law, God sanctified regular times of rest.  We are meant to live in such a way that work is balanced with leisure, outward activity is balanced with inward reflection, and times for ‘doing’ are balanced with times for ‘being.’

Jesus himself modeled this kind of balance.  His ministry was marked by periods of intense activity and interaction, followed by times of prayer and rest, often in deserted places.

How can we find and restore this healthy balance in our own lives?

First, we must learn to stop – to stop rushing, to stop achieving, to stop doing – long enough to discover the inner stillness that allows us to notice God’s presence and activity in our lives and in the world around us.  We need to give ourselves permission to stop; to say, “That’s enough work for now.” We need time and space to reconnect with that quiet place within us.  When we live from this place of inner stillness, we are able to be truly present to the people in our lives.  In this place of stillness, it is also possible to see and recognize our true selves.

We are aware that it takes discipline to do and to achieve; but it takes an equal amount of discipline to know when and how to stop doing and achieving.

In the gospel lesson we read this evening, Jesus invites his disciples to “come away to a deserted place all by [themselves] and rest a while.”  They had been engaged in a strenuous period of activity and ministry, with “no leisure even to eat,” and he encourages them to stop and to rest.  I wonder if we might imagine ourselves going now to some lonely place, where we can ponder with Jesus some ways to bring greater balance into our own lives by stopping and slowing down.

We might consider first what it is that we are doing with our time.  It’s hard to slow down when we are trying to do a million things.  Could we make a conscious choice to do less?  Could we learn to focus on what’s really important, what really needs doing, and then let go of the rest?  What is it that we could stop doing, or at least do less of?  Could we put space between tasks and appointments, so that we can move through our day at a more leisurely pace?

To live out of a place of inner stillness, it is important not only to slow down, but also to be mindful of whatever it is that we are doing in the present moment.  When we find ourselves thinking about things we need to do, or something that’s already happened, or something that might happen, we can gently bring ourselves back to the present moment.  We can learn to stop wandering in the past or in the future, and focus on what’s going on right now.

Too often when we spend time with friends and family, or meet with colleagues, we’re not really there with them.  We talk to them, but we are distracted by devices.  We are there, but our minds are preoccupied with the things we need to do.  We listen, but we’re really thinking about ourselves and what we want to say.  Can we stop being preoccupied and learn to be present with the person we are with?  Can we listen deeply to what they are saying, and attend to the feelings behind their words?

We might take an honest look at how connected we are.  If we carry an iPhone or Blackberry or other mobile device, can we learn to shut it off from time to time, or even to leave it behind?  If we sit in front of a computer most of our day, can we take time to disconnect periodically, so that we are not constantly being pressured by information coming in, and by the demands of others.  It’s hard to maintain an inner stillness when you’re constantly checking new messages coming in and feeling the pressure to respond to them as quickly as possible.

Sometimes we need to stop doing what we’re doing and just go outside.  We spend so much of our time in our homes or offices or cars that it is increasingly rare for many of us to be outside in nature.  Can we learn to stop and simply enjoy the beauty of the natural world?  What might we discover if we were to take time to notice and observe, to feel the breeze on our faces and luxuriate in the warmth of the sun for a few moments?   Why not stop what you’re doing, step outside and take a deep breath of air – every day?!  We can enjoy the serenity of water, trees and plants.  We can take time to walk, hike or bicycle outdoors.  If we will take the time, nature will restore our inner stillness and bring us peace.

We can learn to slow down.  We can train ourselves to eat more slowly, for example, tasting each bite, savoring the flavors and textures, appreciating the gift of nourishing food and drink.  It will be good for us.  Likewise, when we find ourselves taking the steps two at a time, we can physically slow down, and stop to take a breath… or two… or three, before proceeding calmly to our next task.  Driving more slowly can also contribute to our inner peace of mind.  We can use travel time to think about our lives and to notice the things we’re passing.  Driving can become a joy instead of an irritant.

Why not give up multi-tasking and try focusing on one thing at a time?  When we feel the urge to jump to another task, we can pause and breathe, re-centering ourselves in the present moment.  Whatever we’re doing, we can try to be fully present, appreciating every aspect of the task before us, and giving thanks to God for the skill to do it.  If you’re washing dishes or sweeping the floor or doing the laundry, give yourself permission to enjoy the task.   “Whatever you do, in word or deed,” Saint Paul encourages us, “do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17).

Finally, we can practice breathing.  When we find ourselves going too fast or stressing out, we can learn to pause and take a deep breath, feeling the fresh air coming into our bodies, and breathing out all tension and anxiety.  By focusing on each breath, we can bring ourselves back to the present and slow ourselves down.

I wonder how our relationship to time would change if we were to choose to do less, to slacken our pace, and to remain mindful throughout the day.  I’m certain the quality of our days would increase.

Take a moment to breathe now, to let go of any stress or worry you may be carrying, and to entrust yourself entirely to God’s loving care and goodness.

(silence)

“Drop thy still dews of quietness, till all our strivings cease;

take from our souls the strain and stress, and let our ordered lives confess

the beauty of thy peace.”  (The Hymnal 1982, #652, verse 4)

Amen.


  1. This 2006 study was conducted by Richard Wiseman, Professor of the Public Understanding of Psychology at the University of Herfordshire in the United Kingdom.
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43 Comments

  1. The Rev. Eliza R. Ragsdale on March 6, 2015 at 17:25

    Found this by accident, so Holy Spirit is busy in Florida tonight, as she nudged me to find your wise words. Great to read as could hear your voice, which has been helpful these 24 years. I’m preaching this but am flunking it. Thank you for the reminder to practice what I preach. Here’s to a renewing Lent for all at SSJE and my best wishes to you, Brother David. Faithfully, Liza

  2. Marybeth on March 5, 2015 at 17:09

    I don’t disagree with anything at all in the sermon. But, I do wonder how to follow through when one has a work life with increasing demands and the need to continue to make a living. Some of us don’t have the option NOT to multitask without negative consequences to us m or our dependents.

  3. ann Brophy on March 2, 2015 at 12:35

    So much wisdom in this writing, and so much practical advice. I appreciate that, since I am one who does better with examples than with abstract concepts.
    I especially like the idea of slowing down while driving. The opportunity to allow someone else in line rather than aggressively trying to be in front, letting go of that urgency to get there as quickly as possible – makes a lot of sense in reducing overall stress in a simple way.

  4. Libby on February 27, 2015 at 11:19

    Thank you SO much for teaching me the importance of learning to stop in my work and making time to be still with God and be present to feel his love for me as a “being” rather than a “doer”.
    As a child, we were always praised by our family father for our “doing” not just an appreciation for who we were as beings.
    This brings such a wonderful message to remind me that it’s ok to stop and feel what it’s like to just be.
    I am really enjoying this series on reordering time.
    Thank you!

  5. Muriel on February 27, 2015 at 05:46

    A wonderful sermon and I shall share this with my adult children who spend ‘free time’ on their mobile phones, computers etc. I have found being mindful in everyday chores make them enjoyable and meaningful. It is not easy but hopefully with practice ones mind will wander less. We need less anxiety and stress in our lives.

  6. Robert Shotton on February 27, 2015 at 04:17

    A very timely sermon. “Thank You.” I am 91 and find that I am completely occupied the whole day through, my Forward Day by Day reading and meditation , attending meetings, helping children with reading at a school in a poor district, a Thursday morning H.C. service, church Op-shop etc. After dinner in the evenings I spend time on the computer, with the result I do not have much time for my favourite pastime – reading. Your sermon has certainly made me think!

  7. Friar Joshua on February 27, 2015 at 02:38

    Thank you so much for the insightful reflection on how we spend time. Aah , how important it is to stop and give an ear to the Lord. Wishing you Lenten blessings my brothers.

  8. Karen on February 27, 2015 at 01:12

    Thank you, Br. David, for suggesting so many ways to still,ourselves.
    And thanks you too, Br. Tristram, for honoring your brother by posting his sermon!

  9. Carolyn on February 26, 2015 at 23:31

    Thanks so much for this reminder. I tend to get too worked up with details and activities of the day. Your words remind me that it is okay to slow down and appreciate all that God has given me.

  10. suzanne robinson on February 26, 2015 at 23:11

    Today, time stopped when the Host, Jesus, True
    Saviour for the Life and Love of the World, was
    brought forth from the Tabernacle on the High Altar
    at St. Paul’s Parishj, to be placed in the center
    circle of a large brass cross, set onto a candlestick
    of the same material. The arms of the cross
    were wide at the ends, but narrow near where
    the Host rested. Each of the arms was red. The
    time was 12 p.m. – 1 p.m. The faithful started to
    dribble in prayerfully ~ one by one, until a small community had been formed and the moment for which we had waited had come.

    We were now at rest with the Lord in silence…no prepared Liturgy, no music simply Love Incarnate streaming and receiving, humble access, the door of my heart opening ever more fully, until I knew was what it meant to see and be seen, “just as I am” ~ for one whole hour. Not doing, simply being……. p r e s e n t before and within the Presence of the Divine
    and Holy One.

  11. Susan Zimmerman on February 26, 2015 at 22:59

    …for me sleeping is the only place to STOP as long as ‘dreams’ are not present…and the ‘quiet place within’ has some peculiar connections…memory holds stuff like perceptions and remembering brings back ‘time past’, within are our values hence our ethics (not our morals). Also, hearing is within as well as vision…trying to STOP with these two is weird.
    …I think this first mitzvah coming out of Egypt was given to past slaves, deep into the practical and who had witnessed a huge drowning of their captors and 600 horses…they were not into the theoretical as Ha-Shem obviously was and having to come back into the finite to save them ultimately yielded the Shema Prayer(with no interruptions)…God being ‘remembered’ – ‘daily’.. reminder no Jewish present tense (just the participle)…past & future only…can one really STOP?

  12. Eben Carsey on February 26, 2015 at 21:53

    “…in the last few centuries, …the pace of life has increased dramatically.” This is especially true, in my opinion, with the invention and the widespread use of the electric light, along with it’s many blessings.

  13. Elizabeth Vickers on February 26, 2015 at 21:08

    The daily sermons that arrive in my e-mail from your monastery frequently carry a message I desperately need to hear. Recently, I have been trying to return to my daily practice of Centering Prayer which has been neglected because of other commitments. When I do set aside time for meditation, my day becomes a calm and joyful one. Your thoughtful words are an encouragement. Thank you!

  14. Veronica on February 26, 2015 at 20:13

    Such a peaceful presentation. and yes, I truly need to slow down and feel the presence. Thank you!

  15. Elizabeth on February 26, 2015 at 19:53

    Yes, concentrating on what I’m doing is a kind of slowing down and being quiet is a kind of stopping. Thank you for spelling it out.

  16. Michael on February 26, 2015 at 17:29

    While most people may be trying to do too much, I find I’m doing too little. I’m an 82 retired physician, a widower, in fairly good health. I wash dishes at our local Drop In centre, and yesterday I was asked to read an article to a guest in his 30’s. I was amazed that he couldn’t read for himself, as he puts up a very good front, in spite of his lack of self esteem, which I had noted. I asked if he would like me spend time with him to try to teach him to read, and he asked if I could start today. I had the day free after the Thursday Eucharist at church and a doctor’s appointment. I didn’t give him a definite time, but said I’d come after seeing my doctor. He was behind schedule and I arrived at the Drop In just after he had left. As it happened it was a good thing, as I had an opportunity to talk with two of the paid staff, who told me there were many more at the centre, who couldn’t read. So I’ve got myself a new job in addition to washing the dishes. While I was in the centre a truck parked blocking my exit from the lot, so I sat in my car for about 10 minutes reading the NYT on my BlackBerry. Electronic devices are not the problem, but our always being in a hurry.

    I’ve already slowed down enough since I was working. If I slow down any more I’d start to feel sorry for myself, which is why I’d like to be more busy, the Lord willing. Living with the Lord nudging from behind certainly helps.

    • ann Brophy on March 2, 2015 at 12:42

      I love your story, Michael. I am recently retired and working on how much “doing” and how much “being” I want to make in my life going forward. If you had not taken the time to BE with the man you were reading to, I suspect you wouldn’t have heard the call to your new job. What a gift to help these men. I am doing the same now with inner-city first graders, and though helping them read is important, connecting with them is moreso

  17. Jane on February 26, 2015 at 14:57

    Thank you so much for this!! I’m going to save it so that I can reread it as needed!!

  18. Leslie on February 26, 2015 at 14:25

    Hymn #652 is my favorite hymn of all time – dog-earred in my 1982 hymnal – sitting open to that hymn on my piano right now. #taptaptapoftheholyspirit

  19. Claudia Booth on February 26, 2015 at 14:14

    Thank you, Brother David, for this beautiful and timely reflection. It seems that stopping to embrace the silence is healthy for body mind and spirit. Over the last couple of years, having had several diagnostic MRIs I learned that mentally saying a rosary helped to pass the time. Another MRI is scheduled next week. What better time to simply “be” with God in the silence?

  20. Martha Paine on February 26, 2015 at 14:08

    Be still, and come close to God, for that is when His voice becomes so,clear. all the noise and activity has deadened our ears. Thanks for the retreat. I have fond memories of the silent retreats at DeKoven with the Sisters of St.Mary.

  21. The Ven. Elizabeth J. Hardy on February 26, 2015 at 14:05

    I think I am definitely a work in progress…I listened to this wonderful sermon while answering emails! How bad is that…..

    • Holly on February 27, 2015 at 09:27

      I see you are as honest as ever Elizabeth! I find it easy to be present in the moment of reading such a sermon. The hard part is believing in stopping — enough to do it — when already in full compulsive tilt (and so acting out of another belief) !!!

  22. Barbara Frye on February 26, 2015 at 14:05

    you gave me a lot to think about and try. My mind can seem to go in several directions, and I need to consider what you said and try to slow down.
    Thank you and bless you.

  23. Lissa Davis on February 26, 2015 at 14:05

    I am learning to jealously guard my alone time and trying not to multitask. Brother, your words are spot on, thanks

  24. Hilda on February 26, 2015 at 14:03

    I feel doubly blessed–being able to read this fine homily today, as well as hearing one last evening delivered on the same topic by a young woman of our congregation. She touched all present.
    Many thanks.
    Hilda

  25. sandra on February 26, 2015 at 13:41

    Thank you so much Brother David; my soul was in desperate need of this. Bless you!

  26. Gregory Roche on February 26, 2015 at 13:33

    Wow…

    You hit the nail on the head for me. Need to start saying no to all the demands on my time and re-focus.

    Thank You

  27. Wendy Horton-Leigh on February 26, 2015 at 13:28

    It is so hard to STOP and center….I am trying.

  28. Sue on February 26, 2015 at 13:26

    Thank you for reminding me that I need to slow down. I hear it again and again, and I really must be reminded every day. Will I ever learn? Perhaps not in this life, but I know I will learn to slow down when I am in the nearer presence of the Lord!

  29. Harold Pound on February 26, 2015 at 13:15

    Wonderful sermon. I do try to walk each day and observe the beauty of God’s creation. I do feel my mind has cleared after getting back home.
    I also find another way to stop: I hold my new adopted pup in my arms, stroke her, and feel her fall asleep. My blood pressure decreases and my mind ceases to jabber at me.

  30. Anne on February 26, 2015 at 13:03

    Thank you for a thought-provoking, heart-warming, mind-awakening sermon. Your last suggestion about “practice breathing” points to the reason yoga has become a foundational spiritual practice for me. And yes, yoga is a practice. Embodied prayer for many practitioners! Grace and gratitude, and namaste!

  31. Sally Gunn on February 26, 2015 at 12:51

    Thank you. I felt very refreshed when I read this piece. I do try to do tasks more slowly and lovingly these days, but after reading this, I want to also be thankful for being able to recognize that all things will get done in God’s time. Blessings to all!

  32. James on February 26, 2015 at 12:43

    I was going to comment on this lovely, profoundly calming sermon, but I think instead I will just st

  33. Stuart Pike on February 26, 2015 at 12:40

    And this is a great example of why I go and retreat at SSJE each year. 61 days to go …really can’t wait …

  34. David on February 26, 2015 at 12:09

    Br David,
    I have learned these lessons from my 9 trips to Manresa, LA (Men’s Retreat-4 days of no talking or anything, just talking and listening to God). But I like to be reminded. I am following your Lenten – Stop, Pray, Work, Play & Love; which another member of my Manresa Group sent me. It helps me keep on track.

  35. Sue on February 26, 2015 at 12:02

    Very helpful suggestions. Wish I could have been there in person to share the silence with you all at the end of your homily.

  36. DorisBowen on February 26, 2015 at 11:53

    Thank you. Very thoughtful and full of wonderful possibilities for my life to change in an easy and gentle way.

  37. Margo on February 26, 2015 at 11:46

    Thank you Br. David for affirming ‘stopping’. We are not wasting time but enjoying it. Margo

  38. Bill Craven on February 26, 2015 at 11:44

    Wonderful address by David.
    What would the same thoughts sound like if the Plato-like concept such as Being = Inner Peace were rephrased in more current language?
    Personally, I find meditation to be a time of ultimate connectedness with God and my environment, rather than an absence of inner activity– it is just different activity than that of the world. To paraphrase Tertullian, “The Glory of God is man, fully human and fully in love”.

  39. Mary on February 26, 2015 at 11:35

    Thank you.

  40. Cynthia on February 26, 2015 at 11:21

    Beautiful. Thank you

    • Clare on February 26, 2015 at 16:29

      Thank you brother David. Wonderfully simple and yet inspiring words encouraging us with the how as well as the why of stopping.

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