Who Else Wants Simplicity? April Yamasaki's Sacred Pauses Offers a Way

April Yamasaki

We all know about the value of silence, taking breaks, and breathing deeply.

We know we’re supposed to do these things.

But then we get completely involved in our work.

And we forget.

April Yamasaki, a Mennonite minister from Abbottsford, British Columbia, has written a book to help us remember: Sacred Pauses: Spiritual Practices for Personal Renewal.

I recently interviewed April, someone I met through Twitter and through her comments on this blog. Here are my questions and her answers.

Q:  Tell us what your book is about and what prompted you to write it. What is Sacred Time, and why do people need it?

A: A few years ago, I was going through a very intense time–a dear church member went into hospice care and passed away soon after, my father-in-law had been diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumour and died around the same time, my own mother was not well and in need of more care.

I was feeling stretched and stressed out–personally and pastorally–so my husband and I arranged to take a break for a few days away. I went to bed early and slept late, had a leisurely breakfast instead of rushing out the door, wrote in my journal, took long walks, browsed in a favorite book store, ate ice cream, and just enjoyed being refreshed.
That experience made me wonder — instead of waiting for a weekend or for a vacation, what if I could pause and be refreshed by God every day? And I began to think about spiritual disciplines in a new way as spiritual practices, as spiritual pauses that can refresh and renew us. I didn’t have the language for it then, but I came to think of these as sacred pauses.

All of our time is Sacred Time because it’s a gift from God. But sometimes we get so caught up in the busy-ness and pressures of everyday living that we forget–we lose that sense of the Sacred in every day, we lose that sense of larger perspective. That’s why it’s important to take a step back, to pause, to become more grounded, to re-connect with ourselves and with God, with other people and with creation.

Q: What did you discover about yourself as a result of writing this book?

A: I discovered a new depth in the classic practices of Scripture and prayer, and I discovered that I also needed some less typical spiritual practices like making music and having fun. One of the stereotypes of the Christian life is that it is serious, even joy-less, but joy and humour are spiritual qualities. They are gifts from God and can be part of Sacred Time as much as fasting and prayer.

What all these have in common as spiritual practices is their capacity for refreshment and renewal as we allow God to work in us. In writing this book, I also became very aware that sacred pause is part of my creative process. Writing is not only about putting words together. Writing also means pausing–to remember and reflect on past experiences, to pray, to re-read the last chapter before moving on, to go for a walk to clear my head, to sit quietly in the presence of God.

Q: How did you structure your own sacred time as you wrote your book? Was it easy or hard to do this?

A: I’m mainly a morning person and often read my Bible, pray, and journal before breakfast. But I will just as often read a part of Scripture during a random part of the day, talk to God while going for a walk, or journal late at night. I’m not particularly disciplined about particular times, so for me it’s easier to think in terms of sacred pauses woven into my day.

One of the challenges for me is that when I’m working on a project that I love, I become both a morning person and a night person. So some of the book was written in the early hours and late at night, around my regular pastoral ministry and everyday life. That kind of pace is actually easy for me until suddenly it’s not! I need to take care that I don’t flame out somewhere in the middle. I need sacred pause and rest. Thankfully, I also had some sabbatical time for writing, and I’m grateful to my church for their support.
Q: When Mennonites left their rural communities in large numbers and joined the ranks of urban (suburban) professionals, they wanted to bring with them values from their roots. Simplicity was one of these values. In your opinion, has this desire been realized? What practices aid or obstruct this desire?

A: I don’t know that I can speak of Mennonites in general, but in my part of the church I think it’s an ongoing challenge. The obstacles to simplicity are many: the oh-so-present consumer mentality, the real or imagined peer pressure to keep up with others, the always-on world of technology, the sheer number of available choices. It’s not so simple to live simply in suburbia.

Sacred Pauses: Spiritual Practices for Personal Renewal

In my observation, while people may still want to value simplicity, the definition of simplicity has itself changed. Now a simple family supper might be take-out pizza instead of a homemade soup and a loaf of bread fresh from the oven. And simplicity tends to be defined mainly in an outward, physical sense with little regard for the inner spiritual quality. But the two go together.

Simplicity isn’t only about eating certain kinds of food or owning fewer things. It’s also about setting aside distractions, about being more focused, more intentional about life. I find that silence, prayer, reflection, and other spiritual practices can nurture that kind of simplicity.

April’s book launches February 4, 2013. I love the cover. It reminds me of the Japanese concept of wabi-sabi, combining a sense of serene melancholy and spiritual longing. I’m lucky enough to have a martial artist friend Toni who wishes me a Wabi-Sabi Wednesday on Twitter nearly every week. I thought of her when I saw this book.

That last question above is the reason I invited April to an interview. As I write my own memoir, I am searching for some of the secrets of simplicity that came to me from a Mennonite childhood. I think it’s wonderful that I can find answers to my tenth-generation Swiss-German American heritage quest by sitting in silence with a third-generation Chinese Canadian married to a third-generation Japanese Canadian. I love God’s sense of humor, don’t you?

Do you take spiritual pauses in your life? I loved April’s definition of simplicity: “it’s about setting aside distractions, about being more focused, more intentional about life.” If you have questions about how to do this or want to share you own wisdom about practices that renew, April and I would love to talk with you below.



Shirley Showalter


  1. Joanne Hess Siegrist on January 31, 2013 at 9:09 am

    “Tenth-generation Swiss-German American heritage quest by sitting in silence with a third-generation Japanese Canadian.” I love this quote and next I sure hope to read SACRED PAUSES after its release in February 2013. Thanks for sharing.

    • shirleyhs on January 31, 2013 at 9:19 am

      Thanks, Joanne. You have a lot of wisdom to share on this subject too, and I am grateful for your efforts to pass along our heritage of simplicity and peace to future generations.

      If you click on the link to the title of the book at the beginning of this post, you can order the book now!

      I hope to join you with a cup of tea and talk about simplicity one of these days!

    • shirleyhs on January 31, 2013 at 10:59 am

      After I wrote the description of April’s heritage, I checked it with her. Turns out it’s even more eclectic: third-generation Chinese Canadian married to a third-generation Japanese Canadian. Corrected above.

  2. Ursula Jorch on January 31, 2013 at 10:51 am

    I love this interview, Shirley! Thanks for making us aware of April’s work, and for reminding us about the sacredness of our time and what we choose to do with it.

  3. shirleyhs on January 31, 2013 at 11:02 am

    Ursula, thanks for stopping by. You are another person who inspires me to live more simply and more deeply. It takes a village to do this, and I’m glad you’re in my village!

  4. […] Who Else Wants Simplicity? April Yamasaki’s Sacred Pauses Offers a Way […]

  5. April Yamasaki on January 31, 2013 at 11:40 am

    Thank you, Shirley, for being the first stop on my blog tour! And hello, Joanne and Ursula, it’s good to meet others who are seeking simplicity. I think it’s a bit more of God’s humor that we even try to do that with this technology!

  6. Joan on January 31, 2013 at 11:52 am

    Great interview. Sacred Pauses are what make those tough, busy days easier. Every January, I choose a word that I’ll carry with me through the coming new year. This year I chose, “simplicity.” It’s the only way to go. Life is complicated enough without adding our own chaos to the mix.

    • shirleyhs on January 31, 2013 at 12:13 pm

      So true, Joan. And choosing a word that helps you focus throughout the year is, in itself, a form of practicing simplicity. Out of all the good things in the world, you choose one and live with it for a whole year. Lovely.

    • April Yamasaki on January 31, 2013 at 3:27 pm

      Hi Joan – yes, life is certainly complicated enough, and I love that you have chosen simplicity as your word for the year. What a simple yet powerful practice.

  7. Tina Barbour on January 31, 2013 at 11:59 am

    Thank you so much for sharing April Yamasaki’s work, Shirley. Her book sounds wonderful. I, too, love her definition of simplicity.

    I am transitioning to working fewer hours at my job as a newspaper reporter. I am looking forward to the extra time I will have to work on my own writing projects, but also to slow down and to live more intentionally and in the moment. This change in work is really huge for me. I think this book will help me in that endeavor!

    • shirleyhs on January 31, 2013 at 12:16 pm

      Tina, congratulations on making life choices in favor of simplicity. May you be filled with hope and grace as you begin this new stage in life. I do believe this book may be helpful to you.

    • April Yamasaki on January 31, 2013 at 3:30 pm

      Tina, how wonderful that you are able to make this transition to a different pace. I wish you well in your writing projects and living more intentionally.

  8. Lovella on January 31, 2013 at 12:43 pm

    Shirley, I appreciated this interview with April. In having met April now several times I have sensed her restfulness and peacefulness and can imagine it is reflected in the pages of her book.

    • shirleyhs on January 31, 2013 at 1:22 pm

      Hi, Lovella, so glad to meet you. I too sense April’s peaceful presence through her writing and even in her photograph. Spirit is a powerful thing, isn’t it?

    • April Yamasaki on January 31, 2013 at 3:34 pm

      Lovella, thank you so much for your comment. I have enjoyed meeting you and interacting online as well. I’m grateful that we can learn from one another.

  9. Linda Austin on January 31, 2013 at 1:01 pm

    Ugh. I ought to read this book. After my mother passed away late last year I hoped the new year would bring calm and a new happy normal, but no such luck so far. Worse, I can’t remember to stop and pray anymore outside of Sunday church. Wabi sabi ought to be second nature for me as a half Japanese, but the busyness and stress of American lifestyle have taken over.

    • shirleyhs on January 31, 2013 at 1:08 pm

      Linda, thanks for the affirmation that April has struck a deep chord with you, and I believe, with many others. We really need the nurture that good practices and good guides offer us. Thanks for stopping by. I have to go see what you are up to. . .

    • April Yamasaki on January 31, 2013 at 3:38 pm

      Dear Linda, my mother passed away the year before last, so I can imagine some of what you are going through. In the midst of the upheaval, I hope that you are also able to find some time to take care of yourself. May God give you comfort and peace.

  10. Toni Tan on January 31, 2013 at 1:15 pm

    A fine interview, Shirley.

    Ah, the complexity of simplicity.
    It’s easy to be distracted from spirit by our endless internal and external noise and clutter. It’s difficult to regain balance, but it’s possible.

    Wabi Sabi, a Japanese concept, reminds us of life’s beauty in its imperfect, simple, natural and transient form.

    Looking forward to April Yamasaki’s book. You are a source of interesting people and information, Shirley. Keep working that Mennonite magic.


    • April Yamasaki on January 31, 2013 at 3:43 pm

      Thank you, Toni. “Ah, the complexity of simplicity” paradox reminds me also of Leonard da Vinci’s “simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” There’s so much more to ponder and learn. I look forward to exploring your site.

  11. shirleyhs on January 31, 2013 at 1:21 pm

    Toni, so good to have your comment. You are the martial artist I refer to in the post. Now interested people can know how to find you.

    We, too, need to drink tea together some day. But what a blessing it has been to discover you and the idea of Wabi Sabi you exemplify online. Like April says, it’s ironic, but true, that we are using technology today to simplify. Sometimes it helps us. Sometimes it doesn’t. You are one who inspires.

  12. Elsie Hannah Ruth Rempel on January 31, 2013 at 2:56 pm

    My sacred pause for today became reading this blog. My life should be full of simplicity because my wonderful work is half time and flexible, but this week many of the good things I like to do with my grandkids, my church friends, a needy neighbour, and a speaking engagement all heaped up and left me feeling more harried than spiritual. The blog helped me slow down, breath deep and refocus. I now feel readier to finish my preparations on ” The Role of Seniors in the Church” for Sunday so that they have a chance of being inspirational. thanks.

    • April Yamasaki on January 31, 2013 at 3:46 pm

      Elsie, I’m glad that this could be a sacred pause for you today. Blessings to you in all that you do, and especially for this Sunday. Your work is an encouragement to me and many.

  13. shirleyhs on January 31, 2013 at 3:25 pm

    Elsie, thanks for stopping by. I know exactly what you’re talking about, and I’ll bet many other people in their senior years, or who work part-time, also understand. We expect that simplicity will happen on its own when one big piece of our schedule no longer is committed. I know a number of people who feel like their schedules are as vicious in retirement as they were during their careerist years.

    April’s book reminds us that simplicity never happens on its own. We have to bring our own intention and our own practices to connect with God’s larger purposes for our lives.

  14. Lyli @ 3dLessons4Life on February 2, 2013 at 1:45 pm

    Oh, this looks like a wonderful book! Thanks for sharing.

  15. shirleyhs on February 4, 2013 at 4:06 pm

    If you click on the small version of the book cover at the end of this post, you can follow April’s Blog Carnival that started here. She will add each new review or interview on other blogs as she goes along.

  16. Richard Gilbert on February 6, 2013 at 6:46 pm

    Thanks for this thoughtful interview, Shirley. April is onto something big. The Bible says to pray without ceasing, and I wonder if that’s a metaphor for diverse spiritual practices, or can be.

    • April Yamasaki on February 7, 2013 at 1:23 am

      I love that expression to pray “without ceasing”–it reminds me that prayer isn’t only about saying a prayer in the morning or a table grace before a meal, but prayer is a way of life.

  17. shirleyhs on February 7, 2013 at 6:35 am

    I recommend a wonderful book called the Way of the Pilgrim, a Russian spiritual classic, in which a pilgrim attempts to actually follow the admonition to pray without ceasing all the time. This is the most “Eastern” version of Christian practices I have ever read.

    • April Yamasaki on February 8, 2013 at 12:04 am

      Shirley, thanks for mentioning The Way of a Pilgrim–I don’t mention this particular work in my book, but I do talk about the Jesus Prayer which the pilgrim practices along his way as one form of praying without ceasing.

  18. […] does memoir play in your favorite spiritual books? Vice versa? If you want to explore more, see April Yamasaki’s interview on this blog. Please comment below. Share […]

  19. […] January 31   Shirley Showalter posted her interview of me the day before my book’s February 1 official release. Who else wants simplicity? April Yamasaki’s Sacred Pauses Offers a Way […]

  20. […] My spiritual director reminded me yesterday, in the midst of holiday stress, to take Sacred Pauses. […]

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