Time to be present

In the rush of the spring semester some professors (ok maybe it’s just me) reach a point of exhaustion. We see the mountain of research analyses that have yet to be completed and shipped to academic journals or to book presses, the ungraded papers, the unmodified lecture notes created back in 2007 (can you believe that was 5 years ago now?). It’s tiring to even think about what’s left to do and what little time we have to do it. It’s times like this that I seriously contemplate new approaches to minimizing sleep that Thomas Edison and other famous types have been known to employ. Just think: 30 minutes of sleep every 3 hours would result in something like 3.5 hours of sleep instead of my usual 7! 

It’s perhaps this awareness of busyness that brings quite a number of professors to the church I attend. One of the church’s resident artists recently noted that a lot of the people he’s met are quite busy and that the church’s hallmark characteristic of silence and quiet is perhaps a major draw for many. The quiet invites one to take a breath, clear one’s thoughts and be in a different space for a brief amount of time. There’s a small chapel next to the main sanctuary that is open for more quiet reflection on most days.

Recently I returned to the realization that time is a much more precious resource in my life than having more income. My wife and I both work, volunteer, work some more at home (just enough to assuage our American Protestant consciences), in addition to the general stuff around the house or online (paying the bills and planning trips to see family and friends). I don’t feel that I have much time and would sure like more of it.

But one of the important disciplines in the approach to spirituality at my local church is to conform to the Church’s time. Most Christians understand this to mean some kind of regular attendance at a congregation for worship, but some, particularly those in high church traditions (Catholic, Anglican, Lutheran for example), take this one step further and abide by older traditions that have specific seasons of the year committed to reflection and remembrance of the last days of Jesus and the anticipation of his birth, Lent and Advent respectively. And the markings of time are usually visualized. In my congregation the color gray is the theme of Lent, and we recently incorporated local artist works to help enrich the visual dimension of this season. My awareness of abiding by a church calendar is more pronounced here at a Baptist university in the South where following a calendar is unheard of for many. It’s certainly very different from my time growing up Catholic in Philadelphia (heavily Catholic in population in case you were wondering). Attending a Baptist church in Texas that follows the liturgical calendar is an unusual experience to be sure.

Yesterday was Maundy Thursday when I put these thoughts to text. As a friend on Facebook shared, Maundy comes from the Latin term mandatum (where we likely get our term mandate). This is the first word in the Latin translation of the Bible verse where Jesus issues his new commandment or mandate: “A new commandment I give to you that you love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34). It was good to learn this as it gave new significance to this day, a day to remember that Christians follow an impossible commandment given by their Messiah. Taking time to reflect on this even in the constant rush of work deadlines and other responsibilities is one way I think Christians can put faith into practice which may hopefully affect other parts of our lives. It’s no guarantee of course that we’ll be more virtuous or pious but perhaps by conforming to an organization of time that differs from the academic schedule, the stock market, the professional sports and television/movie media schedules we’ll be able to take a step away from the busyness and evaluate where we are and where we ought to be.

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  • Michael Chung

    Thanks for your post. I never associated Maundy Thurs. with the mandate to love. This will be something I save in my preaching illustration archives.

    I think perspective is important. Why are we engaged in these activities? Of course, some of it is part of our occupational responsibilities but even there, perspective is important. I believe it boils down to who is first: God or myself. Once that is settled, a proper perspective is easier to achieve.