Time: a block of stone or a dance? April 2020
‘There was a man who had a plot of land; but it got neglected and turned into waste ground full of weeds and brambles. So he said to his son, “Go and weed the ground.” The son went off to weed it, saw all the brambles and despaired. He said to himself, “how long will it take before I have uprooted and reclaimed all that?” So he lay down and went to sleep for several days. His father came to see how he was getting on and found that he had done nothing at all. “Why have you done nothing?”he said. The son replied, “Father when I started to look at this and saw how many weeds and brambles there were, I was so depressed that I could do nothing but lie down on the ground.” His father said, “Child, just go over the surface of the plot every day and you will make some progress.” So he did, and before long the whole plot was weeded.’ A story from the tradition of the Desert Fathers and Mothers.
We are now just one month after Victoria was declared to be in a State of Emergency and then gradual lock down because of Coronavirus. Many people are beginning to say that the days of the week are becoming confusing, time a bit of a blur. Each morning reading the world news, the national news, the local news we are confronted with a reality that continues to be very difficult to comprehend. It’s very tempting still to deny this reality, to long for it to be over or give into an increasingly sluggish sense not just for several days sleep, but months even.
This has me ponder the nature of time.
Is time an idea? An abstract concept we attribute meaning to? Or, is time something we understand to be like a utility - something we use to measure our progression through life, from childhood to maturity, to being of more senior years? Or do we understand time as a commodity - how much is this time costing us? Do we objectify time, comparing this period to a previous historical event when others suffered pandemic or war? Is time a noun, or is it possible to imagine time as a verb? Is time a block of stone or the invitation into a dance? A dance into the present moment.
One of the set lectionary readings this week is the ever favourite Luke’s Walk to Emmaus, which happens, I was surprised to realise afresh, on the same day as the resurrection of Christ. Jesus’ crucifixion left the apostles reeling. And now on the afternoon of the third day after there is wider talk of his resurrection. Time seems to have ruptured and the Emmaus walk episode pauses us right here in this rupture. Cleopas and his friend are confounded by the events that have happened. And Jesus, unrecognised to them but shown to us, comes to them on the walk and teaches them. And Jesus remains with them for however long it takes for Cleopas and friend to adjust their vision, to accustom themselves and understand a little better this new reality and its deeper meaning in their own life. More alive than ever it feels, Christ blesses and breaks bread with them, all the time inside this Great Pause.
Great Pause has been used by various writers to also describe this period of Coronavirus we find ourselves in. This pause too can also be a learning time, a re-orienting time, a relationship deepening time. And like the father speaking to the son in this story of the Desert Fathers, (which is really about acedia, that terrible sense of low spiritedness bordering on being depressed) when this road of Coronavirus feels so overwhelming, very tiring and confusing, then even if we can’t see Christ, can we have faith that he is alongside us - encouraging us to stay awake and take only the one necessary step at a time?
Time is not a block of stone. Let’s not think of time in the abstract, a utility, a commodity, but the precious embodying gift that it is. Time, closer than our heartbeat, is an intimate invitation for each of us to be fully alive in this present moment. Delving into the mysteries of this pause-time, let’s not be too hasty to yearn to pick up where we left off a month ago. But own here this invitation, not to be in possession of the musical score itself, but to learn the new dance it notates, each step here is like the moving note in a different composition.
Story from the Desert Fathers and Mothers is taken from:
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection, Oxford/Kalamzoo: A.R.Mowbray/Cistercian Publications, 1975; revised ed 1984
Anonymous Series 76
For an article on the Great Pause: