Book Review: Practice the Pause

Oct 2 / Kathi Gatlin
Sometimes, a book comes along that makes you stop and consider your way of being in the world. Caroline Oakes has written such an offering in Practice the Pause. It is both accessible and full of rich content as she engages readers with insights through Scripture, neuroscience, contemplation, and the impact of engaging a life following Jesus’ example.

Oakes, weaving the various threads in her text, starts with considering the understanding of God and religion through Scripture using the lens of a relational understanding found in Eastern Christianity. Her writing is for those of us formed by a more Western-leaning knowledge about God rooted in our intellect. Through her words, the gift offered is to open to a more whole-bodied and lived faith that impacts our way of being with God, ourselves, and the world.

If you are like me, you have heard many times that the word repent is to take a 180 degree turn based on a behavior-centered approach. Oakes returns to the original language and shares the root word, often translated as repent, is metanoia – meaning a bigger and more expansive view. That is an entirely different starting point in our lived relationship with God.

My journey of discovering the gift of Greek through seminary opened this starting point in my life. It impacted my way of being with God to experience a God who cares more about our relationship than behavior. This understanding changes everything, and I have seen that not only in my own life but in those I have the privilege to walk alongside.

Oakes continues sharing the basis of this understanding of God and living a life of faith through reading Jesus’ way of being in the world. She relays the gift of neuroscience research and how the contribution of what Scripture tells us through the gospel accounts of Jesus – that taking a pause, finding a larger view, rewires our brain. Now, isn’t that amazing?

What if that is the gift of living with God, ourselves, and one another? That is the invitation for our lives. In this well-written weaving of various streams of understanding, Caroline Oaks shares the gift of following a contemplative approach to life. As we gain greater self-awareness in our journeys, we begin to have the capacity to host space for others in theirs.

Since reading Practice the Pause, we decided to require it for all our Spiritual Director Formation and Training Program students. To invite others to discover this rich content, we would like to invite you to our first Book Club starting October 19th and continuing for four sessions on alternate Thursdays.

I contacted Caroline Oakes for more insight on her journey with writing this book. Here are her answers:

How have you noticed the contemplative journey in your own life of faith?
What an important word you are using here in your question – that delightful word “notice’! I became drawn to the contemplative life in my early 30s without really knowing that that’s really what I was being drawn to – – I just noticed that when I took the advice of an Episcopal monk who told me to try to take a few moments of “quiet with God in scripture” if I wanted a deeper spiritual life, the orientation of my life shifted in surprising and important ways.

That contemplative “noticing” gradually became broader and wider and eventually brought 
even life-changing vocational shifts a few years later when I was introduced to the quiet of Centering Prayer at a Quaker retreat center by a teacher who had studied under Thomas Keating. Shortly thereafter, I felt a call to attend seminary to pursue a master’s degree in ascetical theology – which essentially was the study of ancient practices.

And likely it was my contemplative life that inclined me to decide to not pursue the
ordination track, as I noticed a deep desire in me to be more of a “monk” than a priest. This noticing worked out quite well, as I then was able to serve two different Episcopal churches under two progressive priests who were happy to hire a non-collared seminary grad to run spiritual formation and pastoral care formation programming.

While teaching meditation and centering prayer and simultaneously learning about the 
neuroscience behind meditation, I was looking everywhere for a book like Rick Hansen’s Buddha’s Brain that would teach the basics of the new field of contemplative neuroscience, but from a Christian perspective. And when I couldn’t find that book I decided my thesis study on Jesus’s own practice and first century Judaism, along with my new understanding and personal research of contemplative neuroscience, all dovetailed in a way that could be woven into a book. The first publisher I queried loved the idea and picked it right up to publish —and so Practice the Pause was born!

Since you are also a spiritual director, how do you see this journey in those you
I have accompanied people from very different religious and spiritual backgrounds — 
some with already developed practices, others with no practice at all, and even someone who experienced chronic depression from her association with a church that insisted that she save her LGBTQ friends or they would go to Hell. For this directee, we actually read Marcus Borg’s book The Heart of Christianity  together, which helped a new understanding of what God could emerge, and simple, contemplative “noticings” of Love in her life were enormously helpful.

So from those sorts of nacent noticings, it usually then is a natural opening then to taking on an intentional daily practice. And I have noticed that every person I have accompanied who takes on a daily Centering Prayer practice finds that in just a matter of weeks somethings shifts in them and they are indeed able to experience a deeper, wider, less black-and-white, perspective, as well as have a more profound sense of their own inner goodness. It is quite remarkable!

In what ways do you engage others in these practices?

Over the past three years or so, I have encouraged others to make sure that when they 
take on a contemplative practice, that they not only find time to spend in quiet alone for a few minutes every day, but most especially to try to find a group with whom they can practice as well, either in person or online.

I have found that online Centering Prayer sessions feel like a combination of Centering Prayer, AA meetings, and Quaker meeting, in the sense that there is 20 minutes of quiet and then a few minutes of sharing about our own practices, but the sharing happens without cross-talk, and participants are moved to speak from the heart.

Also I recommend two “apps” that are available on any smartphone —

The app Insight Timer, which offers thousands of meditations by hundreds of 
meditation teachers, along with perfectly beautiful temple bells that can time your prayer time with any number of minutes of silence in between.
2) Also the Pray-As-You-Go app offers a beautifully produced Lectio Divina daily prayer in which the Jesuit hosts ask important introspective questions and give you time to think and wonder and pray in between the questions with lovely musical background to accompany your quiet noticing and wondering and prayer. I found this to be a very good way to start the day and it can be done truly “as you go”!

What do you hope your readers come away with after reading Practice the Pause?

I thought about this as I was writing the last pages of Practice the Pause, and so — 
spoiler alert! — at the end of the epilogue, I share a Thomas Merton quote that “there is a hidden wholeness in all things,” and then I close the epilogue reminding readers to always remember that there is a hidden wholeness in them — that spark of the divine, that “monastery of the heart” that my friend Oksana speaks of in the very first chapter of the book in the story she tells of how she, at age five, first learns about the love of God through the words of her Ukranian grandmother.

As fun and fascinating (and accessible, apparently!) the new neuroscience is in this book, to me the golden thread woven throughout the book is this emphasis on the spark of the divine in each of us. I often say that if readers only read the very first chapter and then for whatever reason became distracted and didn’t continue reading, I would be very happy that they’ve heard Oksana’s story that sets the stage for the rest of the book.

Also it is my hope that this book helps readers to pull down the word contemplation from the high inaccessible shelf that the Church has taught for so many, many years, and to simply understand contemplation as noticing and being more aware of the joy in the present moment.

What is one thing you would like us to know?

I love the word “us” in this question! – – “What is one thing you would like us to know,” 
and I emphasize us because I feel this is an invitation to for me to speak particularly to those who are engaged with the Companioning Center community.
And what I would like you to know is something I told Kathi when we met together online – – and that is that as I read through your Companioning Center website and learned all that you do and saw your faces and what are you emphasize in your programming, I felt as though I have just discovered a family I didn’t even know I had! I would like you to know how very grateful I am for this introduction and this “noticing.”

I am looking very forward to also being engaged with the Companioning Center and to get to know each of you who have already received its many gifts!

To contact Caroline:
Book — Practice the Pause (Also available as an Audio Book)
Instagram — @carolineoakes
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Want to hear more from Kathi? Join her in the book club offering on Practice the Pause starting October 19th or one of her Contemplative Practice Workshops. She is offering two this month:
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Kathi Gatlin
Kathi Gatlin founded Boldly Loved and co-founded the Companioning Center to bring together her two greatest passions: spiritual formation and teaching. In this, she utilizes her M.Ed. earned through George Fox University and her D.Min in Leadership and Spiritual Formation from Portland Seminary. Her greatest joy is walking alongside others, individually and in groups, in their own spiritual journey, sharing ways of understanding God anew through contemplative prayer and teaching, and to see them grow in the depth of their own understanding of who God is and who they are in relationship with God. Kathi is a spiritual director, supervisor, writer, spiritual formation group facilitator, retreat speaker, leadership mentor. For more information about Kathi, check out