A Waste of Time

I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date. No time to say “Hello, pharmacy Goodbye”.  I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!

We live in a world that has a hurried sense of time.

It’s always a rush to get out the door.

There are always looming deadlines.

There are always too few hours in the day to get everything done.

I think that is one of the reasons I find myself attracted the use of liturgy, the Christian calendar, and of structured prayer times as found in the Anglican Prayer book (BAS), for example. For just a brief time, I am transported away from a view of time that is pressed, hurried, and haggard. I enter into a space, where I am reminded that God’s time is so infinitely different from our sense of time.

In fact, liturgy wastes time on purpose. It is repetitive and reflective and does not just “cut to the chase.” It builds, slowly and patiently, to the goal of bringing us into the throne room of grace, even if only for 20 minutes, or an hour. It allows space for meditation and reflection. It pushes away the noisy calls for “relevance” and “pragmatism” and “purposefulness”.

Paul Griffiths says it this way:

Wasting time is, in ordinary English, a bad thing: want, we think, to make the best use possible of it. But in liturgical terms, time, considered as linear time that can be scheduled, divided into minutes and hours, filled up, deployed, and measured by chronometers, is exactly what should be laid waste, and effectively is….To enter into the repetitive patterns of the liturgy is to lay waste linear time with the radiance of eternity, and in that way to provide a foretaste of heaven.

And yet, even though I am being shaped by this “otherness” of time, it’s a constant battle to ignore the drum of our culture’s sense of “hurry up.” James K.A. Smith writes of his attempt to incorporate Christian practices into his pedagogy, and tells of his experience in his 200-level philosophy class. Because the class met twice a week during the lunch hour timeslot, he decided to start each class off with “Mid-day Prayer.”

A noble endeavour. I said to myself, thinking about how that would be such a powerful practice to include in a theology class one day. And then the pragmatist (given that I’m reading this book in order to think through educational pedagogy, pragmatic thinking is obviously going to occur) in me said, “but how much time does that take away from the allotted 75 minutes of lecture time?”

There it was: the pressure of our culture’s sense of time. That time devoted to mid-day prayer would take away precious time from lecturing on the actual course content.  It didn’t matter that the students reacted positively to this practice of starting the class with the Divine Hours. My brain automatically began calculating how much time was lost; how much time was wasted by starting the class with the liturgy of prayer.

I stepped back from the book, realizing the conflict I was having over the sense of time. I opened my prayer book, and spent some time praying through the Mid-day prayer. And then, in the quiet, in the stillness, I thought about a possible bridge. What if built into Christian educational institutions class time was 10-15 minutes added specifically for prayer? That way instructional time wasn’t “lost” and at the same time the formative Christian practice was kept.

Until the new heavens and new earth, there will probably always be a battle between our culture’s sense of time and the eternity of time.

I’m late! I’m late! For a very important date. No time to say “Hello, Goodbye”.  I’m late, I’m late, I’m late!

 That’s okay, White Rabbit, this time, you can run ahead without me.