In God's Time
Three ways to re-orient our clocks and our calendars
One of the wonderful pieces of our Anglican inheritance and our Episcopal tradition that the Episcopal Church has to offer the wider church is this inhabiting of the church calendar. Many churches, particularly more Protestant churches, do not spend a lot of time being intentional about the church year. But I find it increasingly valuable to re-orient my calendar away from the academic calendar, away from the Hallmark calendar, away from the calendar of the federal government.…
Practicing this annual cyclical church calendar is one of the ancient practices of the church that I think can ground us in a more generous and godly sense of inhabiting time.
The second practice that I want to commend to you is the practice of regular, daily prayer.… I have found it valuable to both commit myself to a daily prayer habit during Lent but also for the first time to really scale back my expectations.
I am in the habit... of setting such lofty prayer goals that I can’t possibly meet them, and after four days of not meeting them, I feel like a total failure and want to chuck the whole thing. Sometimes I’ll say, “Great, I’m gonna commit myself to saying the Morning prayers and the Evening prayers from the Book of Common Prayer every single day…” I’ll say that on a Monday and by Wednesday I’ve blown it and I feel like, “Well, why bother.” It’s the same way with our New Year’s resolutions. Every year I resolve, on January 1st, to exercise daily. It doesn’t happen and then I give up completely.
I was recently speaking to someone very wise who made what seemed like the most obvious point. But it was so liberating for me to hear this very holy man say, “If you just pray a minute three times a day, that counts.” Praying for one minute, even once a day, counts. And so my very small goal that I have set for myself is to pray every day for one minute at noon. And I have actually….
I’m a writer, I spend a lot of time at my desk and checking e-mail…. I’ve found a program that I can subscribe to that will send me a prayer message every day at noon. I get this in my e-mail inbox, it dings and tells me I have mail. And then I’m pulled out of the daily routine, the hustle and bustle, the glimmer and seduction of my work and my computer.The committing of the daily rhythm of prayer is helping me find my grounding in God’s time. And I just want to repeat what this interlocutor said to me. “Prayer for one minute once a day or one minute three times a day counts.”
The final practice that I want to share a little bit about is the practice of keeping Sabbath. Those of you who have read some of my books know that I grew up Jewish and observing the Sabbath. Friday night to Saturday night was a significant part of my own spiritual formation, and it is one of the things that I have really missed since becoming a Christian.
In observant Jewish communities,…the Sabbath is really a day apart. It is a day that is truly separate from the rhythms of work and week. And I’ve tried to think creatively about how we as a Christian community might learn from the Jewish community about keeping Sabbath. Obviously, our Sabbath practices are not going to look identical to the Sabbath practice of the Jewish community, but I’ve begun to instigate a few observances on Sunday, the Christian Sabbath, in my own life. I want to share two of them with you before we close.
In the Jewish tradition…the Sabbath (Friday night to Saturday night) begins with a Sabbath dinner. If some of you have Jewish friends, you may have been invited to their home for Shabbat dinner, Friday night dinner…the lighting of the candles, the special blessings with wine and bread…and in general, just a very leisurely introduction, transition, into the Sabbath. Some friends of mine from church and my husband and I have begun to do this on Saturday nights. We don’t do it every Saturday, but once a month, twice a month, we will gather on Saturday night to have some special prayers and songs and a leisurely dinner to inch us into a day of rest and celebration.
I really commend that to you. It’s changing the rhythm of my week. It’s beginning to orient my week around Sunday, instead of having Sunday be the exception to a week that is oriented around work and commerce.
The second thing that I do in my Sabbath practice is actually something I abstain from, something I don’t do. I have given up using e-mail and my cell phone on Sundays. If we had more time today, I would say a little bit more about why I think these particular technologies shake up the way we inhabit time. There’s a certain instant-ness to these technologies and, particularly for those of us who are active in the workforce, the sense that people can get hold of you any time of day, regardless of where you are, and demand your instant attention.
Setting those things aside has been very liberating—there’s just no other word for it—liberating for me in terms of having a Sabbath, a day where I not only rest, but where I clear away the bustle so that I can attend to God in a particular way. It’s not that I think we can’t meet God during the week or when we’re chatting on our cell phone or when we’re in the bustle of the world, but I believe that having a Sabbath where we dedicate 24 or 25 hours to attending to God in a particularly focused way helps us to recognize God when we’re back in the bustle and the craziness.
I want to close by reading a poem about time by Jane Kenyon. If you don’t know her poetry, I strongly commend it to you. She died a few years ago of leukemia. She was the wife of the poet Donald Hall. She wrote this poem, called “Otherwise,” when her husband was quite ill with cancer and prior to her own diagnosis with leukemia.
by Jane Kenyon
©2005 by the Estate of Jane Kenyon
I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birchwood.
All morning I did
the work I love.
At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.
Let us bless the
Lord. Thanks be to God.
© 2005 Lauren Winner. Excerpted from a sermon delivered on March 11, 2005 at Calvary Episcopal Church Memphis, TN
"Otherwise," by Jane Kenyon, reprinted from Collected Poems with the permission of Graywolf Press, Saint Paul, Minnesota. Help support explorefaith.org. Purchase a copy of Collected Poems by following this link to amazon.com.