At 5 p.m., the asphalt paths running through Georgetown University’s main campus begin to pulsate with work-saturated bodies. Students rush to get in line at Leo’s or hunt for study spots in the library; staff and faculty hurry to the bus or join traffic queues lining the neighborhood’s narrow streets. As day activities are swapped out for evening ones, these odd minutes of transition are traversed as though everyone was eager for them to vanish. On Mondays, however, a group of Georgetown students wander into the John Main Meditation Center, remove their shoes, recline onto a floor cushion, and use these same minutes to “press pause.”
One of Campus Ministry’s newer initiatives, Press Pause is a weekly series that catalyzes Georgetown’s unique interfaith milieu to address a spiritual problem endemic to American culture: we do not stop to rest. Each week features a contemplative practice from one of the many traditions Georgetown strives to be a home for, ranging from Rumi poetry recitation to Jewish chant, Sikh meditation to Navajo smudging, Christian Taize to prayer beads.
As an interfaith program, Press Pause is unique: it invites students to experience what these practices offer, and not just learn about them. Led each week by a devoted practitioner–a university chaplain, student, or staff member—each session begins with a brief educational introduction to the practice and the remaining time is spent trying it out. The hope is for participants to leave at 6 p.m. actually feeling rested, different from when they walked in.
What exactly is this rest—or “pause”—that the series aspires to facilitate? Each session answers with concepts, jargon, and imagery native to the hosting tradition. Students thus play a vital role in completing the series’ interfaith aim: usually beginners, but minimally exposed to contemplative practices, their fresh-eyed comments during the closing discussion link the diverse practices, week to week. Common themes include, “It was freeing to do something without a goal attached”, “I felt time slow down”, and “I loved sharing the space with you all as we did and felt the same things.”
Press Pause appeals to anyone seeking such experiences, including those without or with complicated religious identity. The series has resonated with students seeking a regular opportunity for spiritual engagement, but who don’t know where they fit among Campus Ministry’s chaplaincies. In a session on prayer beads, for example, one student made a necklace blending design aspects of the Catholic rosary and the Muslim Misbaha, representing both sides of her religiously-blended family. Besides offering customizable contemplative experiences, instructions for each practice are co-delivered by a student from another or no tradition to mitigate social barriers to entry.
The series emphasizes broad exposure over depth; Press Pause has no ambitions of transforming students into ardent, life-long contemplatives. But in demonstrating anew the relevance of contemplative practices to modern, everyday life, and offering an hour of spiritual respite to all students regardless of past or future religious engagement, this new initiative raises the bar.
Press Pause is held on Mondays at 5 p.m. in the John Main Center. Follow the Campus Ministry Facebook page for more details.
by Diana Brown
Diana Brown is the Assistant Director for Interreligious Engagement at Campus Ministry and a Residential Minister in Village C West.