Perhaps you remember that old seventies book, ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE. I don't remember much from it, but one thing will stay with me forever. It was the distinction that the writer, a cross country motorcycle tourist, made between making "good time" in his travels, and what he called “making time good.” He decided never to take the boring interstate highways, but instead, to opt for secondary roads that pass through real towns and real life and lead to colorful experiences. His encouragement to make time good, rather than to make good time, has stayed with me through the years. In fact, I would say it has become a central, spiritual theme in my life. Because odd as this may sound, it seems to me that it is easy to get on a wrong footing with time. Left to my own nature, for example, I tend to live at least a couple of beats ahead of where I believe God would have me be. I am too preoccupied with getting to the goal, too much in an unconscious posture of resisting interruption and inconvenience for the sake of completion and closure. I get caught in the momentum of the forward thrust to the exclusion of really being creatively and spiritually present to the process. Or you can tend to err in the other direction. Being TOO caught up in the past, always lamenting the loss of the good, old days, and wasting, as a result, the gift of this day! Its easy to get off kilter with time.
The Greeks made a distinction between what they called chronos time and kairos time. Chronos time is of course, chronological time as measured by the clock. Kairos time, on the other hand, is what we might call spiritual time, the quality and aliveness of each present moment. Maybe it’s the difference between viewing life as a journey where we walk on a linear path, and viewing life as a river, where we remain rooted in the eternal present, and flows to us, one scene at a time, unfolding in consecutive, present moments. The one model has us always moving. The other has us holding still, eternally rooted in the now, and life passing in and out, scene by scene. I think this is what the writer had in mind in the Psalm 84, which says, if you will permit me to paraphrase, “I would rather live one day in kairos time, deeply rooted in the timeless presence of God and awake to each moment, than live a thousand days in empty chronological time, just running only half alive, on meaningless momentum.” I don’t know about you, but I know that on any given day, I have to remind myself that my real calling is not to “make good time”, which means getting through MY agenda, but rather, my calling is to “make time good”, which is to be fully present to each moment as it unfolds itself, in order to drink up the depth of whatever it has to offer, and to offer myself to it in loving service. Dr. Richard Swenson, an over-busy physician and person of faith, said this: “The turning point came for me as an overloaded physician when I decided to examine more closely the practice style of the Great Physician. How did Jesus care for people? He focused on the person standing in front of him AT THE TIME. In my case, however, (Swenson adds) the person standing in front of me was often an obstacle to get around in order to get where I was going. Even if that person was my wife or child.”
OUCH!!! There’s a little sting there for me. You too? I think that this whole idea of making time good is at least part of what Jesus had in mind when he told us not to worry so much about the external details of daily life, but instead to seek first the Kingdom. And elsewhere, he added the very important codicil that the Kingdom of God is within us. This is NOT to say that the Kingdom is only a matter of the inner life. To the contrary, the vision of the Kingdom has EVERYTHING to do with a world of justice for all people, where the poor and disenfranchised are lifted up, and where resources are shared equitably and where God’s shalom is the rule in our collective life. Faith must be about more than JUST the inner life. But the point is that when we are truly present to the moment, and alive to God’s Spirit, when we are committed to making time good, then we will have the spiritual presence of mind and power to act on our faith, in whatever way the moment asks of us. We will be able to STOP the momentum machine, get ourselves out of the way and work WITH the Spirit’s guidance in creating a glimpse of the Kingdom right here and now. We will be able to live from love at center, because even if we have every other gift and talent, even if we can speak with the tongues of angels, or can work harder than anyone else, if we don't do it from love at center, then we are clanging gongs or noisy cymbals.
There is a beautiful piece in Martin Bell’s book THE WAY OF THE WOLF called “The Rag-Tag Little Army” which gets at this whole idea: “I think God must be very old and very tired. Maybe God used to look splendid and fine in that general’s uniform, but no more. God's been on the march a long time, you know. And look at God's rag-tag, little army! It would seem that all God has for soldiers are you and me! Listen, the drum beat isn’t even regular. Everyone is out of step. And there…you see? God keeps stopping along the way to pick up one of the tinier soldiers who decided to wander off and play with a frog, or run in a field, or whose foot got tangled in the underbrush. God’ll never get anywhere that way, and yet, God WON’T go on without us.”
It would seem that God is more interested in making time good than in making good time. And God wants us to live from this paradigm as well. It’s a counter-cultural thing to do, really. It doesn’t come naturally to most of us. But God has given us teachers. And in that usual way, the teachers seem unlikely. Who teaches us to move from chronological to spiritual time? Well, little children, for one. I remember this from when my son was a toddler. It would take nothing short of an Act of God to get him to stop what he was doing in order to get into the bathtub. And then, when I had decided bath-time was over, it would take an EQUAL Act of God to get him OUT of the tub. He knew how to be fully present to the moment, to linger in the now and seek the fullness of it. He was my teacher.
Others who have taught me about spiritual time have been the Alzheimer patients I used to work with. At first in Dementia, time gets confused. At its later stages, there is no awareness of time at all. There are only present moments. And yet, if you can get past the fear of that context-less living, those moments can teach. They can remind us that all any of us really has is each present moment. So when I would make eye contact with an Alzheimer’s patient, and there was warm and loving connection, even for a second, that moment became precious in and of itself, and for its own sake...
And lastly, my other exquisite teachers of timelessness have been the terminally ill patients I have been blessed to work with. They have taught me over and over to switch from the paradigm of chronological time to that of spiritual time. I’ll never forget visiting for the first time with a Hospice patient who seemed oddly unaffected by his diagnosis. I could tell it wasn’t denial, it was the real McCoy of peace and acceptance. I asked him where it came from and he put it succinctly as he said, “Chaplain, our deep-seated, cultural denial of death says that I am the one in this room who is dying. But the real truth is that you could easily be killed in traffic on the way home today. All any of us has is THIS day. It’s just that we “terminally ill” folks don’t get to be in denial about it anymore.” Another way I've heard it phrased is this: The chaplain says to the patient, "what is it like to know you are dying?" and the patient replies, "what is it like to pretend that you are not?" Hearing these statements created moments for me when the veil between worlds became very thin, perhaps even permeable, and spiritual time came rushing into chronological time and… my paradigm shifted. Of course I still struggle with this on a daily basis. And yes, we do have to live in chronological time in one sense. All I’m trying to say is that we don’t have to live so caught up in it that we forget there is the other kind of time as well. You might say that clock time gives us the linear framework, but spiritual time gives us dimension and depth. Unless we want to waste our whole life living in one dimension, we’d better slow down long enough to let that line become a cube.
Perhaps you have heard the quote I will close with. The author is Sister Elizabeth Sim, and I believe it gets at the basic irony around today’s theme:
"We have taller buildings but shorter tempers; wider freeways but narrower viewpoints.
We have more conveniences but less time. We’ve learned how to make a living, but not a life. We’ve added years to our life, but not life to our years.”
Ours is a compassionate and timeless God, who is always willing to stop the momentum in order to tend to every present moment, and who asks us to do the same. My prayer for all of us is that we worry less about making good time, and instead, seek to make time good, that we remember the simplicity of the call: love in each moment. And if, empowered by God, we take care of the moments and days, then years and lifetimes will take care of themselves.