It must be God’s great sense of humor that we sometimes have to slow down to discover that we mustn’t waste a moment of the precious gift of time.
I was born in the month of May, which I blame for my tendency to live my life mostly on fast-forward. After all, at least in my part of the northern hemisphere, May is when nature really kicks into high gear, when gardens take off, and when hayfields get their spring flush. In May’s lengthening days, every green growing thing strains for the sky.
Hard as my rush-rush-rush habit is to break, I’m trying. For one thing, I simply have less energy than I did 25 years ago, and I have to more carefully pace myself. And the last 15 months have shown me how important it is to slow down. But more important, I’ve come to see that always trying to stuff a gallon into a quart turns time into a bully. Feeling besieged by a crammed schedule makes it hard to savor and be fully present in any given moment. And rushing against deadlines (often arbitrary ones) is hardly a recipe for doing my best work. I tend to be much more effective at almost everything when I slow down.
I suppose that my tendency to hurry fits right into American culture, which encourages speed, efficiency, productivity, profit, and achievement. There’s a fast-moving current all around us that makes us feel like slackers or misfits if we can’t or won’t keep up—even though constantly rushing isn’t good for us.
It’s not good for our bodies, not good for our relationships, not good for our work, and certainly not good for our environment. To paraphrase a wonderful line from Quaker singer and songwriter Carrie Newcomer:
We’re traveling faster than our souls can go. Bracketing the month of May for the moment, nature tends to be a model of patience and slow-and-steady, turtle-like persistence—especially trees, whose lives unfold on the scale of centuries, not days or years.
The Jesuit paleontologist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, reflecting on the vast sweep of evolutionary and geological time, encouraged us to “trust in the slow work of God.” Remembering such a “deep time” perspective is a marvelous corrective to our ego-driven mania that would have us running frantically to stay ahead of our insecurities and to catch up with our ambitions.
The Gift of May
But what about the month of May? I think in giving us May, God’s creation teaches us that becoming friends with time isn’t quite as simple as just slowing down. That may be a good idea in general, but I think there are plenty of times we dawdle when we really need to light a fire under ourselves.
How can we know when to slow down and when to speed up? Our minds tend to be tuned to the chronos clock that measures out minutes and hours and days. Our soul, though, is connected to much deeper realities. Our soul swims in the river of God’s kairos time—which may meander or may run like raging rapids, depending on the situation.
Our soul tells us that now is the time to propose to our beloved or to welcome children (biological or adopted) into our family before we feel ready—because when are we ever ready for such adventures?
Our soul whispers that we must mend our estranged relationship with an aging parent or soon-to-fly teenage child. Our soul urges us to take the leap of faith toward a new vocation. Our collective soul knows that we must right racial and economic injustices with the fierce urgency of now, and that our ailing Earth, whose climate will run away with itself in just a few years, must have immediate care. Sometimes we can’t walk; we have to run, the way the disciples ran to the tomb on Resurrection Sunday.
The only way we can travel at the speed of soul is to listen closely to its still, small voice. Ironically, that requires getting still and being quiet. I think it must be God’s great sense of humor that we sometimes have to slow down from our busyness to discover that we mustn’t waste one more moment of the precious gift of time.
A Sense of Urgency
- The Gospel of Mark has been called the “Gospel of immediacy.” Notice that the word immediately (euthus in Greek) appears much more frequently in Mark than any other book in the Bible.
- What do you think is the most urgent social or environmental challenge we face? In your prayer time this month, ask God to show you what part you may be called to play in making a contribution of time, talent, or treasure—now, not later.
- For a more expansive relationship with time, check out The Growing Edge podcast by Carrie Newcomer and Parker Palmer.