Take a look at these two pictures. My wife snapped them at the same spot in Dinosaur Valley State Park six years apart. Aside from the obvious size difference in my children, you’ll notice the baby fat on my son’s arms has disappeared, replaced with lean muscles from playing mega hours of tennis. My daughter’s cherubic figure has been replaced with that of a young girl. And my hair looks decidedly, um, lighter.
Moments like these remind me of the relentless motion of time. And the constant battle I have to wage against our modern era’s unhealthy view that time is a commodity. That it’s the enemy. Or that it must be strictly managed in order that we can be more productive.
Because these notions lead us to the same mistake with time that some of the ancient Jews made with the concept of the Sabbath during the fleeting days of Jesus. As the author of the Cloud of Unknowing wrote in an age far from now, “Time is made for us; we’re not made for time.” He explains, “God, the giver of time, never gives us two moments simultaneously; instead, he gives them to us one after another. We never get the future. We only get the present moment.”
And it’s the present moment that all too often gets squandered.
We do this in so many ways. For starters, read my last post, where I show how technology has this powerful, narcotic ability of taking us far away from being present and convincing us that the flesh and blood people in the room are “so 12-seconds ago.”
But even when we are not engaged with cell phones and computers, ponder how we spend much of our day, with videos of our past playing and replaying filling us with regret, nostalgia, guilt, or pride, to name a few. Or looking to the future, overwhelming us with to-do’s, anxiety, anticipation, excitement (or dread). The mountainous amount of data that our past and future afford could alone keep our minds occupied for many, many lifetimes.
But we only have one.
And it’s a brief one at that. So how can we make the most of it? How can we make time slow down? Perhaps even stand still?
For starters, we can recover the ancient Christian practice of living in the now.
Because what’s all around you at this very moment is simple, beautiful, and profound. But you have to make the effort to notice it.
You have to stop.
And become aware.
Allow the drive to always be elsewhere pass you by. And give your brain permission to stop filtering out the mundane, and instead, to give priority to it.
As my son and daughter snuggled next to me at the state park, I looked across the field and saw two life-sized dinosaurs. You can’t see them in the pictures, but they loom large, guarding the entrance and giving visitors a great photo op. But from a distance, it dawned on me that if I were sitting here a long, long time ago, I might very well see something like this, minus the manicured landscape and the paved roads. But still.
And then I wondered what the view might look like a long, long time in the future.
My son interrupted my thoughts. “Can we go now?”
“Not yet. Give me a moment,” I said. I inhaled deeply. Juniper. I sensed my children jiggling next to me. Impatient. I saw a raptor floating effortlessly on wind currents scanning for food. I heard the steady trickle from the Paluxy River in front of me, and the shutter clicks from my wife’s camera from behind. A breeze pushed my daughter’s hair back, and caused branches to sway back and forth to some ancient rhythm that still echoed in this canyon.