It is another Sabbath morning (the one 3 days ago) with my alarm set to my usual early wake up time. Despite the intended purpose of the day, I am still striving to steal away the most quiet time will allow me, knowing the process of waking up to enjoy it will be a hard task.
I was right. The alarm begins beeping at me: 5:15 a.m. I manage to roll over and turn it off then lay in a haze somewhere between the place of my last dream and the bedroom I physically occupy. I want desperately to wake up. I imagine the minutes running away, taking my quiet with them. I begin the work of leaving the dream that has me half-trapped by its lingering strangeness.
I can barely hear a distant chirp from somewhere deep inside the woods outside my windows. Is there enough light to sit outside? The view of my back porch looks still shrouded in indigo gauze. Maybe, just barely, I might make out the words on a page—if only I could get my vision to clarify and focus.
It takes fifteen minutes, but I manage to free myself of my bed, slide my feet into my wool-lined moccasins, and leave my room, committed to chasing down the time—and my quiet—that managed to jump out the morning gate ahead of me.
Even on my Sabbath morning, I am at work—in an epic (and incredibly futile) struggle with time.
It wasn’t until I settled into my low Adirondack chair outside—coffee sitting on one armrest, a blue ball-point pen in hand, Wendell Berry’s, This Day, open on my lap and journal turned to the next clean page sitting on the other armrest—and was half-way through reading my first Sabbath poem, that the irony of it all knocked me clear into hilarious conviction. No man intended this. What came here as a gift We use for good or ill, For life or waste of life, But it is as it is. To the abandoned fields The trees returned and grew. They stand and grow. Time comes To them, time goes, the trees Stand; the only place They go is where they are. These wholly patient ones Who only stand and wait For time to come to them, Who do not go to time, Stand in eternity. They stand where they belong. They do no wrong, and they Are beautiful. What more Could we have thought to ask? Here God and man have rest. –Wendell Berry, This Day, 2000 IX (portion)
That is not the entire poem. Only a portion of it. But it is the portion that had me smirking at myself, at my silly striving, at chasing after time. Chastising myself for taking the gift of time and turning it into something to be beaten into submission.
But the trees just stand where they belong. Time comes to them, time goes, the trees stand. They go only where they already are, allowing time to come to them. And by living in this patient way, they belong in eternity.
I look at the forest of trees beyond my deck. I want to belong in eternity, where time comes to me. Well…what I really want is to live beyond time, in a place where time is conquered. By my hurried life I treat time as an enemy. But God created and offers time as a gift. We are the ones who use it for good or for ill, as Berry says above—for life or waste of life. Without time, there would be no cues for living. We humans think we have outsmarted time with our inventiveness, but really we have only succeeded in wearing ourselves down in our wasting and abusing God’s precious gift.
Without time, how would we feel the urgency to forgive and ask to be forgiven? How would be we be pressed upon to stop and visit, share a meal, lend a hand, say I love you? Without time, how would we know to order our days? Look at our growing children and remember to cherish this time, because soon it will be gone? Isn’t it selfish to wish time away simply because I cannot accept it as it is?
Rather than grip, wrestle, and stretch time into what I think is needed, why not allow time to shape me into what is truly needed? I bet I would find that this second way—the way of the trees and eternity—is the way of light and life.
And then there is this: I have been given a gift beyond the one I share with the trees (well, many gifts); a gift the trees can never have. I have been given the ability to accept time—its varied seasons, hours, and minutes—with gratitude. For every good and perfect gift comes from down from above…even time. And if in allowing time to come to me rather than chase after it can bring me into rest with God, then how much more when I receive time—all time—with thanksgiving?
Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. –James 1:17