Some thoughts on the gift of time

It is always intriguing to me when the various streams from which I am reading all come together in one congruent message. For the past several weeks, I have been reading about the gift of time… each new day… how we receive it… how we perceive it.

It began as I was reading Eat, Pray and Love… the author reminisces about her time spent in Italy and the beautiful way Italians relish each day and especially the sheer beauty of doing nothing, “Bel far niente”. I literally laughed out loud as I read it because having lived there for ten years, I knew exactly what she was describing in her book. At the same time, I saw, perhaps for the first time, the beauty in what I had learned from my Italian brothers and sisters.

A mini Sabbath is built into each day in Italy. Everyone goes to work and comes home for lunch which is the largest meal of the day. Afterwards the entire city closes down for everyone to rest… to do nothing. At first, it was annoying to me as an American, that I could not keep going… I couldn’t no matter how much I wanted to, continue with my chores for the day… one, because everything was closed and two, because I couldn’t make any noise.

But after a few years, I too, began to relax into this wonderful rhythm… pausing each day, resting, ceasing and enjoying.

This quickly disappeared as I returned to America… I remember at that time feeling like I was being sucked into a whirlpool that was taking me down… it was such a struggle for me to stay afloat amidst the drivenness of our culture. Suddenly I found myself also living in this rhythm now governed by minutes, ringing agendas, calendars brimming with appointments for myself, my children, sports, lessons and homework into the wee hours. Food? Rest? It might happen on the run.

I realize now that in this new rhythm there was little time for the beauty of doing nothing… in fact, it was frowned upon and converted to the beauty of being productive. With it, disappeared the pleasure of enjoying God’s creation, experiencing gratitude and indulging in quiet reflection. I subtly became a convert to a productive form of Christianity in which my times of worship were squeezed into my schedule, monitored heavily by the ticking of my watch, and judged based on the value of what I gained during my time spent there.

This doesn’t sound to good as I write it. So subtle… but so true.

In my reading this week, I stumbled across some ideas in Dorothy C. Bass’ book, Receiving the Day. She describes a similar dilemma from her own life and worship experiences. She offers a practice during our times of worship and Sabbath that might help us to find new freedom in our worship experiences and life in general. here she addresses one of the problems as she sees it with our American worship services:

“Just as frequently, however, the problem lies not in the service but in the distorted dispositions we bring to it. These are dispositions we need to replace. One step is suggested by the growing number of worshipers who go to church without their watches. Many observant Jews do not carry timepieces on Shabbat. Learning from them, and remembering how the clock can beat us down, we might also declare our availability to God by removing the little machines that link us to commercial time from our bodies, at least during worship.”

Wow… what would it be like if each Sunday, I removed my bells and whistles, left my watch and other time keeping machines at home and just allowed myself to indulge completely in the rhythm of God’s movement for that day? What would it be like if I removed the sacred clock from the sanctuary for the morning? How might it open us corporately and individually to the spontaneity of the Spirit’s movement?

I suspect that we, at the very least, might be able to open ourselves more fully to God’s movement in our hour of worship.