Stop Taking Time

When you attend a clergy session, there is a lot of talk about the need for self care. There are many expressions of self care, but they all are framed the same way. Take time for prayer. Take time to study. Take time to rest. Take time for vacation. Take time for Sabbath. 

We are encouraged to "take time" - which I think might be part of the problem.

"Taking time" assumes that time is zero-sum. If we take time from one area (sermon prep) then we will have less time in another area (pastoral care). The idea of "taking time" assumes that if we don't take it then we will never get it - if we don't take time for prayer then prayer will not happen. "Taking time" gives us the impression that if we only were better at taking time then life would be better. 

Of course, "taking time" is a metaphor. One cannot literally take time like you can take a cookie from the jar, and when we try to take time, we come up short. Rather than using the metaphor of "taking" time, I would remind you that Christianity offers a different metaphor - receiving time. 

Time is a gift that we receive. Time is a gift that we trust will be present when we need it. Time is a gift that we can receive, but we can never take.

When we receive time, time is no longer zero-sum. When we receive time we understand that when we are doing one thing, there will be enough time for other things.

Shifting or metaphor from "taking" to "receiving" is not just semantics, it is a part of our spiritual formation. It is part of the reason I do not take communion

The Greatest Wisdom From the Desert Christians - In One Line

I was sitting in my office the other day reading and trying to discover what the heck God would have for me to say on a Sunday morning, when a church member walked in and offered me a homemade blueberry scone. I accepted the gift, but stated I consumed a large breakfast about fifteen minutes just before. The young woman's face turned a bit downward as she realized that I was not planning on enjoying her gift. 

As she left I turned back to my reading material (The Wisdom of the Desert by James O. Hannay) and read: "So far as the advice of the greatest Fathers can be said to form a rule, it may be expressed in the words -- "Do not eat to satiety."

Simple meals allow us to receive hospitality from others.

Simple meals allow us to receive hospitality from others.

This is one of the few times that I sort of understood what the heck the desert mothers/fathers were talking about: Eating to your fill is unhealthy, but not because of the calories but because it denies hospitality. 

In not eating the scone, because I was full, I denied the hospitality of the young woman. I was not able to, because my stomach was full, to accept any more from another.

Clergy have been told that self care is important because you can only give what you yourself have. If you are empty, then you have nothing to give. 

This truth also holds not just if we are empty but also if we are too full. When we eat (or live) to satiety, then we are too full to accept anything else. This is an old truth but one that I often forget. 

Do not eat/live to satiety - you never know when Christ calls you to accept a new thing.

Why I no longer take communion and maybe you should not either

I have taken communion for years. I recall taking communion when I was a child. I recall how I took the bread and took the cup. As I matured in my faith practices I continued to take communion and it was one of the things that drew me to God and my neighbor. 

Then I attended St. Mary's University and was hired as an Ministerial Assistant. Some of my responsibilities included being a Eucharistic minister - that is one who assists in the distribution of communion. I often held the cup while the priest distributed the bread (hosts). While most people came forward for the bread, not as many took the cup. This gave me an opportunity to learn something that changed my world - my peers were trained to receive communion while I was trained to take communion. 

I saw how they came forward with their hands together, palms up and slightly elevated to their chest. It was amazing to see how as the bread (host) was placed in their hands there was an obvious sense of gratitude that came over many of them. With the bread in their hand and their eyes on the cross behind the priest, they would receive communion with eyes closed. 

Since those days in the early 2000's I no longer take communion, I receive it. I no longer reach out and take what is clearly a gift and something that I did not earn. I no longer grab for the bread with an underlying sense that if I don't take it then someone else will. 

This simple change in my posture toward communion has brought with it a deeper understanding and appreciation for the sacrament. While I have not arrived at the level of depth of my college peers those many years ago, I continue to dive deep into this sacred mystery, this holy gift, that we all are invited to receive. 

What the Dwarf teaches us about Christmas

A previous post highlighted a story told about John the Dwarf of the Christian tradition. It was about his willingness to water a dry bit of wood for three years until it bore fruit. Continuing to share some sayings of the desert from Merton's book here is another John the Dwarf story:

ONCE some of the elders came to Scete, and Abbot John the Dwarf was with them. And when they were dining, one of the priests, a very great old man, got up to give each one a little cup of water to drink, and no one would take it from him except John the Dwarf. The others were surprised, and afterwards they asked him: How is it that you, the least of all, have presumed to accept the services of this great old man? He replied: Well, when I get up to give people a drink of water, I am happy if they all take it; and for that reason on this occasion I took the drink, that he might be rewarded, and not feel sad because nobody accepted the cup from him. And at this all admired his discretion.

In this season of gift giving, we can forget that gift giving can be a form of power. In the words of Bishop Will Willimon:

"We prefer to think of ourselves as givers -- powerful, competent, self-sufficient, capable people whose goodness motivates us to employ some of our power, competence and gifts to benefit the less fortunate. Which is a direct contradiction of the biblical account of the first Christmas. There we are portrayed not as the givers we wish we were but as the receivers we are. Luke and Matthew go to great lengths to demonstrate that we -- with our power, generosity, competence and capabilities -- had little to do with God’s work in Jesus. God wanted to do something for us so strange, so utterly beyond the bounds of human imagination, so foreign to human projection, that God had to resort to angels, pregnant virgins and stars in the sky to get it done. We didn’t think of it, understand it or approve it. All we could do, at Bethlehem, was receive it."

So may we all be givers like the very great old man in the story. And may we also be like John the Dwarf who was humble enough to receive so that others can experience the joy (and power) of giving a gift.