I find that sometimes, I can leave work, get in my car and then magically appear in front of my apartment building. Logically, I know that it is a 15-minute drive from my school to my home, but on some days I enter a strange science fiction time warp and miss out on those moments entirely. Research tells us that these missing moments when we focus on repetitive tasks are normal and can sometimes even be useful (cue relieved breath), but the notion that we don’t experience time as a cadenced constant is disturbing to me. As I’ve gotten older, I experience this time trick with greater regularity. Weeks disappear and school terms fly by; one blinks and minutes vanish.
Why does this happen? In an article in The New Yorker Burkhard Bilger quotes scientist David Eagleman: “The more detailed the memory, the longer the moment seems to last…This explains why we think that time speeds up when we grow older, why childhood summers seem to go on forever, while old age slips by while we’re dozing. The more familiar the world becomes, the less information your brain writes down, and the more quickly time seems to pass.”
The more familiar the world becomes. That’s the phrase that leaps out at me. The day in and day out regularity of our workaday world can seem to teeter on the edge of tedium. We can withdraw from the effort of noticing and listening. The busy familiarity of our life’s rhythms can lead us to an absence instead of a presence.
If I am present on that drive home, I will not arrive at my door missing 15 minutes, I will appreciate the meridians that the municipality plants with beautiful seasonal flowers. I will take notice right at the top of the bridge and look at the panorama of the North Shore Mountains that are beautiful in cloud and in sunshine (but especially in sunshine, Lord!) and I will thank God that he has laid out these sights as signs. I will remember to rejoice that God is present and loving in the world. I will remember to speak to him and to listen. And then, in those moments that could have been absent, the presence of the living God will make that moment rich in companionship.
I know this is true. I know this because I have my experience as testimony. And yet I still struggle to use my time and make space for those moments of communion. Why is this? Why do the opportunities to speak with God, to listen to him, slip by me for days that turn into weeks? I long for his presence, and yet in the spending and filling up of my time, I leave no space to hear him. To listen.
In the lovely and thoughtful short film Godspeed, Mark Canlis discusses how he was pushed into and then sought a different pace of life. In a parish in the Scottish Highlands, he was forced to slow down. To consider his priorities differently. To learn to listen more deeply, both to the people in his community and to God. And while a move to northern Scotland isn’t unappealing, I was left wondering – how do I do this here in Vancouver, in my busy urban life? How do I slow the sometimes frenetic pace of my days?
There are some unhelpful patterns that are easy to spot: too much Netflix, too much scrolling through one’s social media of choice. (You can insert your own habits here; these are just the ones that apply to me.) It is harder for me to consider how to regulate the good things we do, the jobs we love and can expand to fit all available time. The relationships we work hard to maintain. The time we spend with our church family. Those things we do that are useful to our communities. These are all good things! How do we juggle them? How do we move from rushing through the many tasks on our to-do lists to being present and thoughtful within them?
Our actions are always in response to his. The more we are present in the demands on our time, giving each of our moments to God, even in their familiarity and busyness, the more he will shape our ideas of what success looks like and how our time is best used.
Sometimes the answer is whittling down that long to-do list. Choosing what is best (or even what is feasible) from among the good things. Sometimes, however, it is reframing our perception. I was listening to the radio this morning and the scientist that was being interviewed said that before Galileo, astronomers did have ways of figuring out the paths of the stars. It was just that these calculations were time-consuming and tremendously complex. Once the sun was put in its proper place, all of the equations were simplified, the complexity of the heavens became a little more manageable, its patterns easier to understand.
I feel that this might be the case with my time as well. If my life has the proper centre, calculating priorities becomes a lot clearer. (I was really tempted to make a sun/son pun here, but I will refrain.) Leonard Cohen writes of this reordering of the universe when he says, “The world is all forgetting, and the heart is a rage of directions, but your name unifies the heart, and the world is lifted into its place.”
If I am honest, I might have to consider that perhaps my life is not really that busy, it just seems that way because I often feel harried and anxious in my spirit. When God is in his place and the world around me is in its place, I can move through my days with greater deliberateness; not as if they are just happening to me, but as if my days are valuable, an offering. As Paul says in Romans 12, “So here’s what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering” (The Message). It’s important to note here that Paul prefaces this instruction with the phrase, “God helping you.” It’s not something that we can do on our own. In fact, it requires the work of the Spirit within us.
While we have been discussing Godspeed in relation to time and movement, that’s actually not the word’s etymology. Speed (or in Anglo-Saxon Spede) originally meant success or prosperity. It is a prayer that God would give his blessing on our journeys and endeavours. In both readings of the word, it is God who does the work of change in our hearts. Our actions are always in response to his. The more we are present in the demands on our time, giving each of our moments to God, even in their familiarity and busyness, the more he will shape our ideas of what success looks like and how our time is best used.
Maybe this coming week, as I turn on the car, I will turn off the radio. I will choose not to listen to my current audiobook. Instead, I will take those moments and give them to God. I will thank him for the slightly damp cherry blossoms and the brief glimpses of sun on the mountain tops. I will practice the discipline of listening. I will pray for those with whom I have shared my day. I will wish both them and myself Godspeed.