On the pilgrim way: ‘Am I wasting time?’
I am writing this in late April and find myself, not surprisingly, thinking about time. I was brought up with quite a puritanical approach to time: it had to be used well. We offered our talents and our time to God. This approach has stayed with me, although in middle life I tried to lighten up about it. I remember wondering, when I retired, whether I would be able to allow myself to read a novel in the morning (I still can’t!)
I have had a very busy retirement: I’ve been a United Reformed Church General Assembly Moderator, chaired committees, preached on some Sundays, written this column, been heavily involved in local church, spent time with family and friends, and gone on interesting holidays. My diary has become vital, particularly now I am not remembering things as well as I used to. Of course, I have slowed down too, especially as I have had to slow my pace to my husband’s poor walking.
But now, during this lockdown, I have lots of time and no need for a diary. In fact, it is quite hard to remember which day it is – apart from Sunday, when we join together as a pastorate on YouTube.
My old puritanical voice begins to ask awkward questions: Are these weeks a waste of time? Are they missing weeks? Is this lockdown just a waiting time until we get back to ‘normal’? In some ways, and for most people, the answers will be ‘Yes! Yes! Yes!’ But what about ‘the sacrament of the present moment’?
One of my friends, with great mental as well as physical strength, is using the opportunity to do some spring cleaning. Others are watching films and plays, attending concerts, doing exercise courses. Through Zoom, some are continuing with meetings. I have attended two such elders’ meetings. But somehow, I find myself just having time: to sit and watch the birds on the feeder, to knit and listen to a talking book. I bake and cook with more pleasure, and more slowly than before. I make and receive lots of phone calls.
In my hectically busy years, I found a prayer by Michel Quoist very helpful. Today it speaks just as helpfully but in a different register:
Lord, I have time,
I have plenty of time.
All the time that you give me,
the years of my life,
the days of my years,
the hours of my days,
they are all mine …
I am not asking you tonight, Lord,
for time to do this and that,
but for your grace to do conscientiously,
in the time that you give me, what you want me to do.
Sheila Maxey is outgoing Book Reviews Editor for Reform
(‘Lord, I have time’, from Prayers, Michel Quoist, translated by Agnes M Forsyth and Anne Marie de Commaille, published by Sheed and Ward, 1954)
This article was published in the June 2020 edition of Reform