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The Gift of Time

Fr. Rick Walsh, CSP
September 22, 2023

I am still in the process of relocating into the ministry here at the Paulist Center.

One of the things that happens when we move, at least this has been true for me, is that we have more time on our hands to reflect on where we’ve been and where we are heading.  Perhaps this is the reason I purchased a book called Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman. The subtitle is “Time Management For Mortals”.

It has occurred to me during this move that in some ways I am still living with one foot in New York City and one in Boston in what “ologists” call liminal space. Along with feeling unsettled, I feel the pressure of time’s advance and I’m aware of some angst regarding my aging and the struggle to do the things I want to do as well as to meet the hopes and expectations of others.

One of the early points in this book is the problem most of us have with our attitude toward time. Most of us feel that we are losing out on so many other things we COULD do whenever we opt for this or that action that requires some of our valuable time. The feeling that there is not enough time to get ALL our bucket list things accomplished weighs heavily on us.

This is true as well in the manner of things that are not bucket list-worthy. It’s in the simple things that take time (even the phrase “take time” connotes a loss of something we feel we owned or are owed); where we find ourselves growing more and more impatient, feeling that this or that task I have to do is going to waste my valuable time.

In a cruel twist, we find our time grows more precious to us with the invention of each time-saving device! Burkeman makes a point in his book that we will always find more things to do when we find free time. This accounts for one reason I’m only on chapter 4 of his book!!

To give an example:

Writing a paper for school used to take some time and effort. Who among us of a certain age can remember first handwriting our thoughts on lined paper and then type our papers and school essays?   In my day, we had electric typewriters. When we typed the wrong letter or word, we had to eject the black ink cartridge for the correction cartridge that magically lifted the typo off the page. My older siblings (especially my sisters who early on worked in clerical positions) like to remind me of their having to work with heavy manual typewriters that required no small amount of finger pressure on each key. Back in those ancient times, when they made a mistake, they had to open a tiny bottle of white fluid that they could paint over the mis-typed letters. They then had to wait for the “Wite Out” to dry on the paper so they could then retype over the mistake. Truth be told, I used this product into the college years myself.  (Here’s a bit of neat Americana trivia: the “Wite Out” product my siblings and I used in the 1960’s to the mid-1980’s was invented by Bette Nesmith Graham, the mother of the Monkees’ front guy Michael Nesmith.)

When it comes to composing in today’s world, we curse when the cursor doesn’t move as fast as we want it to!

Burkeman shares with readers that one way to manage our time is to embrace our limitations. By accepting that we can only do so much in any given day or hour is to help us to overcome the sense that time is an enemy of sorts. As a Catholic Christian with some knowledge of theology, I’d say Burkeman is on to something here.

Didn’t God, the Eternal One choose to take on the limitations of human life when God chose to become one of us? If the One who lives beyond time can opt for life in time, isn’t there a message for us?

We learned a concept as we made our way through seminary studies that had to do with time and our attitude toward it. In school we learned the distinction between two different times that we experience. In Greek, the word Chronos referred to a time that can be measured, that is about a quantity. As it appears in our English language, it also has a sense of movement or a passing to it. For example, a chronicle is a register of facts or events in the order of time. A chronic pain is one that goes on for a long time. We all experience this form of time as we pass from one activity – one minute to another, from one hour to another and so on.

But there is another Greek word for time, one that has not been passed along in language as readily as chronos. The other time is Kairos. This is more about quality than quantity. Kairos in the Christian theological parlance is the belief that time can have a sense of fullness or appropriateness. When Jesus proclaims that the time has come for the Kingdom of God in Mark’s gospel, the author used a derivative of Kairos. At the final judgment, Matthews’ Jesus speaks of the Kairos time when all is ready.

Running late into meetings as was my habit in seminary, I had to facetiously remind my friends already present at the gathering that I am a person who lives in the moment, that is Kairos time, that I live a life that’s beyond chronological time. It was usually good for a few laughs.

I propose that each of us make some time (see what I did there?) to be present to the God who is alive and always present in the present moment. In prayer, we can avail ourselves of divine assistance in properly relating ourselves to the times in which we live.

In doing so, I believe we may discover many moments where we are freed from the enslavement we sometimes experience in life.