Monday, July 11, 2011


I think I am supposed to be learning something about time. On Wednesday, I met a friend at the trailhead at sunrise for six miles before parenting. As a matter of habit, I tried to start the chronologic feature on my watch to keep track of our time. “No, no, no,” she said. So I stopped pushing buttons and raised my head to the road. It was nice running with a friend instead of a clock. Back at our cars, we stretched and chatted and I tried to look at my watch. But it said it was 1:00 AM on January 1st. Somehow I had I reset everything.

I came home to a household in full motion akin to sidewalk double-dutch. I tried to catch the rhythm and jump in, high stepping so as not to disrupt. Coffee. Breakfast for everyone. Underpants for everyone. A picnic lunch, sunhats and a blanket in the van. We headed to the river where we played with friends during a lazy midday. I kept looking at my watch despite the fact that there was not anything pressing me towards home. First it was 3:15 on January 1st. Then 5:45. Then 9:30. I kept looking, the habit unbroken by the digital nonsense on my wrist.

When I finally stopped to reset my watch after the children were in bed, I thought to myself, “I probably should learn something from this.” Then I turned out the light and closed my eyes. But not before craning my neck to look at the alarm clock so I could know whether or not I was going to feel rested when I woke.

Friday found me reading Jesus Before Christianity by Albert Nolan, aloud to my husband in the van on the way to a family reunion. As we had left the house, my watch had gone blank – off duty without the requisite battery power. There was no time to stop and get a new battery so off we sped. In chapter eleven of the text, Nolan suggests that much confusion and misunderstanding surrounding Jesus’ teaching about the “kingdom” is an “artificial problem created by the attempt to understand Jesus’ words in term of our modern Western concept of time”.

The Hebrews, Nolan suggests, thought of time as qualitative. This quality of time is poetically represented in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 where we find times ordained for birth, death, planting, tearing out, killing, healing, destruction, building, tears, laughter, mourning, dancing, loving, hating, war, and blessed peace. The passage says nothing about a time for digital wristwatches. Nolan continues, referring to the time of Christ: “The nature of the present time was felt to be determined either by the saving acts of God in the past (e.g. the Exodus) or by the saving acts of God in the future”. Time, for Jesus and his contemporaries, was understood as events or seasons, bracketed by God-markers.

I was at the reunion with my family for four days, watch-less and seventeen miles from Internet and cell service. I don’t know what time I went to sleep or what time I was woken by sweet, sleepy toddler kisses. I don’t know what time the baby napped or how long she was asleep. I don’t know how long it took us to hike the four-mile canyon where we walked behind waterfalls that misted our shirts. Neither do I know for how many of those hours my sweet son held my hand. The only events that required punctuality were meals and there was a loud bell on the deck that rang to let me know my supper was ready.

It was a sweet time of intergenerational communion. My children ran dizzying circles around glassy-eyed great-grandparents, leaning in to hear one another reconstruct the crumbling edges of cherished memories. My children, covered in dust and watermelon, chased second cousins they had not met before through patches of sunlight filtered through tall, strong, ancient trees. It was a beautiful time.

I am a slow learner. On the last night of the reunion Mister wanted to play the harmonica he had procured days before from a bag of hand-me-down treasures. He proudly walked to the front of the room and a helpful aunt bent the microphone down to his shiny instrument. He played carefully, accompanying some song in his mind that only he knows. I smiled. And smiled. Then asked my brother-in-law if I should start clapping to end it. “Let him finish,” he said. I nodded, shamed again by my slavish attention to minutes. He did finish the song in his own time and was met with the sweet sound of collective, vociferous applause. He threw his shoulders back and gave a few high-fives. It turns a well-used knot in my stomach to know I almost stole that.

Qualitative time changes everything. Minutes don’t hold their power – they don’t hurt quite so much. And maybe we don’t fear their passing with such tightly clenched fists. Jennifer Knapp sings, “There's a place in the darkness I used to cling to. That presses harsh hope against time”. I think she may have found something. Hopes, pressed against time, do feel harsh, jagged, severe – even cruel and hopeless. But hopes, fed on remembrances of previous acts of God with eyes watching the horizon, can breathe and wait. Hopes, growing between miracles past and miracles future, do not keep time as I have known it.

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