For The Someday Book

Posts Tagged ‘wilderness

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.

Highlighted Passage: Joel 2:1-2, 12-17; Matthew 4:1-11

“Call a fast… call a fast… call a fast…”

Over the last few months, these words have come as a whisper to me in quiet moments of prayer and harried hours. They have been a summons and an invitation, a demand and a relief.

I recognized their source in scripture immediately, from the traditional Ash Wednesday reading in the book of Joel:

Return to me with all your heart… blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people.

After busy and exciting 150th anniversary year, culminating in a climactic Foundations capital campaign in the Epiphany season, our church has been changing, acting, growing, giving, sacrificing, leading, learning, doing, working and serving God at an almost frenetic pace. It’s time to call a fast.

Not because we’ve lost our way, or been pursuing the wrong things, or because we have lapsed into sin and indulgence. Not because God demands that we deprive ourselves in order to prove our love to God. It’s time to call a fast because we have been faithful, and we are tired. We have followed the vision God put before us, and we have experienced great things and amazing transformation. It’s time to call a fast so that we remember our success is not due to our own efforts, but to God’s grace. We know that there is more work to be done, more sacrifices to be made, more change and growth to undertake. But it’s time to remember that we are God’s, that this church is God’s, and that it’s not all about us. It’s time to call a fast.

Fasting traditionally refers to going without food. Catholics fast from meat on Fridays during Lent. Muslims fast from sunup to sundown during the month of Ramadan. Jews fast from sunup to sundown on Yom Kippur. Many Christians “give up” something for Lent—usually an indulgence, like chocolate or beer or sweets or fast food. But fasting does not need to be limited to food. I have several friends this year who are fasting from Facebook, and a church member who shared via Facebook that she is fasting from elevators.

This kind of a fast has its place—it is a nice reminder of the holiness of Lent, it can correct bad habits and indulgences, it is a daily practice of giving something up for God. But I think the fast we need, the fast my heart yearns for, is deeper and more significant than putting down a favorite luxury only to pick it up again after Easter. I am hungry for God. I am lonely for the luxury of spending time with the Holy One. Ignoring my craving for chocolate will not satisfy my craving for connection with God. Making more room in the waistline of my clothes will not necessarily make more room in my life for God.

Joel says, “Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.” I need grace and mercy. I need to slow my own anger, and return my love to abundant proportions. I have not relented from punishing myself and others. I have not shown grace to them or to myself. It is time to fast from busyness, from judgment, from complaining, from worry, from harried hours, from control. It is time to spend time with the God who is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love.

Fasting is making room for God. We say “no” to the things that bind us to ourselves and this world, so that we can make room to say “yes” to God. It’s time to call a fast.

Watch this beautiful, moving version of the story of Jesus’ fast and temptation in the wilderness. Think about the ways Jesus says “no.” (Hint: It’s not just to the Tempter). Notice the ways Jesus says “yes” as well—the way time alone with God is joy as well as struggle.

“For my thirtieth birthday,” it begins, “I gave myself some time away from it all.” Saying “no” to companionship, to food, to work, to the comforts of home, Jesus in the wilderness discovers the joy of playing with pigeons, frolicking with foxes, gazing at the moon, and watching a flower grow. Jesus embraces weakness, as his skin grows ragged and his body thinner, so that he comes to know the strength of God. He experiences fear and anguish over his own life and death as the vultures circle. He confronts his pride in the presence of the Tempter, which in this depiction appears as simply a stronger version of Jesus himself, urging him to say yes to strength and power again. The Tempter urges him to rely on his own powers, judgment, control, certainty–instead of placing his life in the hands of God. When he refuses his own strength, he knows the presence of angels, who minister to him, who lift him up and carry him back home again. “And now,” he says at the end, “I’m back.”

My friends, for the coming 40 days of Lent, I’m joining the prophet Joel in calling a fast. I want time in the wilderness with Jesus. Will you join me? Will you wrestle with saying “no” to a stronger, more competent and productive you, in order to make room for the strength of God to carry you? Will you slow down, let go, give up, forego in order that you might be blessed by the birds, moved by the moon, enamored of the spring flowers? Will you show your weakness, let go of your busyness, give up some control, that you might come to know the ministrations of angels? “Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing.” Come, let us enter the fast together.

I was a local gas station waiting to fill up my cup at the soda fountain. A woman and her young daughter were ahead of me, and the mother was apologizing for her daughter’s slowness. I assured her I was in no hurry, and she responded by saying, “Well, she’s just as slow as Moses all the time.”

I am pretty sure this was a malapropism, and she intended to refer to the common saying, “slow as molasses.” Moses and molasses do sound alike, even though they don’t look much alike.


Moses (or Charleton Heston, anyway)

My first thought was “what’s so slow about Moses?” But then I realized—everything is slow about Moses. Remember the 40 years in the wilderness? The time it takes to pour molasses from a jar has nothing on that.

Molasses is slow because of its viscosity. Such a thick, sticky liquid just can’t move any faster. Moses was a leader of a viscous people. They were clingy, sticky, complaining, resistant to change, and reluctant to move anywhere. It took them 40 years to pour out of Egypt and into the promised land, as they learned in that wilderness time in between how to trust God, live as a community, make decisions and take responsibility, mature in their leadership and actions, and found a new society together. They just could not move any faster.

The work of change in human communities is painfully slow, and it takes lifetimes, generations. My passion is to work on this kind of communal change and reorientation in the church, but I imagine that, like Moses, it will take my entire career, which I hope will span more than 40 years. Because the work of leading change is as slow as Moses.

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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