As I struggled to find the perfect words to write about a complicated situation, my right ring finger landed on the semicolon key. As the curser blinked at me, I pondered the significance of a semicolon. Different from a period, it denotes that the work of a particular thought or sentence is not finished.
When a certain thought or sentence demands more of a pause than a comma offers yet not quite the closure of a period—freeing our minds to move onto the next thought—we utilize the semicolon. Because of its subjective nature, it is commonly referred to as “the most feared punctuation on earth.”
As I considered the dreaded semicolon, I realized it also represents something we humans both relish and fear at our core: the pause, silence, or sacred space between two complete thoughts or moments in time. Psychologists, philosophers, and spiritual gurus alike from Thomas Moore, to Edwin Friedman, to Ken Wilber, to King David speak of this “semicolon time” as God’s time. It’s the pause between two huge, complete times that could easily stand on their own, yet demand we take the time to breathe between them and allow a sacred space before moving from one to the next.
The in-between-time beckons something holy within us to “be still, and know I am God” [Psalm 46:10] and this “being still” seems to raise our worst fears. Fear is a great warning sign of potential danger, but it is not meant to drive us, only warn us. Perhaps, pause and reflection could lead us to wisdom and healing, finding a major paradigm shift across the page of our nation, world, and personal lives.
Nationally, it’s clear to me that Hillary Rodham Clinton will be the next president of the United States. Will she be able to extend an olive branch of peace? Will opposing sides gloat and rage, piling up deeper, higher, and more malodorous heaps of resentment that already litter American politics and plague our country? Will we support Hillary during this time of healing our country so desperately needs or will we push her to ram so many partisan victories through that we lose the sacred opportunity?
Globally, there’s no doubt the government-sanctioned rape and mass crimes against humanity in South Sudan must stop. Will we continue to turn our backs during this period of rape upon women like Sunday and the mutilation and murder of men like Aman—whose mother was forced to pay the SPLA soldiers 50 South Sudanese pounds for every piece of his hacked body she wanted to bury—while President Kiir and former Vice President Machar carry on their genocidal rampage for power?
Individually, like me you can probably see places and spaces in your professional and personal life that are coming to a close. Will we abandon one job or relationship after another—greedy for the raise and praise and thrill of new encounters—without ever examining either the wreckage we’ve created or the beauty we left behind?
The question is do we put all our weight on the period key, forging ahead as if the past never happened, or can we dare to rest in the pause, allow a little sacred space to bridge the two very distinctive yet conjoined thoughts in the sacred sentence of our nation, world, and personal lives.
Can we give the period a break and give pause to our fear, anger, and egos? What if we dared to take time to contemplate how we created an environment where sexual predators can be presidential candidates of a superpower alongside the world’s newest country’s president and vice president who both use rape as a government-sanctioned weapon of war?
Indeed, I’m beginning to see why the pause of the semicolon is so dreaded. I might see myself and my country not so different or separate from places and people I consider to be dark or hopeless. Stopping the rush of the next words or action causes me to breathe during that space of time. Next thing I know, I begin to find that I too have participated in that dark judgment, blame-gaming, and othering.
Philosopher and Franciscan priest Father Richard Rohr says, “Light is not what you see; it is that by which you see everything else.” Are we busy slamming down a period trying to “see” ourselves and the world we’ve created through the dark fray of a time that needs to come to an end? Or can we employ the sacred pause of the semicolon that we might begin to “see” ourselves and our world through the Light?
I’ve spent most of my life forging from one horrible thing or valiant conquest to the next without allowing any moss to grow under my feet in the process. At a more mature 53, I find that the more I allow myself to “be still,” pause, take deep breaths, and allow my eyes to adjust from frenetic activity to seeing through the Light, the more hope returns.
Hope in our nation. Hope even in the world’s newest nation. Perhaps even hope for myself.
Breathe in the pause; slowly lean into the next moment; together, we just might find a new way.
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