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Tag Archive: Time

Who has time to listen?

Posted: Saturday, January 1, 2011 (11:43 pm), by John W Gillis


Rummaging through some old journals this week while taking a measure of introspection, I came across the following in an entry from March 29th, 1990. I’ve cleaned it up a bit for publication, but it remains essentially the thought of my 29 year-old self. Reading old journals is a fascinating exercise in self-awareness, but I’m throwing them out, anyway…

Who has time to listen? Running around in hectic disarray, death edges closer to each of us by the minute, yet who has time to stop to listen? What would we hear if we did?

Common wisdom has it that we lead such frantic lives on account of a constant, oppressive sense that time is so short. I can no longer believe that. It seems to me these harried ways of ours reflect feeble and vain attempts to dissuade the inevitable. We busy ourselves in order to defy the inevitable, like a man fleeing from the sunset: he knows the sun is setting in the west, so he flees to the east to escape it, only to be caught all the more by surprise.

A man who takes the time, now, to slow down and enjoy the moment, which is our life as we live it now, must realize that he he may not have the time to do so later; whereas a man who won’t take the time now appears to be foolishly assuming that he will certainly have the time later. We’re not this frantically busy because life is so short, it would seem; rather we act like this because we want to believe we’ll go on forever, because we are so afraid of death.

But isn’t it quite strange to be so afraid of death? Death is the universal constant. All living beings – even those never born – suffer death. This death, physical death, is therefore more synonymous with life than is birth. Death’s singular inevitability makes it a rather strange object for our deepest fears. When we fear death, we fear certainty; when we fear certainty, we fear truth; when we fear truth, surely we fear God.

The psalmist said that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and certainly nobody suggests that we should leap willy-nilly to our own destruction, or pretend that death does not involve the demise of the self on some important level.

All the same, fearing the inevitable, and acting as if it were not knocking on our doors every moment, seems a futile exercise in self-delusion – it is as if we fear life itself, or at least the process of life. Better, it seems, to embrace death – not as a tool of destruction to inflict on oneself or those whose existence one finds intolerable, but as an enemy who surely will win the battle, yet not the war.

The way to defeat terrorism is to refuse to be terrorized. The great modern activists of non-violence have demonstrated this clearly. If we allow it, death will terrorize us into failing to embrace life in the moment, although our busyness will never stay the executioners hand. But I suppose the steadiness necessary to look death in the eye without flinching or trying to hide from it requires a certain confidence that death will not have the last word, despite all appearances. So be it.

Because Being a Christian is Eternal Being and Eternal Youth

Posted: Saturday, November 27, 2010 (8:52 pm), by John W Gillis


Quote of the Day for Saturday, November 27th, 2010:

Hans Urs von Balthasar on Saint Francis and the transcending power of holiness over-against a stifling traditionalism, in Razing the Bastions (1952), from a translation published by Ignatius in 1993 (p.32):

The true peaks rise as the distance grows; we must take care not to consider our own age as an age without salvation or saints. Everything depends on that awareness that we have of our Christianity. For Francis, to be a Christian was something just as immense, certain and startlingly glorious as to be a human being, a youth, a man. And because being a Christian is eternal being and eternal youth, without danger of withering and resignation, his immediate joy was deeper. Not one single year separated him from Christ, the one who had become flesh; from the manger; from the Cross. For him, not one speck of dust had settled on the freshness of the wonder in the passage of time. The hodie of the liturgy on the great feasts was the hodie of his life. Is there a saint who has had any other Christian consciousness of time?

This is a powerful little book (103 pgs.) that is taking me a long time to read, because I am stopping on almost every page to dwell on something Balthasar says.

To really encounter and embrace the eternity that characterizes the life of Christ we share in as Christians is both bracing and mesmerizing. The unity of the Church across time and space, while it may be readily available to consciousness during Eucharistic worship, is otherwise all too easy to lose sight of in the daily hub-bub.

But with the liturgical year ending today, and the new year beginning this evening, it strikes me that this sense of connectedness can can also be facilitated by even petty traditions. Tomorrow being the 1st Sunday of Advent, the afternoon will be time to pull down the seasonal decorations from the garage, and go through the annual process of setting the house up for Advent. It’s a small thing, and it can get corny, but it serves as an opening both for the kids – and us – to reconnect with our own shared past, and for all of us to share in the drama of waiting and preparation that the Church has practiced for two millennia.

It may not be the kind of transcendent presence to Christ that Balthasar ascribed to Francis, but it’s a start. I suspect Francis would appreciate our poverty.

EPT (Eastern Pretend Time)

Posted: Monday, March 15, 2010 (11:03 pm), by John W Gillis


So begins what is perhaps the toughest week of the year for me. The annual screwing up of the clocks began yesterday, and if history is any teacher, it will take me a week or so to regain my equilibrium. Until then, I pay the price. And I’m not the only one: my early-morning-bird daughter Rebecca did notRebecca, wide awake get out of bed until 9:00 (pretend time) this morning, having become obviously discombobulated over the weekend (and not being able to get to sleep until after 10:00 PM last night). In either a stroke of good luck or of insightful planning, her school had no session today, in order to hold a staff development day, so she was able to sleep in.

There has always been something inherently absurd in this collective pretending that it is a different time than it actually is, but the practice took on Markeyesque inanity a few years ago, when pretend time was extended in duration in the U.S. – not long, I might add, after parts of the rest of the world adopted the silliness. The cost in IT conformance of this clever boondoggle was ridiculous – and many systems still don’t work right for a few weeks. But, now the beginning of this formerly springtime ritual has been pushed back into the last couple weeks of winter – and hence into Lent.

I guess it was four years ago when I decided to make a Lenten commitment to attending Mass daily. My parish was offering an early-morning Mass at 6:30 AM for the season during the work week, and it seemed like a good discipline. I was completely exhausted by the end of Lent, but I soon missed daily Mass so much that I figured out a more sustainable means of participating regularly, and have gratefully done so ever since. But I’d also volunteered to read one morning each week during that 2006 Lenten season, and now I continue to be asked each year to read, though I otherwise rarely attend the early Mass now. I’m reading on Thursdays this year. So when Thursday morning comes around this week, at 6:30 Pretend Time (5:30 AM, in reality), I will ascend the two short steps toward the altar, and approach the ambo to proclaim the Word… if I can see straight. I’ll need toothpicks to keep my eyelids open on my homeward commute, twelve hours or so later.

I can understand why lots of people like to get up earlier in the summertime to get their work done early, so they can relax in the late daylight. But why do we need to collectively agree to pretend it’s actually later than it really is when we do so? And why do we need the government essentially forcing it on us – especially in the winter (as if it really matters what time of year it is when the government decides that it’s not what time of day it is).

I understand that any attempt to fit time into a taxonomy is an exercise in practicality that necessarily involves some level of hubris, but the traditional division of the day – even including the timezone concept – reflects a pragmatism of cooperation, a kind of common framework or language that allows people to understand each other. Daylight Saving Time, by contrast, reflects not a pragmatism of cooperation, but a manipulative capitalization on the dependence such cooperation has created across society. It’s an abuse of the taxonomy of time. I really think people can work out their own schedules – whether individually or in groups – without Congress declaring that Noontime will henceforth and until further notice occur at precisely one hour past Noon.

Why MaybeToday?

Posted: Wednesday, January 7, 2009 (7:46 pm), by John W Gillis


I was listening to a lecture by Peter Kreeft a while back, and he observed that time is the stuff of which life is made – time is life. People often say that time is money, but that’s an understatement. Kreeft is right: time is life.

This isn’t meant to suggest that time is a metaphysical necessity, or that there can be no such thing as eternal life. Rather, it means that the life we each possess – our life – is ultimately a very precise allotment of time, and that each sunrise brings us one day closer to death. Time is really all we have, and the whole content of our lives is an answer to the question: What did you do with your time?

Life is a timed test, where you don’t know how long the time is.

Like any test, it’s not enough to answer the questions; you have to somehow come up with the right answers. The right use of time is not just about avoiding procrastination, as important as that is. It’s about prudence, in all its aspects. I couldn’t tell you how many times I have found myself, in life, paddling furiously downstream to nowhere (sometimes quite effectively), just to realize that I’d only distanced myself all the more from the source I sought – and still seek. Time, in a sense, down the drain.

From my youth, I have been especially intrigued by the notions of time, of hope, and of reality. These three ideas have dominated my mental life in many respects. Perhaps I will find the opportunity to explore the relationships between them within these pages before too long, but Kreeft’s observation jolted me to the realization that the hope which lives in me – for all the lip service I may give it – has been subject to a rather systematic marginalization for much of my life, in deference to a kind of practical expediency – and even a heart attack at age 46 didn’t manage to seriously shake it free.

Hope is absolutely essential to sanity for anyone who seeks the truth, for anyone with a hunger to embrace reality, because reality has two very distinct faces. Reality is God, which we consider Beatitude, but reality is also the mess we live in – as well as God’s judgment on that mess. Hope is the reaching from brokenness to promise that climbs the ladder of reality, if you will. And it is hope that allows us to break free from captivity to anxiety and fear, to embrace – and realize – the promise of beatitude in our life.

The great Christian hope is in the return of Jesus Christ to earth, both to judge it, and to fully manifest the new creation. That return may happen today, or it may happen some day long from now – but we are not truly Christian if we do not expect that day, and indeed “wait in joyful hope for the coming of our Savior, Jesus Christ.” And yet, for each of us, we live our own allotment of time – and we know not what time is ours, but our time, too, may come today, and there’s no good reason we should be any less joyfully expectant of the advent of our own end time.

I haven’t met a lot of people that embrace such a joyful readiness for death. In truth, most of us just don’t feel ready for it, and – speaking for myself – I know that’s because I have not lived my life – that is, I have not spent my time – prudently enough. It seems to me that there is only one right time to start changing that: today.

I was beginning yet another long commute home in a miserable winter rain storm one night last year, when the thought came to me that I needed to make a decision on exactly what to do about a rather complicated computer-related situation I had waiting for me at home – which included choosing a domain name for a web site I was planning. My initial reaction was to say “Maybe tomorrow,” but – with Peter Kreeft’s wisdom in the back of my mind – I immediately thought better of that, and said: “No, maybe today.”

There’s really no better time to get on with life – reaching for the promise – and it’s entirely possible that there will be no other time at all. Maranatha!

Uttering...

One Year After the Beginning of the End

Posted: Friday, May 23, 2008 (10:08 pm), by John W Gillis


One year ago today, I was lying on an operating room table at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, having jumper cables attached to my chest to try to get my heart beating normally again – I had just had my circumflex artery opened up via angioplasty, and the ticker didn’t take it too well. It wasn’t a very good day… it wasn’t a very good week.

This week wasn’t much better. For the second year in a row, Joyce spent the Wednesday before Memorial Day in a waiting room at BIDMC, waiting for word on a loved one having a procedure following a heart attack. This time, it was her mother, Grace. Fortunately, she came through it without any complications, and is doing remarkably well.

While Joyce was in town awaiting word on her mother, I was having a root canal done, which flared up again this morning with an infection. This is just as I’m finally getting over a debilitating case of achilles tendinitis that came on out of nowhere a few weeks ago. Meanwhile, I’ve been unable to use my left arm for much of anything since coming home from my second angioplasty/stent procedure in September, due to rotator cuff tendinitis in that shoulder. In short, it’s hard not to feel like I’m falling apart. And it’s not just me…

Grace seems like she’s going to be fine for the time being, but she’s also part of a larger pattern I can’t help but see unfolding around me. People I know from my parents’ generation keep appearing on the radar either very sick or dying. My dad has lost four of his brothers since Joyce and I took Kelly and Leigh to visit the Canadian relatives prior to Abby’s birth. There’s been others in different parts of the family, and plenty of friends, as well. After a while, it’s impossible not to notice how much a part of life death is. But it sure is an impolite subject in public life.

My dad was the age I am now when I was about 14 or 15. He seemed old to me then – funny how that works. No doubt I thought I was pretty grown up, too. Despite my conceit, I couldn’t have been more wrong about that. Within a couple years, I’d find myself sitting on my bed in the back room of the basement, reading the Hebrew prophets, being intrigued by simplistic but adventurous eschatological speculations. And I have to ask myself: How much has really changed in 30 years? The fervor has waned and waxed a few times, and of course I’ve come to a much clearer understanding of the nature of the Church, which has cured me of susceptibility to ham-handed eschatologies (a significant difference, admittedly). But what else is really different, other than that I am now a husband and father myself, whose body has started to give out, and who has learned to be conversant with death and disease?

It comes quickly, and it goes like lightning. Life is truly over in a heartbeat. I wrote once, long ago – was it really more than yesterday? – about my need for a “certain urgency,” about my need to realize that the pressure is on before I can motivate myself to do what needs to be done. What it has taken me far too long to figure out is that life itself – or rather, death – provides that certain urgency to me, and to all, all the time. It is over before we have a chance to act, unless we act at every opportunity, rather than waiting for the “right” opportunity. The kids are grown and gone before they can be taught many of life’s serious lessons. And I can only marvel at how life has passed me by.

I didn’t mean for that to happen. But as I’ve incessantly thought things through, I realize now just how much diversion I’ve muddled into, and how, not only every decision I’ve made, but even those I’ve deferred, have closed doors to me that history clamps shut decisively.

One year since my brush with death, I’m one year closer to my immersion in it, and not sure I’ve come any closer to doing what it was I was put here to do. I’m still looking for time, and time is starting to look less like hope every day. Maybe it’s not time I need, after all.