In one town during our trip, I saw that people seemed to be on their own kind of time. If a shop said "Open at 10" it may not have opened until 10:20. Strangely, that did not bother me the way it would have in my big city life when I absolutely, positively have to have something done at this moment so that I can move onto the next "absolutely, positively I have to do it now" moment. I am a very punctual person, so I was surprised when I actually did not mind when people sort of meandered to a meeting, or showed up whenever they got there, (all within reason, I admit). I enjoyed it because it freed me of my need to constantly watch the clock. I began to realize that to some degree we are all slaves to that. But it does not have to be that way.
While I know that we do need to have a schedule given work, keeping up with our children, appointments, and the like, I think it does give rise to some thought about the frenetic cycle in which we can find ourselves. Surely we cannot simply mosey into all our appointments whenever we feel like it; it would throw the other person's schedule off, thus adding to their own stress. And it would be rude and self-centered. The point here is not to be insensitive. Rather, it is to allow our time to have more meaning. We can still be busy and we still can (and should) honor our commitments, but it is important to realize that our lives can fly by in what seems to be an instant. Therefore it is important to be attentive to each moment and not see certain times as filler, or wasted, or simply something to get us to what really matters. Simply put, it is not how busy we are that should rule our minds and hearts; it is how we use the time we have, busy or otherwise. It is about our attitude. Are we slaves to the clock, or do allow the time we have to be a gift?
I have witnessed through my ministry of directing retreats that while on a retreat we begin to let go of the need to manage time. Whether on a group retreat or private directed retreat we usually have to be on time only for a presentation, meal, prayer service, or our once daily meeting with the retreat director. The rest is our time with God. So while we still have to be somewhere at certain times, there is less demand and more of a sense of letting go of the hectic pace at which we normally live our lives. It is a surrendering to God's time. In this surrender is actually great freedom. Often at the end of a retreat I will hear people say with a bit of a sigh that they loved it, but "now it is time to get back into the real world." I know what they mean, but really the retreat was the real world insofar as it was time alone with God without any demands and without all the rushing around. What it reminds us of is that while on retreat we really are on God's time, or kairos, rather than being a slave to the clock and chronological time, chronos. It is a taste of things to come...and we like it!
Any time we go to prayer we step out of chronos and into kairos. Or at least if we really want to find the peace that prayer and meditation bring, we need to surrender the distraction of the clock and simply be with the Lord. It is good not just for the soul, but also for our minds and bodies. It relieves stress, and that has been proven scientifically. Of course, any time we spend time with God, whether it is a time of trouble or a time of joy (or something in between), it is a stress reliever because we are handing it all over to the Lord. Anything difficult when shared is easier to bear, and that which is a joy is more wonderful when someone else is invited into it.
Any time we go to a worship service we step out of our slavery to the clock, or at least we should. I hate to admit it, but sometimes I am a bit grateful that I need reading glasses in order to see my watch now. This is because it helps me resist the temptation to look at it during Mass. I really cannot see the hands without my glasses, so I have little choice even if I do try to sneak a peek. I am a product of my culture, so admittedly I have given into this on many occasions. But now I feel more and more freed from this tendency. Not being able to read my watch is helping me break the habit of caring about how much time it takes. You see, deep down, it really does not matter how much time it takes because it is about worship and it is about being fed spiritually. Why would I want to limit that time? What else "out there" is more important than time with God? It is the one time in my week when nothing is demanded of me and it is time to be with my “faith family” and the Lord who is present there. (In Matthew 18:20 Jesus said: "Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.") Therefore while it is a real struggle and a temptation for those of us conditioned by the clock, it really is very freeing when we can simply let go of our slavery to it during our time of worship.
If we truly want to be present to the people who matter most to us, it is important to truly be attentive to each moment we are together, savoring it and being mindful in it. If we are attentive to those we are with, including our times with God, each moment has much more meaning and much more beauty. No one likes to be in the presence of a person who they know is not really listening. Rather than crossing off every encounter from the "to-do" list, going through life like it is one long grocery list, we need to savor each moment; once that moment passes we never have it again. When we are mindful and focused in the moment, there is so much more to see and hear and experience. The world opens up and we have more time to let our thoughts and feelings register, rather than being a blur in our memory, if we can even remember it at all! It allows us to see beyond the surface of everything. It allows us to enjoy the time with loved ones more, and even to learn more from the times of pain and suffering. And from this flows gratitude.
Slowing down and really being present, even with a hectic schedule, is something we can learn to do with a little practice. Even if we are on the run with so much that has to be done by a deadline, letting our attitude be transformed by grace will enable us to get it all done, but without it stressing the living daylights out of us. A good example here is of Pope John XXIII. He would arise at 4 AM so he could have an hour of prayer before his early Mass. Someone once asked how he could do that when he had such a busy schedule ahead of him every day. His response was that it was precisely because of that schedule that he needed that time with God. It allowed him greater freedom from the "demands" of the clock and it gave him the strength of the grace he knew he needed to carry out so difficult a mission as being pope.
Let us be like Pope John XXIII, recognizing the need to spend some time, God's time, in prayer so that we can have the grace to deal with our daily tasks. Let us ask for the gift of being mindful and focused with the ones we are with so as not to be caught up in time but in the actual encounter. Let us ask for the gift to truly live more mindful of God's time in those opportunities when it is offered to us, such as Sunday worship. Let us ask for the ability to let go of the stress that the clock can put upon us. And let us be filled with gratitude for the freedom which comes from accepting the gift of God's time. Let us continue to meet in the Heart of Jesus, where there is nothing but God's time. Peace!
(This is dedicated to a special friend for whom my time was intended, but got away from me this week. I am still learning!)