I was out before dawn one morning this week. There were patches of fog along the ground, but the stars were magnificent against a moonless ebony sky. I climbed into the car and set out to meet fellow pastors at a prayer retreat about an hour away.
I drove west on the state route, setting my cruise control at the speed limit and enjoying a Bach harpsichord concerto, followed by a Michael Gungor Band album. I took pleasure in juxtaposing their very different musical styles – would they be able to enjoy each other?
It wasn’t long before I had a car following hard on my back bumper – someone, I suppose, hurrying to work in the next town. Then it was two cars, then three. Soon I was leading a parade. It wasn’t long before a pickup from somewhere in the back of the line came flying around us. Almost immediately another car followed his example.
It’s not like I wasn’t driving the speed limit. Even so, some cars passed through the fog while others formed an impatient procession behind me, probably cursing the dotard at the front of the line, who was going to make them all late for work.
I thought about the people following me and wondered why they were in such a rush. Some probably left too late to get to a job they despise but can’t afford to lose. After staying up the night before to watch a show they didn’t care about, they set their alarms for the last possible moment, and woke to the hurry and dash. And tomorrow they’ll do it all over again.
In reading through the Gospels I’ve noticed something worth contemplating: though Jesus was on a mission to save the world, he never seemed to be in a hurry. There was a rhythm to his life, and he lived within it, and even the emergencies of life could not force him out of it.
Various religious traditions, as well as contemporary non-religious self-help programs, speak of the possibility of living in the moment in ways that free a person from anxiety and enable him to enjoy and appreciate life. But to live in the moment one must be anchored to the eternal, just as, for the musician, to improvise well one must be grounded in the score.
Again, Jesus provides an excellent example of this. He handled both emergencies and opportunities – not to mention the daily grind – from a position of stability, firmly balanced between eternity and the present moment. He could fully experience the joys and sorrows of the present without anxiety because he was firmly connected to the eternal. He was rooted.
This is precisely what most of us in contemporary society lack. We are not rooted in eternity or even in the past; we are instead carried along by the social fads of the day or the urgent demands of personal desire. Our modern economy is, in fact, conditioned on this sad reality.
In such a state we are easily manipulated by the demands of other people’s desires as well as our own. We are vulnerable to deception and easily swallow the false advertising of the day. St. Paul described people in this condition as spiritual “infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.”
Paradoxically, we can only live fully in the moment when we are connected to something outside the moment. Until we know we are being held, we will never really be able to let go and experience life in its abundance. Not knowing that, we rush through life, grasping at anything that promises – even falsely – to meet our needs.
Carl Jung said, “Hurry is not of the devil; it is the devil.” I’m not sure I understand what he meant by that, but I suppose Jung saw hurry as injurious to the spirit. Yet perhaps it is not just that hurry injures the spirit, but that an injured spirit cannot help but hurry. If that is so, help will not come merely from slowing down, but from reaching up and connecting to the eternal.
Published first in the Coldwater Daily Reporter, 10/12/2013