There was an old farmer who wore a pair of overalls every day of the week, except Sundays. He was a wise, thoughtful, slow-speaking man. The changing fashions of the world around him didn’t interest him, but he thought deeply about people and about the ideas that moved them.
I asked him once, after he had been somewhat sidelined by health issues, if he ever got bored. No, he said, he didn’t get bored. He thought: thought about the past, about the friends he had known and the ways of God and people. Often when we would meet, he would have some question to ask me – usually one he had been contemplating for weeks.
My old friend was out of step with the world around him, and not just in regard to fashion. Unlike his neighbors, I never saw him hurry. His mind did not flit; it lingered. He did not care about the latest thing; he cared about lasting things.
We live in an age of hyperactivity, in which superficiality is the norm. It takes time to grow deep, and time is the one thing we cannot afford. We’ve already spent it – and our money – in trying to keep up with the Joneses. We leave ourselves just enough time to rush to the next appointment and no time to think about whether the life we have is the life we want.
Last week CBS news reported that drivers in major cities are now paying – up to $1.40 per mile – to drive in the express lanes. Yet research indicates that fast-lane drivers only save about two minutes per commute over their slow-lane cousins. But to the so-called “Lexus-lane” drivers, every minute counts. But counts for what?
Gordon Macdonald, quoting D. T. Niles’ Warrack Lectures of 1958, writes: “Hurry means that we gather impressions but have no experiences, that we collect acquaintances but make no friends, that we attend meetings but experience no encounter. We must recover eternity if we are to find time … For without it, there can be no charity.”
Niles’ words were prophetic. Now, almost six decades later, we live in a world that has misplaced eternity, run short on time and lost charity – that sense of love and compassion that makes human life truly human.
Times for stillness and reflection are essential to our development as human – not to mention, as spiritual – beings. There is a recurring theme in the Jewish and Christian scriptures that addresses this need: “Stand still, and see the salvation of the Lord,” Moses instructed his countrymen. In the psalms: “Be still and know that I am God.” Or, “…commune with your own heart upon your bed, and be still.” The prophet Isaiah reminded his readers: “He who believes will not be in a hurry.”
Jesus told would-be followers: “If you continue” (literally, “remain”) “in my word, you are truly my disciples.” He understood that a brief acquaintance with his teaching was not enough to change people. They needed to stay in his teaching, become conversant with it and think about how it applies to their lives.
That is not something we are good at. On the evening news we watch a complicated story about a funding bill before Congress. The issue is layered. There are pros and cons to the legislation. We spend 60 seconds listening to it and no time at all thinking about it before we are on to a commercial for arthritis medicine. And yet we imagine ourselves to be well-informed.
We do the same thing when it comes to spiritual issues. We listen to a sermon, remark positively on its profound insights, assume that we’ve learned something, and never think about it again. But information only leads to transformation after contemplation. And that takes time.
Jesus told his friends they needed to stay with him and his words needed to stay with them. That takes time. But he knew there are no shortcuts to a richly rewarding spiritual life.
First published in The Coldwater Daily Reporter, 5/3/2014