catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 6 :: 2013.03.15 — 2013.03.28


Making our peace with time

Time is man’s greatest challenge…. Space is exposed to our will; we may shape and change things in space as we please. Time, however, is beyond our reach, beyond our power. It is both near and far, intrinsic to all experience and transcending all experience.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, from The Sabbath

One of the greatest challenges of writing a book on the idea of “Slow Church” is the straining to articulate our human relation to time, confessing our deep struggles to conquer it, and as Heschel observes in the above words, the ways that it ultimately eludes our control. If we cannot conquer time, then our task is simply to make our peace with it (Heschel uses the language of “sanctifying” time, making it holy).

The creation story of Genesis provides for us an image of a God who lives in rhythms of work and rest. We cannot understand the Sabbath without a rich understanding of our belonging to a god who works. In the vision of Christian faithfulness that we are calling Slow Church, we name the pathologies in Western culture around our understandings of work, particularly our tendencies toward both overworking and avoiding certain kinds of work that we deem difficult or beneath us. Following the creation story, we need a concept of time that values both good, hard work and Sabbath rests, in which we learn to trust in the providence of God and to bear witness to the liberating reign of God on earth as it is in heaven.

As my puny imagination has been struggling to wrap its stiff fingers around what it might mean — in practical, everyday terms — to make our peace with time, I happened to stumble upon the delightful little book Good Busy: Productivity, Procrastination, and the Endless Pursuit of Balance by Julia Scatliff O’Grady. Good…busy…yes, that’s it! O’Grady holds in delicate tension our need to be doing good, diligent work and at the same time to live gracefully and peacefully within the time that we are given. This is a wise book that offers “Ten Ideas About a Good Busy.” I love her restraint in not offering tricks or techniques, but merely ideas — ideas that can be experimented with, as we seek to make peace with time amidst all the vast particularities of our own personalities, economics, careers and situations. O’Grady puts it this way: “After a while, I came to terms with the reality that having a better relationship with time does not require shortcuts or systems. Instead it requires a patient practice of trial and error and taking advantage of opportunities for reflection.”

As O’Grady articulates her vision of good busy, I hear echoes of the creational rhythms:

Good busy is not an oxymoron.  The phrase represents the experience of the moments in everyday life when our actions come close to matching our intentions for ourselves and for the world around us.  While the experience of good busy is not always present in the ebb and flow of everyday life, we can be patient and carry on in its absence, while planning for its return.  My point is that good busy, a balance between action and reflection in our everyday lives, is always possible. We get better at it as we go.

To frame each of her ten ideas that point us in the direction of good busy, O’Grady tells the story of a different person who healthfully embodies that idea in his or her own particular situation.  Beyond the overall vision of this project, what I appreciated most was its warm inclusiveness.   Good Busy is not just a book for highly motivated businesspeople, it is for everyone, and the breadth of the stories that O’Grady tells drives home this point.  She tells the stories of both women and men who work in a vast array of careers, from a bus-driver to a farmer to a teacher to a bartender to a businesswoman to a recording engineer to (my favorite story) a close co-worker of Fred Rogers — a story which, not surprisingly, ends up being more about Mr. Rogers than his co-worker.  O’Grady spends substantial amounts of time with each of the people whose story is featured here, observing them and interviewing them about one particular facet of good busy.  Her attentive observation and pointed interviewing leave the reader with a clear and captivating sense of what each idea means.

You need to read this book, to immerse yourself in the stories that O’Grady tells and to reflect on what they might mean for you in your own situation.   Thus, I will not say too much about any one of the ideas she proposes, but I do feel compelled to offer here the tiniest grain of what she intends for each idea:

  1. Buffer: Build in a margin around your activities.
  2. Routine: Create order in your life.
  3. Mirror (think rear-view mirrors here): Pay attention the variables unfolding around you.
  4. Tunnel: Barrel through the seasons of challenge and imbalance.
  5. Sliver: Move beyond procrastination by carving out small chunks of time to get a task done.
  6. Geological: Take the long view.
  7. Sequence: Make a playlist to order your daily work.
  8. Gungee: Recognize “that there is hardship in life that we can’t control.”
  9. Milk (your cows): Reckon with your responsibilities.
  10. Hunt: Discover the source of your busyness.

Good Busy is an extraordinary book, richly contemplative and yet deeply rooted in the practicalities of everyday life!  It is essential reading for our health and flourishing as humanity, offering not quick-fix prescriptions, but rather offering us practices that will form and guide us on the long journey toward well-being.  There are undoubtedly powers at work in the world that bear down on us and drive us into unhealthy patterns of work and leisure. However, I believe that we can slowly and mindfully loosen their grip on us and grow toward healthier patterns of good busyness.  O’Grady is a wise guide whose work will energize us for this journey, and Good Busy stirs our imaginations with the possibilities of what it might mean for us to make peace with time in our own personal lives.

This review was originally published at Englewood Review of Books

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