[ On July 5-7, The Ekklesia Project will hold its annual gathering in Chicago, which will be on the theme of Slow Church. Between now and July, we will be running a series of guest reflections here by folks connected with the E.P. We’ve asked guest posters to reflect on the meaning of Slow Church from their own local contexts. More info on the E.P. gathering. ]
Today’s reflection, the seventh in the series, is by John Jay Alvaro.
It is the second largest Sunday school class in the church. I was the guest teacher for the day, and came prepared to fill about 45 minutes worth of time. This was based on rough estimates of how other classes had allocated their time. A couple of minutes for announcements and prayer requests, then the bulk of the time for teaching and discussion. After about 20 minutes into the prayer request time, I knew that this class had a different understanding of time.
In my young adult Sunday school class, prayer requests are in the single digits, and usually only take a few minutes at most. But in this senior adult class everyone had a prayer request, and then after everyone had spoken, we went around the room again with things previously forgotten. I marveled at the process, which seemed to be commonplace. These people were in no hurry.
But I am always in a hurry. I am sure that when I entered the room, I looked like I was coming from something important. Looking busy is a point of pride for a minister. All of my synthetic energy seemed out of place in this room of senior adults. So I slowed down and listened. And here is what I heard.
If you live long enough, you discover that God is patient. My assumption is that God is like me, busy trying to fix the world. But these older folks had given up that haughty ambition and settled with more humble ends. They were simply practicing the gift of presence with one another. Stanley Hauerwas talks about the difficulty of simply being present in another’s suffering, of not trying to find and fix a problem. He says that to be present in this way, one learns how to become of a friend of time. (source: http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=dT9u6EECRbI)
I had not thought of that option. Time has always only been for me a commodity, and a scarce one at that. You can buy time, save time, assign a value to time, and on and on. But the notion of befriending time is one that can only make sense when one takes a long view of this world. It took for me sitting through 20 minutes of prayer requests from a bunch of senior adults to understand what it looks like to be a friend of time, and thereby a friend of a patient God.
If the Slow Church movement is to succeed and thrive, it will be in direct proportion to the amount of grey hair in the room. These are the people who have been watching long enough to know that God has all of the patience in the world. Until those of us at war with time put down our weapons, we can at least look to the old folks in our midst who have found another way, another peace, and thereby become friends of a God of patience.
Photo courtesy of the author.