Big, beautiful trees.
Lush green grass.
Where I live, in Lubbock, Texas, there are none of these.
Lubbock is somewhere between the high plains and the desert. It’s constantly filled with high winds, yellow grass, and brown dirt.
It is not a pretty place. Nor is it a place to “find Jesus in nature”
Because “nature” for us is an empty dirt field where there used to be cotton or sunflowers.
However, despite all its failings and disappointments, Lubbock does have one thing that you can’t find high up in the mountains. It has something that gets lost in deep woods hiding behind trees and paints a picture more lovely than any river or stream.
Lubbock has big, BIG sky,
and therefore, the most beautiful sunsets.
Ironically, for someone who talks so much about how NOT beautiful Lubbock can be, when I was asked what I think is the most beautiful thing in all of creation, I was surprised to find my answer was
It’s ironic because God has given me a plethora of it, and every day it is new and beautiful.
As we draw closer to the end of Lent and our exploration of the Seven Sacred Pauses, the Pause at the Twilight Hour asks us to turn our attention once again to the sky.
This is the time when things really are coming to an end:
The work of our hands and the long hours spent at a job draw to a close.
The light of the sun begins to truly fade.
The day itself is actively settling down for a night of rest.
For any who have viewed a truly miraculous sunset, especially one with slight clouds littering the sky that create all kinds of colors, you know how breathtaking it can really be.
A sunset like that seems to call out to us to slow down, take your eyes off your work, and for just a moment, remember that no matter the struggles you have faced this day,
The world still turns.
Every struggle, every striving, and every activity of our hands does come to an end,
just like each and every day comes to an end, bringing a new one with new opportunity in its wake.
My wife, Emily and I have a special relationship with sunsets.
We too get wholly caught up in work, extracurriculars, meetings, hangouts with friends, dinner responsibilities, family obligations, and a million other things that demand our time and attention.
Too many nights we have found ourselves asking the question,
“where did the day go?”
It often feels like all we do is work, eat, and sleep, only to wake up too early and do it all over again.
However, there are occasional evenings when as we are rushing from one thing to the next we catch a glimpse heavenward and see a ray of orange, or pink, or even deep red.
Somehow, when nothing else could convince us to, this one sight grabs our hearts and whispers,
“Be here for just a moment.”
And for just a moment, or five, or for the rest of the evening sometimes…I just get to exist in a moment of great beauty.
I suddenly don’t care so much about the tasks I left unfinished today, or the work to come tomorrow, or the dinner I need to cook right now.
In this moment, everything slows down. I even start to feel like I’m flying…or maybe floating. It’s like nothing matters but being a part of the great big world and communing with God deeply.
Author of Seven Sacred Pauses, Macrina Wiederkehr says,
“to quietly behold the Vespers colors of a sunset with a loved one is prayer.”
How right she is.
There are few moments when I feel more in tune with God’s character, His will, and His encouraging, empowering spirit than when Emily and I stop to bathe in the colors and the silence of the sunset.
We may throw a ball for our dog to frantically chase around the yard.
We may have already begun cooking and need to attend to the grill.
We might have a get-together or another engagement to get ready for,
But even in the midst of movement,
we feel the peace of complete stillness in our spirits
Simply by enjoying the sunset.
The Twilight Hour (or Vespers or the Evening Pause), is all about rest, reflection, and trust.
It is a conscious choice to physically and mentally lay down our work, whatever it may be.
It is an opportunity to honestly and courageously look at the condition of our spirit, and to reflect on how we walked through this day.
As Brother Lawrence says in The Practice of the Presence of God,
“God does not look at the greatness of your work, but at the love with which you do it.”
As we reflect on how we have approached our work and the people scattered throughout our day, we also take a moment to release ourselves from the pressure to get it right. This is what it means to give it over to the love and grace of God.
Where we have failed or performed poorly, we trust that He loves us still and transforms our failures into victories.
Where we have done well, we trust Him to mold our work into His definition of success and purpose.
And where we must let work fall from our hands for the sake of rest spiritually, physically, mentally, and emotionally…we trust that a new day will dawn tomorrow and that God will meet us right where we left off the day before.
We trust that He will meet us where He always does when we trust Him…
Wherever we most need Him to,
with armloads of grace, peace, and power to turn our weeping into dancing, and our fear into joy.
There is no one right way to pause, and especially at the evening time when there are so many other things vying for our attention–things like children, extracurricular activities, social gatherings, and the pesky obligations of needing to eat to live, just to name a few.
If and when you are able to drop everything and breathe in the sunset, please do not miss that opportunity for the sake of other expectations or a busy schedule. However, since it is not always possible to drop what you are doing, Wiederkehr offers some alternative options that others practice:
“A woman who is a nurse at a large hospital takes her sacred pause in this way. On her way home from work she has made a practice of stopping, at least twice a week, to take a leisurely walk through a park.”
“Another person describes how he turns off the radio and his cell phone when he gets in his car. On the drive home, he tries to see people rather than traffice–people with worries, concerns, and joys akin to his own. In prayerfully connecting with all these people going home at the end of the day, he experiences a little communion right there in the midst of traffic.”
“A therapist speaks of how at the end of the day, she reverently visualizes her clients for the next day, seeing not just a patient’s chart filled with progress notes and directives but a person full of hopes and fears, dreams and possibilities. A hand laid on a patient’s chart becomes a reflective pause, a prayer.”
“One of my colleagues shares a story about someone who has found a way to honor his need for some down time after work and yet be present to his family. He has made an agreement with the family that when he gets home in the evening he has time to take a shower, get into casual clothes, and perhaps read the paper. After this, he is ready to enter into whatever needs the family might have, from romping on the floor with children to watering the garden or mowing the yard.”
In whatever way you choose, what is important is that you actively and intentionally create a space and a practice to pause in this moment before the day ends, a time to rest and reflect, a time to let go of failures and savor successes.
So, no matter how much time you set aside to do it, at the end of the day, when the sun has begun to set,
how will you pause to see the face of God after your hard day’s work?
PAUSE AT THE TWILIGHT HOUR PRAYER GUIDE
My eyes scan the horizons of your goodness.
The incense of gratitude rises as an evening prayer.
A thousand colors is your face
embracing us with waves of grace,
And as the day star now departs
Your glance of light fills all our hearts.
The evening eye shines down on earth
A prayer for our continued birth.
We lift our hearts in tender praise
And give you thanks for all our days.
In the evening of life we shall be judged (examined)
– John of the Cross
Oh Gracious Giver of the Day,
Bountiful has been my daily bread;
And in the heart of sorrows
You have surrounded me with grace.
Like the earth circling the sun,
Blessings have circled my day.
As the lamps of evening are lit,
I live in the circling.
My eyes scan the horizons
Of your goodness.
Standing tall with thanksgiving
I praise you with a grateful heart.
O Mystery withing Mystery,
Touch the paradoxes of this day
With your healing breath.
Let your mantle of peace
Clothe me in this evening hour.
It is well with my soul.
All shall be well; all shall be well.
In the evening of life we shall be judged
Biblical Psalm Suggestion
Psalm 145 (my favorite)
Stay with us, Lord, for the day is almost over…
Come, sit at our table. Be present in the bread we break and share. It is our daily bread lifted out of both grace and struggle. It is the bread of compassion and joy, sorrow and courage. We bless you who have journeyed with us through the hours of this day. Now it is evening, and the day is almost spent. Come to our supper table. Be our guest. Let us see your face in each of our table companions. At this vespers hour, light the lamps of our hearts and attend our deepest hungers. May it be so.
For more prayers, poems, and scripture suggestions for the Twilight Pause purchase a copy of Seven Sacred Pauses by Macrina Wiederkehr here.