Monday, May 23, 2011

The Essence of Time

As I sat on the dock reading this morning—my early hour ritual these days—I ate an apple and threw the core in the lake. I watched for long minutes as tiny fish came and nibbled away at the sweet essence of that core. The southerly wind blew gently and the May sun felt warm on my skin. “Time is of the essence.” The words rose in my consciousness as a message, a warning, a grace. I looked away for a moment and turned back just in time to witness the apple core sink.

How brief are the moments given in which we can extract the essence of what makes up our days.

 Time is important as it is the space within which we live our lives. Nevertheless, it’s the essence of time and how we acknowledge it that matters. My struggle is with that inner voice that nags me to hurry up so I don’t waste time. Siphoning off the essence is more about slowing down to taste our moments.

I’m reminded of my favorite Frederick Buechner quote: “Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it, no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it.” ~Frederick Buechner
Poet of Israel, David confessed, “My times are in your hand…” Psalm 31:15.
We’re told in Ecclesiastes 3:1, there is a season, an appointed time, for everything.
Ephesians 5:16 cautions us to make the best use of our time as we consider the days we live in.

 I like the fact that I’m slowing down, changing into a person who can watch apple cores get nibbled to bits and finally sink. I’m learning to savor life, to extract the fundamental properties of a substance and distill them down to pure essence. We grumble about the fact that we can’t go at the pace we once did, but what if He’s planned this slowing for us, so we’ll notice His world, learn His ways, enjoy the trip?

 When I came back up to the house from the dock, something pink caught my eye. I stopped to examine the plant. My hydrangea bush is putting out her first ever bloom. I’ve waited twenty years for that bloom – not because the plant was dormant, but because I only recently moved to a zone that favors growing hydrangeas. It seemed I should take my sandals off, as if the bloom signaled God’s presence. How many burning bushes have I missed along the way in my hurriedness?

Last week in Costco, I ran into an old friend I hadn’t seen in five years. “How are you?” I asked. She seemed to hesitate momentarily and then said, “I’m doing okay.” We exchanged pleasantries, asked about each other’s families, and then, because something in her initial reply tipped me off that all was not well, I asked, “Are you still married?”

 She stared at me for a moment and answered, “Oh! I thought you knew. __________ was killed in a motorcycle accident last year. She stood there awash in sadness while I fumbled for words. Then she said this: “Those were the most precious three years of my life. I feel like everything that was stolen from me growing up and as a young adult was restored during our brief time together. I am whole now, but I miss my best friend.”

 We held each other right next to the cheese and salami case and cried. My heart told me she would be okay because she’s rendered the glory from those few precious years and she wears it like a tiara. She’s grateful rather than bitter or shattered and I almost got the impression she carries a small vial in her heart, not unlike the alabaster box, within which is the pure essence of those three years; a lovely scent that perfumes her days.

 I celebrated my sixty-eighth birthday this week and one card I received included a note that distills these thoughts about time and essence: “Can’t believe this season passed without us really getting together.” I had wondered if we’d make the time this year, if our friendship mattered enough for us to extract the sacred from the profane. I felt the loss of talking in depth with her about books we’ve read, dreams we still cling to, what Jesus is working out in our everyday lives. I don’t want to trade what is irreplaceable for a lifestyle crammed with meaningless dinner engagements or conversations that are satisfied with discussing FaceBook posts. I fear they only amount to so much dust. Still, some opportunities slip by.

In truth, our days are numbered, meted out to us by God from the foundation of the world. Looking back, I cannot see one advantage I’ve gained by hurrying through my days. Ann Voskamp says it beautifully in her book One Thousand Gifts. “I don’t really want more time; I just want enough time. Time to breathe deep and time to see real and time to laugh long, time to give You glory…”

O Lord, You alone are the keeper of my days.
Your presence is real and continual;
It is the essence of all that counts.
Help me choose to rest so deeply in You
That nothing can disturb or distract.
Today I walk in the peace of knowing
All manner of things shall be well.