catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 12, Num 6 :: 2013.03.15 — 2013.03.28


Praying for slow time

Time moves too quickly, and it seems like it goes faster every year. I have been thinking about how all of our social media and technological advances have changed the way we think about time. Even within my lifetime, I remember what it was like to send my sister a letter when I worked at Yellowstone National Park one summer, and then count out the three or four days it would take for her to receive it, then count another three or four days for a letter to get back to me. A weeklong turnaround was VERY fast back then. I was in college just before there even WAS such a thing called e-mail, and I remember how I would stand in my dorm room chatting on the phone with friends, twisting the long cord around my fingers while we talked. Today, there are so many more possibilities for instant connection; smart phones we carry in our pockets demand constant attention and immediate responses.

If I worked at Yellowstone today, assuming I could get a signal, I would be able to Facebook message not just my sister, but everyone I know with instant photos of bison and elk and the scenery I saw on my hikes in real-time as I walked the trail. And if no one liked my status within, say, 15 minutes or so, I’d wonder what was wrong with these people and why they weren’t impressed with my amazing adventure.

If my sister had a cell phone back then, I could have also sent her a text message, and I would expect her to reply back within seconds. And if she didn’t reply for FIVE MINUTES, I might start to wonder if she was mad or something. Yes, our perception of time has changed dramatically! And so, too, has our perception of what it means to wait.

I think this must have a huge effect on our spiritual lives as well. We try out prayer and church and being part of the body of Christ for a while, but if we don’t see some kind of instant response — if what we get instead is more work and more trouble and more confusion instead of quick satisfaction — we may be tempted to write the whole thing off. Think about what this means in terms of prayer: I consider myself doing pretty well if I remember to pray for someone who is having a hard time maybe as many as ten times. If nothing happens after that, I might be tempted to give up for someone who has more immediate needs, the newest crisis on the list, and bump the other friend off the list, assuming God’s answer was “no” and that we should all work at accepting God’s will and stop asking.

Can you imagine someone asking something for 40 years with no answer? Can you imagine continuing to hope after all that time? Maybe monks and nuns have that kind of long-standing dedication to prayer as a habit for decades, a habit that shapes their whole lives around the rhythm or doing it, regardless of the results. And maybe parents, too, know something of that long-standing habit of prayer, of never giving up on a child no matter how many times they’ve offered the same prayer or how little it seems to have effect.

But for the rest of us, I suspect we know very little about prayer over the long haul — prayer that is measured in terms of years and decades, prayer that becomes such a rhythm of life that the words are maybe the least important part of it. Prayer is another victim of our time-pressed schedules, another thing to dash through and quickly cover the base when nothing seems to happen in response.

Maybe one thing we can do this Lent is step back from our sick sense of time and rushing to recover something of what it means to wait, rest and find our hope in God. And in this kind of time, it’s not the first or the fastest who are rewarded, but the slow, the faithful, those who can be still and know.  It’s a time that is shot through with the hope of the kingdom of God; a time that builds into its rhythm a day of Sabbath rest; a time that looks not for the quick answer or the easy fix, but embraces covenant faithfulness for the long haul; that goes on believing there is a path through the wilderness, that Christ’s presence will feed us as we go, that the habit of prayer (and even our longing for healing itself) can change us whether we ever receive the healing or not. It’s a time that trusts our lives and our longings to the one who comes alongside us in our sickness (even a sick sense of time), the One who is the balm of Gilead, the great Lover of Our Souls, and the Healer of us all.

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