catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 3, Num 13 :: 2004.06.18 — 2004.07.10


Time is my enemy

Time is my enemy, you know what I mean? I have a private crazy fight against what God has ordained. Against what he has created and called good: the measure of days passing into nights. The consecrated rhythms of work and rest. The boundaries of our finiteness. For starters, I resent his twenty-four hour day because with more hours I could accomplish ever so much more and wouldn’t that be a lot better than fighting with the way it is now?

“God set them (sun and moon) in the expanse of the sky to give light on the earth, to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. And on the seventh day he rested from all his work.” (Gen. 1:17-18, 2:2)

In Paul’s epistle to Timothy, he exhorts us with: “Everything God created is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving, because it is consecrated by the word of God.”

Rejecting God’s day ought to make me afraid, but I am foolish. God mercifully does not squish me under his thumb, rather he sends along some reinforcements to my enemy line. They are gifts from Him, but I don’t recognize this immediately.

I awakened one day in June with a thing on my back. It had grown up overnight bursting through my skin like a mushroom, looking ugly and aggressive. When I called my doctor, I was able to get an appointment two days later which is like winning the lottery, so I knew for sure I was going to die and God was letting me know this quickly so I could make plans for my final days. MaryJane’s recent death from melanoma is still vivid, so I could imagine what my end might look like. I spent the night in sleepless reflection. I could see I had been too busy to notice that my priorities were twisted. After all these years I still have trouble deciding what could/should be done compared to what ought to be done. By morning a lot of the could/shoulds dropped off the list. I am not telling what they all are, but digging up the lilacs on the front lawn and cleaning up my email address book wasn’t among them.

Enemy Reinforcements
The next reinforcement to the enemy camp to come along this summer was our granddaughter, Manessah. During the week we kept her I was forced to pace myself to her small steps and endure days completely devoted to simple watching and listening. At three years of age, she has not yet perfected the notion of time. I adore her with my entire heart, but she refuses to be concerned with my agenda and the need to maximize, multitask, do more with less and less, and do it faster, smarter and cheaper. She lives in the luxury of hours that pass by with nothing tangible accomplished. Nowhere is this more noticeable than in the area of bodily functions. Although I admire her natural ease and unadorned body, her need is often ill-timed. We spent forever in the bathroom waiting for something to happen. Not to be hurried, she lustily sang songs, gazed long minutes at the ceiling, and spotted spiders sitting on their webs. “I’ll get it,” she promised, forgetting to pull up her pants as she duck walked into the hall looking for the fly swatter.

At the end of her stay we are on our way to pick up her mom from the airport and take them both home when she gives a loud cry, “Pee!” I turn to look at her sitting in the back seat. She looks fairly calm. Not exactly desperate. “Must you really?” I ask. “Yes.” Unequivocally. “Can you wait?” She looks introspective for a moment. “No.”

So Denis pulls off on a gravel road and parks about twenty yards from Dante’s Inferno. It is blistering hot. There is a breeze, but it comes from under the car — the engine laboring to run the air conditioner. Denis pops the trunk and rummages for the potty chair. We place it in the ditch beside the car to protect her privacy a little.

She settles in and gazes around happily. She cranes her neck above the grass and you can see she is connecting with something because her entire face lights up, but it is not what I think. She calls out “Farmer’s Field? THIS is a farmer’s field?” “Yes,” I say. “This is a corn field.” “I don’t LIKE corn, but pigs do.” (Last summer she ate too much corn on the cob in one sitting — probably my fault — and got spectacularly sick. She hasn’t forgotten.) “Yes,” I say. “Are you going?” She considers this for a moment and says yes.

We wait. I drum my fingers on the car door. Denis paces in the road. “Are you done?” “No,” she says. “Not yet.” Motorcycles and semis roar past, but she pays them no mind. “Look!” she shouts. “Clouds!” “Yes,” I say. “Are you done?” “No.” I wipe my damp forehead and flap my shirt. Now she points at a yellow butterfly sitting on a wild purple aster. “May I have it?” she asks. I hand her the flower and she cries for the butterfly. “Time,” I say, “Time to get back in the car. When we get to the airport to pick up your mommy we will find a bathroom there.”

We strap into our seats and head into the Twin Cities watching the line of jets above us. As we careen off the freeway and into the maze surrounding the airport we hear another cry. This time she sounds urgent. She is clenching her jaw and shivering. She talks through her teeth like Wallace on Wallace and Grommet: “I needa GO!” Denis looks crestfallen. I am, too. But she is our gift, this little enemy of time, and we can’t toss her off.

We find a parking space in the front row of the ramp, but we are still a long way from the terminal. It would be safer to try the potty again. This time we get her seated on the sidewalk between the car and the half-wall. We are in a convection oven smelling of exhaust and cast in twilight — except for where Manessah sits. We seem to have placed her under a spotlight — her hair is haloed and her face is lit. She leans forward to pull up her socks and examine her sandals. “Scoot back,” I say. She can see the tops of the buses as they rumble past on the other side of the wall. “Bus!” she yells. “Look at the bus!” She leans back, stretches out her legs, and begins to sing “Jingle Bells.” She is infectious and I am almost tempted to join, except that I notice people are walking past pulling suitcases and staring.

Concerned about appearances and ETA’s, I ask this little enemy: “Are you done yet?” “Nope.” She is maddeningly cheerful. She stares at the ceiling as though in a trance. Still nothing happens. Finally I get her up. She peers in the potty shaking her head and looking disappointed as though something ought to have magically appeared and wouldn’t that have been a splendid parting gift to the grandparents?

The Gift of Time
This summer I have been reading a book: Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time by Dorothy Bass. She has caused me to conclude that I am shot through with sinful notions and practices regarding time. Without the usual amount of energy which I only consider my rightful due, my body is one more enemy keeping me from my real priorities. Days rush past with more people, more events, more urgent things to do. Opportunities burgeon. Life is like an old computer game we used to own called “Typing Tutor.” Letters fell from the top of the screen and you shot them off with the corresponding letter keys as fast as they fell. Faster and faster. Bang, bang, bang. As fast as I could move my fingers and still they came until they piled up at the bottom in an enormous heap and I lost. I must try harder.

How dare I entertain all this nonsense? Bass challenges me: “We delude ourselves into believing that if we can just get everything done, if we can only tie up all the loose ends, if we can even once get ahead of the crush, we will prove our worth and establish ourselves in safety.” She reminds me that intrinsic to the twenty-four hour day, which God so clearly proclaimed as good, are the limitations of self. It is a self designed to work and to rest within that frame of time.

Our problem with time is social, cultural, and economic, to be sure. But it is also a spiritual problem, one that runs right to the core of who we are as human beings. Distortions in the shape of our time foster distortions in the shape of our lives and the quality of all of our relationships. Indeed, these distortions drive us into the arms of a false theology: we come to believe that we, not God, are the masters of time. [emphasis mine]

The Christian practice of receiving the day is a deliberate offering of our attention to the gracious presence and activity of God in our daily lives. It means setting aside a part of the day to practice a cluster of spiritual disciplines that correct our sinful notions and feed our souls with truth, joy and thankfulness. Bass says, “This piece of time leans deliberately into the wind, grounding us to resist the forces that hurry us on to distraction.”

In our age we subject our bodies to all sorts of excesses. Some of us find ways to care too much about our bodies, some of us care too little. Perhaps all of us are tempted by our weaknesses in one way or another. The body is a problem for me because it seems so closely tied to what I can do and thus WHO I am. I could hear Bass speaking to me when she wrote about honoring our bodies as God has made them.

Respecting the body’s daily needs and making space for their fulfillment is part of honoring the integrity of each twenty-four hours period. A collapse of health is often what alerts someone who is working too long and too hard that he must rethink the pattern of his days. Skipping meals, failing to get any exercise, even neglecting to take time to go to the bathroom’these are far from trivial. The Christian practice of receiving the day is made for people who have and are bodies. These bodies cry out for care, for nourishment, for exercise, for rest.

Her words struck me as freedom. On some days “receiving the day” begins and ends with acknowledging the physical limitations of the body — and also receiving the body as a gift designed by God in which we live and serve him while working AND resting. Though we may have many problems — painful mortal problems — it remains a miracle that what we carry inside us is an imperishable seed which can’t be destroyed. For those who believe in Christ Jesus, that seed of life has already taken root, and one day it is going to shoot up and nothing will be able to stop its flowering. In the meantime, we can say thank you to God. Thank you for moles, for illnesses, for children, for the bodies he has given us, for the beauty of day and night, and for the possibility of glorifying Him in all ordinary everyday things.

God Made That
At 9:30 p.m. of Manessah’s last night with us she is supposed to be asleep. For some reason she is wide awake. When I walk past her room she calls to me, “Sit down” and pats her bed encouragingly. How can I resist? She is so delighted to have me share her moment, she looks around the room, gives a huge sigh, and breathes, “This is nice.” And she pats me. What are you thinking about, I wonder, and in answer to my mental question she asks: “Tomorrow I go home?” “Yes.” “We will bring my baby butterfly lamp?” (Everything small is “baby.”) Yes, I say. “My new beach towel?” Yes. “My beebeeing suit?”

Having a little bout of insomnia, she works on time management. She is making lists, trying to conceive of tomorrow and home-going. She is worried that she may forget something. I feel a little sad for her; she is on her way, inevitably, to a world where time is snatched from us, where the natural rhythms of the day are controlled by beeps and pressed into day timers. Where shopping, the Web, and post modern “necessities” fill our hours 24-7. A dangerous place where, as Richard Swenson, author of Margin, says ’speed is toxic to love."

But for now, we sit in the soft light of her “baby butterfly lamp” (“God made that,” she says. Every-thing big or beautiful is “made by God,” including 4th of July fireworks) and talk of this and that. We enjoy a slow magic time outside the box. Ralph Waldo Emerson recognized these seemingly empty times when he wrote: “We do not know today whether we are busy or idle. In times when we thought ourselves indolent, we have afterwards discovered that much was accomplished and much was begun in us.”

Time is a gift. Twenty-four hours a day was God’s good plan. I would like to see it that way and live as though I really believed it.

“Time Is My Enemy” appeared as the main essay in Notes From Toad Hall, Issue #3, 2001. Visit Ransom Fellowship’s web site to sign up for the mailing list and receive Notes.

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