Full stop. Period. Different people reference this article of punctuation by different names, but it still serves the same purpose: to indicate the end of a sentence. A full stop is used to bring closure to sentences, but this doesn’t mean that a narrative is concluded.
But why do we only use full stops at the end of sentences? Sometimes we need to spend time addressing things before we can even begin to read because our context frames our understanding of the narrative. By intentionally stopping for introspection and extrospection, we could then be better prepared to move forward.
I have always been bad at knowing the formal rules of grammar as it has mostly come intuitively to me. But through the process of learning a new language, I have been forced to slowly examine communication as I interact with people who have a different mother tongue. After many experiences of miscommunication, I now try to pay close attention to the details that frame a conversation in order to move our understanding forward and to not simply exchange words.
Therefore if a full stop communicates closure, what if we began our first sentence with a full stop? Would this remind us to examine things we often overlook, things that are evident but not written, and things that we see but don’t notice, before we move forward?
This may seem like a trivial thought experiment, but through the experiences in our context, this simple article of punctuation has caused me to examine the importance of pausing and reflecting.
In the Bible (mostly in the book of Psalms), the word Selah is used numerous times. Although the exact meaning of the word is unknown, it is generally accepted that it is used as an invitation for the reader to pause and to reflect on what was just said, and to prepare for what is about to be said.
We live in a world surrounded by ‘noise’ and so the act of pausing can help us process what is going on in order to move forward meaningfully. Pausing can help shed light on things that need to become a priority.
This past month we had the opportunity to visit the Sundarbans, which is the world’s largest mangrove forest and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. We spent five days on a river boat together with around 40 MCC expat colleagues working across Asia. We had a great time exploring the beautiful ecosystem and getting to know our colleagues and their families better. With a packed schedule and the close quarters on the boat, I enjoyed the peace at night when most people were sleeping or playing board games in the cafeteria.
Under the cover of darkness, I would sit at the boat’s bow (front) in silence. I would sit there and take it all in: the mechanical purr of the engine, the cool breeze as the boat cut across the water, the darkness from the absence of human settlements, and the small lights of boats passing by. Eventually my mind would reflect on things that were weighing on me: Eli finally resting after being sick earlier in the day, Erin’s recent health issues, the security concerns with foreigners and minority groups being killed in Bangladesh, conflicts around the world from Syria to South Sudan…
With so much happening outside of my realm of control, my physical context perfectly reflected how I felt – moving forward in the dark. Just then a bright navigation spotlight shown from the bridge (the boat’s commanding platform) and wandered the water, highlighting approaching obstacles. Once these distant objects were identified, the spotlight turned off and the captain made a slight course correction. This continued every 15 to 20 minutes.
Despite all our technology, I was struck at how dependent we were on light to give us sight. Yet as we moved forward, we were mostly in the dark.
In the Christian calendar, we just concluded the Season of Lent. Lent is a 40 day period before Easter where Christians solemnly remember the suffering of Jesus before his crucifixion and resurrection. The specific number of days that this season spans pays homage to the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the dessert before he began his public ministry.
In the Gospels it records that after Jesus left the desert, he began to preach that the kingdom of God was near, saying,
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19, Isaiah 61: 1, 2).
This was done to fulfill what the profit Isaiah had said:
the people living in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned. (Matthew 4:16, Isaiah 9:2).
Jesus came into the world during a time of darkness and a time of waiting. This was further emphasized through his 40 day fast in the dessert. And yet through this season of waiting, God was preparing the world for a Great Light that would help us navigate the darkness.
When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12).
We don’t have to pause and reflect for too long in order to recognize that we are living in a time of great darkness, a time when the world is seeing the highest number of displaced people from conflict and persecution, where global epidemics like Ebola and the Zika virus disproportionately impact the poor, where inequality is increasing, where hatred expressed physically and verbally terrorizes people. And then there are the personal struggles that many of us face with loneliness, strained relationships, poor health or financial insecurity.
Now there aren’t quick or easy solutions to any of these, but that shouldn’t paralyze us because we have hope. At the conclusion of the Lenten Season, we celebrate Easter which is when Jesus defeated death and rose to life; 40 days after Easter we remember the Ascension, when Jesus was taken up into heaven; 10 days after the Ascension we remember Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit (also referred to as our Helper, Comforter, and Advocate) descended on Jesus’ disciples.
Development practitioners often over use the analogy “Give a man a fish, and he eats for a day. Teach a man to fish, and he eats for a lifetime.” As our understanding of poverty has become more complex, this analogy has now been expanded to include power dynamics by asking who owns the lake that the man is fishing on. But there is still troubling evidence which reveals that despite the needs we may see around us, helping others doesn’t come easily.
In social psychology there is a phenomenon observed called the Bystander Effect, which primarily refers to the diffusion of individual responsibility in a crowd. Unfortunately, the consequence of this is that we often abdicate our responsibility to help those in need, and there is a direct correlation with our likeliness to help decreasing as the size of the crowd we are in increases.
So yes, we do need to be intentional with pausing so that we can reflect on the context that surrounds us as this can help us move forward purposefully. However, in order to move forward in our narrative, we need the guidance of our Helper to illuminate our path so that we can overcome our powerlessness in the face of darkness, and apathy in the face of our fallenness.
There is a simple song, a Taizé meditative prayer, that has resonated with me and that I sing to Eli at bedtime. May these lyrics remind us of the hope we have in the darkness, and encourage us to joyfully move forward.
The kingdom of God is justice and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.
Come, Lord, and open in us the gates of your kingdom.
(Taizé, The Kingdom of God).
PLEASE BE PRAYING THAT:
1. Erin continues to stay healthy.
2. Eli continues to adjust to a very flexible schedule and that he is able to sleep well at night.
3. Bangladesh (and places impacted by physical and verbal hatred) experience peace and the vulnerable are helped.
4. MCC Bangladesh transitions into a new season well as colleagues end their terms, and others step into new roles.
Nishant, (Erin and Eli)
Check out the full album at: Sundarbans
Check out the full album at: February 2016
Here is a short video of the Sundarbans from the deck of our boat. If you listen carefully, you can hear our colleagues singing “Dona Nobis Pacem” which is Latin for “Grant us peace” in the background.
Taizé, The Kingdom of God: