The host led us to the back of the restaurant, through the swinging doors, and to the immaculate white-linen table in the midst of the chaotic kitchen. Chefs, line cooks, and servers bustled around us. We were celebrating a belated Christmas gift – a four-course feast right at the “Chef’s Table” in the heat of it all. For three hours, we watched the often-hidden mystery of how decadent culinary creations are frantically created in a complex system. Under the bright lights, loud clangs, and orders shouted, exquisite plates made their way out to quiet dining rooms to hushed conversations over candle-light. Busy, efficient, and beautiful, the kitchen staff raced around us like we were but an invisible feature of the kitchen.
There are times that this year has felt just like those three hours. Away from work, from our community, from our home, we wait as time goes on around us. I spend my days alone with our boys as I shuttle them to bus stops, preschool, and appointments. I orient my hours around nursing an infant, fitting in school work, picking up the house, cooking dinner, welcoming my beloved home, and preparing lunch for another day. My parents visited this weekend and as I waved goodbye to them at the airport, I couldn’t help but feel like it would be an eternity until I saw them again. And yet I returned to our sabbatical home knowing that these five months still have something yet to teach me. The year is not done with me yet.
TIME eludes me – slipping out from my hands, laughing at my attempts to hold it steady.
TIME contains me – measuring, ordering, and claiming me in its passing.
TIME slays me – cutting my stride at the knees when future thoughts cause me to assume that it is passing faster than it is.
I read ancient words in the morning that convey a power and meaning that cannot be contained by time and yet my actions in response to them are dispensed in specific moments, minutes, hours, days. My understanding of it is marked so poignantly by the specific events within time that surround its reading. Could I ever even read it without the gift time has afforded?
I share in human relationships that are quantified by time together and told by accounts of time and yet if I, in solitude, open my mind to the possibility, I can even sense them here with me now. Could I understand vivid memory not as just a cognitive act but as a breaking-in of eternity?
I raise three boys in days that feel long and yet years that race by. Though I serve as their steward, I am not their god. I cannot lengthen the good days nor speed up the bad ones. We live at the mercy of it all and no amount of pictures I take can impede time’s passing. I live at the mercy of nursing an infant every three hours – a need born from the very passing of time and the transient nature of our bodies within it. Could I perceive the fullness of time within the very minutes I hold these children of mine?
If time is an over-simplified measurement of an unquantifiable mystery, how am I to understand life beyond it and yet live bound by it? How am I to be a finite servant of an infinite God?
Could I forgive time and its relentless passing?
Could I forgive time and its refusal to be rushed?
Could I forgive this physical body that shows the wear and tear of the years?
Could I forgive the ever-new soul that contradicts the flesh?
Could I be willing to be so foolish as to let time pass without my ordered control?
Could I give permission to time to do as it will?
Could I rest from my resentment over it all?
Could I be wiling to know nothing but the crucified Christ whose power destroys every logic that binds us? Could I give up the attempt to understand how so as to have a mind, heart, and soul ready to receive?
As Richard Rohr writes, “The perfect God has patience and gives us time to grow.” Patience is possible only from this sweeping, abundant forgiveness for time and all its frustrations – a forgiveness that time does not need but my impatient mind does need to give.
In this year as I wrestle with time – giving thanks one minute and cursing it the next – may I demand only time’s blessing. By sabbatical year’s end, I may limp a bit more from the solitude but I pray to be renamed by it. May I be one who is disintegrated, reformed, and ready to reappear – a servant of Christ, a steward of God’s mysteries, one who is bound by time and yet freed by a timeless God.