For The Someday Book

Posts Tagged ‘time

Today was the longest, busiest day by far since we arrived in Israel. I feel overwhelmed by the depth of information and experiences to process today. I was thinking earlier that I felt like I covered 5,000 years of history today, and I realized that’s about right. We left the Pilgerhaus this morning at 7:45 a.m. (after a 6:45 morning prayer service and 7:00 breakfast). It was a terribly early hour, but it enabled me to catch the sunrise over the Galilee before we left, which was spectacular.

Sunrise over the Galilee

From there we went to Megiddo, which is a tel above the Jezreel Valley, between Mt. Carmel and Mt. Tabor. The city was occupied from approximately 4,000 BCE to 400 BCE. Archeologists have excavated 28 separate layers of occupation, from the Canaanite period, the Israelite period and beyond. The site has a horse stables and training ground, a giant below-ground granary, a Canaanite temple, an Israelite palace, city gates from the Bronze Age and Iron Age, and connections to the kingdom of Ahab and Jezebel. By far the most impressive feature, however, was the underground water system. Similar to the one at Tel Hazor, this was an underground pathway to a spring to maintain the town’s water supply during times of siege. It also dates to the 9th century BCE, but the tunnel was longer and deeper than the one at Tel Hazor. The ingenuity and engineering is amazing.

Below-ground granary at Megiddo. Notice two steps of steps around the outside---one going up, one going down.

Looking down into the entrance of the water system. It didn't look like a big deal to walk down.

Until you get inside, and realize you've only just begun your descent.

When you finally get to the bottom, you have to walk through a long, dark tunnel, around 10-15 yards long.

Until you at last reach the water source. (And then you have to go back up.)

We travelled on to Caesarea Maritima, which was built by Herod the Great as a way to please the emperor in Rome and prove his loyalty. It is also the city home to Cornelius, whose conversion by Peter is told in Acts 10. The site has the ruins of a theater and hippodrome, a Roman aqueduct, Herod’s palace and more. It also has remains from the Byzantine and Crusader eras, including massive Crusader walls and a fortress. Best of all, though, Caesarea Maritima was a harbor city, with the first century’s largest Mediterranean harbor. That meant we got to see the Mediterranean Sea, and even had 30 minutes of free time just to walk on the beach. And, you know by now, that meant I was in the water up to my knees and splashing all around.

The Roman theater at Caesarea Maritima

Oh no! The ancient lion head is about to eat me!

The remains of the hippodrome (racetrack).

Roman aqueduct at Caesarea Maritima

Posing before the remains of Herod's palace, by the Mediterranean Sea.

Splashing around in the Mediterranean waters

After that brisk sea walk, we piled into the bus for the two-hour ride into Jerusalem. We could see the landscape begin to change very quickly. The peaks grew less mountainous, and the ground grew drier and more full of rocks. Traffic got thick in Jerusalem, as everyone hurried home in time for Shabbat. We entered from the northwest side of the city on the road from Tel Aviv, and passed through several neighborhoods of orthodox and ultra-orthodox Jews. Apparently, the police even close the roads in those neighborhoods during Shabbat, since orthodox Jews do not drive on the Sabbath.

Driving into Jerusalem toward the Old City, we caught a glimpse of the Dome of the Rock, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the walls of the Old City. We are staying at the Notre Dame, which is right across from the New Gate (only 100 years old) into the Old City. The first thing I noticed is the noise. In addition to the traffic and city noises, there seems to be music everywhere. Walking down the street, sitting in our hotel room, in the lobby or out in front of the hotel, you can always hear music coming from somewhere. Usually, it sounds like prayer, but it’s hard to tell if it’s in Latin, Arabic, Hebrew, Greek, or something else entirely.

The New Gate into the Old City of Jerusalem (built in 1889), which is across from our hotel.

We had 45 minutes to check in to the hotel and change clothes before heading to Shabbat service ourselves at Kehillat Yedidya. The description of this particular synagogue made me think at first that it was an oxymoron: a progressive orthodox synagogue. Indeed, that was the perfect description. The members of the synagogue followed orthodox practices such as seating men and women separately and following kosher and Shabbat laws with the strictest attention, but they also expressed a desire that their religious practice would make them more open and inclusive to the world, not less so. Debbie Weissmann, a founding member of the congregation, gave us an introduction to their vision and philosophy, but she also preached the sermon in this rabbi-less congregation. Tomorrow, they have planned a women’s service, where women will even read the Torah. Their facility and worship is specially designed to be welcoming to people with special needs and disabilities, and they see welcoming visitors (especially non-Jews) as a core part of their ministry. She even used the word “inclusiveness” repeatedly, which made me feel like I was back home in my United Church of Christ. I never imagined that I would find an orthodox congregation that shared our values, although lived out in such a different way. It was so refreshing to hear that message that is at the core of my own ecclesiology reflected in another tradition. Even though the service was in Hebrew, so I couldn’t understand it, I followed along in the English-language prayer book and felt a profound joy in knowing that the message proclaimed there echoed back home in my own congregation.

It’s no wonder I feel exhausted at the end of the day. We were on the go from sun-up to sundown, and we crossed thousands of years of history. At one point in Megiddo, we entered the city gate and then walked up a short staircase, no more than 10 steps. Claudia, our tour guide, said, “We just went up 1,000 years on that staircase.” That’s what this day has been like. In just a few short hours, we have traveled from Canaanites to the Israelites to the Romans to the Crusaders to modern Israel, and even to cutting-edge Jewish religious practices.

The Notre Dame Hotel at night.

That’s a perfect metaphor for the City of Jerusalem, and for this land as a whole. “We just went up 1,000 years on that staircase.” This place exists simultaneously in past and present and future dreams, as well as in our mythological imagination. As we move from one place to another in the city, we will be journeying across years of history in just a few short steps. That is the uniqueness of Jerusalem, and its power.

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Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time, by Dorothy C. Bass as part of the Practices of Faith Series. Jossey-Bass, 2000, 142 pp.

This was exactly the right book at exactly the right time. I have owned it since 2004 (according to the inscription from my mother). At that time, we had both been doing a lot of reading about the practice of keeping Sabbath, and sharing our favorite books. For some reason, I never got around to reading this one until now. As I began my sabbatical, I desperately needed a resource to help me slow down and be present to this time. Far more than a guidebook to Sabbath-keeping, Dorothy Bass devotes much of this book to simply exploring and explaining how to receive time as a gift, rather than spending our lives judiciously spending, managing or using it.

In the spirit of the book, I did not allow myself to consume it in one day, but divided it up and read it over the course of four days. I wanted to be able to spend time reflecting on each section, instead of just assimilating information. Although it could be read in one sitting or one day, I recommend against it. The book deserves a slow reading.

In sum, Bass attempts to reposition our relationship with time from use to gift.

What we really need is time of a different quality. We need the kind of time that is measured in a yearly round of feasts and fasts, in a life span that begins when a newborn is placed in her parents’ arms, and a day that ends and begins anew as a line of darkness creeps across the edge of the earth. (3)

She then goes on to explore Christian practices that help us cultivate this different kind of time. She examines practices to welcome the day (like morning and evening prayer), to mark the week (keeping a Sabbath day in ways familiar and new), and to follow the rhythm of the Christian year, which enables us to keep company with God’s actions in the past and God’s promises for the future.

I have already written about how this book has impacted my sabbatical journey by helping me to let go of my to-do lists for the remainder of sabbatical. There is another practice Bass suggests that I have already incorporated into my daily life. As we contemplate each day as a gift, she tells the story of a mother who asks her children every night, “Where did you see God today?” That is everything I wish to reclaim in my spiritual life, everything I wish to learn and see in this sabbatical time—the ability to see God in every day, and take time to name it and give thanks for it. Yet it took Bass’ book to give me the right question to ask, and a framework for asking it. Starting three days ago, I began a new journal. Every night, I ask myself the question: “Where did you see God today?” and write it down in a little notebook by my bedside. It is already starting to attune me more deeply to the God-moments of each day, and the practice of writing them down gives me a chance to reflect on them. I can keep prayerfully meditating on God’s presence in the day as I drift off to sleep.

The challenge will come when I complete sabbatical and return to “regular life.” But this practice is one I hope to hold on to, and I hope it will hold me in a spirit of holy time, receiving the working days as easily as the resting ones.

If you struggle to find God in the everyday, if you feel like your life is living you rather than you living your life, if the time is moving too quickly or just seems too full, read this book, and read it slowly. And try out a practice or two to appreciate the gift of time and receive the day.

But when our emphasis on using time displaces our awareness of time as gift, we find that we are not so much using time as permitting time to use us… We forget how to luxuriate in time that is not filled with tasks. 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. (Receiving the Day, by Dorothy C. Bass, pp. 2-3)

What my Google Calendar usually looks like.

J made fun of me the other day, when he discovered me making a to-do list. “You’re on sabbatical,” he guffawed, “and you’re still making lists!” In my own defense, I have officially stopped using a calendar during sabbatical. And the list was mostly about preparations for B’s birthday party and follow-ups to Christmas (like thank you notes and such). But it also included my to-do list for sabbatical-related tasks for the day: write that review, finish this book, write the other blog post, make bread, shop for trip.

In reality, I just didn’t know how to live without a list. I have a special note pad for that purpose at work, updated weekly (or more, if it’s particularly full). I make a home list every weekend that combines all the household tasks that need doing (laundry, dishes, vacuuming) and all the “just-for-me” things I want to accomplish (paint toenails, finish book, exercise). The lists offer a sense of control over time and its use, and a delightful reward as each task is accomplished and crossed out.

For the first week of my sabbatical time at home, I felt each day like the hours were too fleeting, that I hadn’t had enough time to do what I’d hoped, that I needed more time to get time to relax, that I wasn’t able to calm my mind and heart enough to feel like I was on sabbatical. Even though I was accomplishing most of what was on my list every day, I never felt any sense of spaciousness for the Spirit. “Pray” just doesn’t work as a task on a list.

I turned to Dorothy Bass’ book, hoping it would steer me into Sabbath space. In the opening chapter, she talks about the danger of datebooks and to-do lists.

The flat pages of a datebook can become a template not simply for organizing time but for visualizing what time is: a sequence of little boxes, each waiting to be filled. As the owner of this time, I imagine, my role is to look down on these boxes from above and determine what goes where. (1-2)

I love this image. For me, it has been like the act of writing and completing to-do lists is written into my body.

That is exactly how I have been treating time, even on sabbatical. I had so many hours between dropping B off at school and picking him up, and I was going to accomplish a certain number of things appropriate to the time allotted. I was seeing sabbatical as time to undertake a different series of tasks. They were tasks of choice and pleasure, like reading and writing and praying and exercising, but tasks nonetheless. I had a limited number of hours and weeks to accomplish them. Consequently, I was frustrated whenever anything took longer than expected, or when family life encroached on “me time,” or because sabbatical time didn’t feel any more special than regular time.

Finally, yesterday, I tossed to to-do list. I can already feel a difference in my spirit, and my attentiveness to the Spirit. While I still have things I want to do, I am no longer driven by the desire to complete them. Instead, I am starting to see those items as things I want to attend to, to give focus and energy to in the course of this day. It’s not about a task that needs completion, but about paying attention to certain things that will give meaning to the gift of this time I have been given. The value and meaning of a given day does not come from what I am able to accomplish in it—the value of a given day comes from God, and its meaning is found in the moments of life it holds, no matter what does or does not get completed.

This is the true purpose of Sabbath, whether a day or a series of weeks on sabbatical—to rediscover the gift of time, to let go of trying to “earn the air we breathe,” (Bass, 3) to know God’s love for us does not depend on how much we accomplish, and to receive each day as it comes. It is a lesson I am still learning, and one that I pray will continue to give shape to this sabbatical time and, more importantly, to the time beyond sabbatical. The to-do lists will return of necessity, but I can work to prevent them from wielding the power of judgment over the value of a day, or the value of me.

After nearly 11 years in ministry, I am having my first sabbatical. I am away from my church and ministry responsibilities from the day after Christmas until the beginning of Lent. My plans are quiet and simple: travels to Virginia to see family at the holidays; time at home to read, write and reflect; travels to the Holy Land with the Macedonian Ministries program; followed by a little more time at home. This blog will be home to my written reflections on sabbatical, including a travel journal, reflections on ministry, personal spiritual reflections, and (hopefully lots of) book reviews.

I am already 10 days into sabbatical, and this is the first opportunity I have had for writing. Traveling to visit family was wonderful, but it did not offer the kind of space and peace I am craving. That is only now just beginning.

This has me reflecting on the difference between chronos time and kairos time. Wikipedia says describes the difference succinctly:

The ancient Greeks had two words for time, chronos and kairos. While the former refers to chronological or sequential time, the latter signifies a time in between, a moment of indeterminate time in which something special happens. What the special something is depends on who is using the word. While chronos is quantitative, kairos has a qualitative nature.

Chronos looks like this...

or this...

or this.

Kairos is more like this. A moment when the clouds roll back and God's light shines through.

Wikipedia goes on to describe its use in Christianity as “the appointed time in the purpose of God.” We don’t detect the difference in English translation, but kairos appears regularly in the New Testament. It’s usually translated simply as “time,” but sometimes it is “due time” or “opportune time” or “season.” Jesus frequently uses kairos instead of chronos in his apocalyptic teachings and in the parables. I always remember Mark 1:15 when I think of kairos. Jesus emerges from his baptism to go into the wilderness. He returns from 40 days apart to announce his mission: “The time (kairos) is near, the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel.” It’s one of my favorite verses in all the gospel, because it indicates that the time and place of God’s realm are not far away (a linear distance, off into the future). God’s realm is at hand, where we can reach out and touch it. God’s realm is now, and we can glimpse it in this moment if we are willing to set aside the relentless march of chronos time and simply be present to kairos.

It is my prayer that this sabbatical will more closely attune me to kairos time. The demands of chronos time keep me in constant motion most days. One of the things I have already learned on this sabbatical is how many of those demands are not related to my church and ministry responsibilities. Our week in Virginia was piled high with commitments and visits to family and old friends. Nearby friends that I rarely have time to see are all hoping for a get-together during sabbatical. I still have to get up every morning, and share the responsibility with J for getting breakfast for B, driving him to school and picking him up, feeding him supper and putting him to bed. In the last week, we have had a broken toilet, burned out exterior light, broken ceiling fan and malfunctioning carbon monoxide detector, all of which required a trip to the hardware store and time to repair.  There have been kairos moments in all those times so far, but chronos time still governs, even on sabbatical.

I think my mental image of sabbatical was more like Jesus in the wilderness: wandering and praying, not even thinking about his next meal, much less dealing with broken toilets. But Jesus didn’t have indoor plumbing, or even a house, much less an intense and talkative preschooler.

Then again, when Jesus returned from the wilderness, he proclaimed that kairos time was near, that the place of God was right at hand. He did not call people into the wilderness to follow him. Instead, he talked about kairos time in stories about vineyards and fig trees and harvests–the things of earth and daily labor. There is hope yet.

Dear God, the chronos time of my sabbatical seems so fleeting and full of interruptions and distractions—even though there is still so much time left. Break through to me in kairos time, O God. I would repent and believe in the Gospel. Forgive me for letting the busyness take over and putting time with you last on my list. Quiet my rushing around and restlessness.  Set free my mind and attune me to your presence in all things, both sacred and mundane. Reveal the nearness of your time, reach my hand to touch your kingdom. And, while you’re at it, please keep more dumb stuff at the house from breaking. Thank you. Amen.

B is fascinated by numbers, and has recently begun reading the numbers on the digital clock. This is advantageous in the morning, because I can’t see the time without my glasses. This morning, he crawled into bed and said, “Mommy, it’s 7 and 1 and 5.” A few moments later, “Now it’s 7 and 1 and 6.” A few moments later, crying and wailing and screaming. When I asked him what was wrong, he said, “I want the 5 back!”

This was simultaneously the most ridiculous and most profound tantrum in history. How do you tell a disconsolate two-year-old that you understand the agony of the relentless passage of time, the poignancy of life’s fleeting nature, the preciousness of each moment–and that it is absurd to be crying over the changing of numbers on the digital clock?

I finally consoled him by explaining that the 5 would come back when it said 7 and 2 and 5.

But in truth, I wanted the 5 back too.


About Me

I am a full-time pastor in the United Church of Christ, mother of a young child (B.), married to an aspiring academic and curmudgeon (J.). I live by faith, intuition and intellect. I follow politics, football and the Boston Red Sox. I like to talk about progressive issues, theological concerns, church life, the impact of technology and media, pop culture and books.

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