The pause that refreshes


20 Jan 2021
Dr Julia Upton RSM

There is a spiritual gift for us all in this time between the pre-Covid and the Covid-normal world to come.

In 1929 The Coca Cola Company came up with the advertising slogan ‘. . . the pause that refreshes’. Although the slogan was only in active use by the company for three decades, it remains associated with the brand, and has found its way into the cultural vocabulary. 

A sobering multimedia presentation appeared this [northern] summer in Emergence Magazine, an online publication featuring innovative stories connecting ecology, culture and spirituality. ‘Apausalypse: Dispatch from Iceland’ begins with the observation with which most of us can relate, that ‘there is a turbulence in the air . . .’ Involving dancers, musicians and philosophers from across Iceland, it notes that ‘we are going through the greatest social experiment in human history’ and asks, ‘Are we just going to go back like nothing happened? Or are we going to see and use the opportunity of having found the pause button?’ It poses a key question: ‘What is the meaning of this great stop, the apausalypse?’

Using that play on words (apocalypse, which means ‘to uncover something’) we ask ‘What will we uncover during this Great Pause?’

Altered perspective

I am a New Yorker and have lived and worked in the City almost all my life. The events of 11 September 2001 continue to have a residual effect on me and on my city. Almost 20 years later I see that the aftermath of that ‘apausalypse’ significantly altered my perspective on ritual and ritual elements perhaps forever. That event got our attention. It got the world’s attention. 

That next Sunday, Mass in our parish church was packed with crowds we see only on Christmas and Easter. They sang and prayed with a fervor I had never experienced before. People of all ages, I imagine, felt lost, confused, frightened and they came together in simple faith, remembered from some distant past, longing for stability in a world where the center had ceased to hold.

‘Will they be back next Sunday?’, I wondered.

Well, they weren’t, at least not in our parish, perhaps because they did not find anything compelling there that gave them the grounding they so desperately needed. 

What if the parish staff had met together on 12 September and invited some other key parish leaders including teens and young adults to join them? Together they might have been able to discuss how they themselves were feeling, to help assess what losses were experienced by the parish community, and to determine how they might best allow the liturgy to be the ‘primary and indispensable source of the Christian spirit,’ to unleash the power of the liturgy so that people would be reminded that death and destruction have been overcome by the power of the Cross – the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

Deep need for ritual

The burning desire and deep need for ritual to hold and heal has not dissipated. We might have missed the moment back then, but we have not yet missed the only opportunity. The stage is set. The need is genuine. If we do not step into the void, someone or something else will. 

Here in the US we see that need to ritualise in roadside shrines when someone has died, or writing messages on a coffin. Although we know the liturgy is the outstanding means by which we express faith, it is not the only one. The home, the domestic church, is actually where faith is first nurtured – learning to say night prayers; saying grace before meals; lighting the advent wreath. We should be reminding people often of the importance of the domestic church.

For weddings I often give couples the Catholic Household Blessings & Prayers, which has prayers, blessings, and short services for every imaginable need or occasion. A recent, lavishly illustrated book is Theology of Home: Finding the Eternal in the Everyday, written and compiled by three women with beautiful photographs by a fourth. Rather than prayers, it is composed of reflections on living the domestic church. My favourite book by far, though, is Gertrude Mueller Nelson’s To Dance With God: Family Ritual and Community Celebration. It is a treasure trove of wisdom as well as rich ideas for living a fuller life as families.

A fine collaborative resource for families or individuals is available through the Diocese of Parramatta. The Well ( was launched earlier this year and is so deep and varied that will surely outlast these pandemic times. The resources are organised in categories: Spiritual nourishment; Care, connection and community; Prayer and worship; Service and outreach; and, Ministry and leadership.

Spiritual reflection tool

One of my favourite segments is ‘Worship Wednesdays’ which features young musicians across the diocese who lead a 30-minute prayer session, each session with a different musician and theme. Another feature I appreciate is the focus on Visio Divina – a spiritual reflection tool that can be used by people of all ages and in all circumstances. Weekly parish updates or newsletters could include suggestions for spiritual resources gathered from parishioners, perhaps even shared in online groups,

In the computer world ‘refresh’ has another meaning – to recalibrate the computer so that it functions more efficiently. This global pause offers each of us the opportunity to recalibrate our lives to walk more closely the way Jesus marked out for us. 

Let us pray for one another, that we embrace the opportunity the Spirit is breathing into our world at this time.  

Julia Upton, RSM, is a member of the Institute of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas. She holds a Ph.D. in Theology from Fordham University and is Provost Emerita and retired Distinguished Professor in the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at St. John’s University (NY), where she has taught for 40 years. In 2019 she completed a Master’s Degree in Public Health and now devotes her time to writing and consulting.

This article first appeared in Madonna magazine and is an abbreviated version of Prof Upton’s public lecture organised by the Australian Catholic University on ‘Prayer, Liturgy, Pastoral Care and Pandemics’. The lecture can be accessed from

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