Thursday, August 19, 2010

Take Your Time

I’ve read that Wittgenstein would often greet his students and colleagues with the simple phrase “Take your time.” While Wittgenstein had in mind the time required to develop philosophical questions and insights, how much more does this greeting apply for the spiritual life?

I’m used to being productive, to getting things done as quickly as possible. It’s a requirement in school, at any job, just about anywhere. Nothing wrong with that. But there are also many things that take time to develop and ought not be rushed. Prayer is one of them. Reading parts of Teresa of Avila’s autobiography, I am struck by her long-term view of her spiritual development. Beginning a discussion of the stages of prayer, she writes, “in the twenty-seven years during which I have practised prayer, ill though I have trodden the road and often though I have stumbled, His Majesty has granted me experiences for which others need thirty-seven, or even forty-seven [years]...” Twenty-seven, thirty-seven, forty-seven years... and that's just the beginning for her. Her long-term attitude toward the spiritual life is refreshing: life takes time to grow.

And with that I’m reminded of one of the most pervasive images in the New Testament, the seed. Like the tiny seed which contains all the potential to be a great tree, our tiny spiritual life grows largely in its own time and on its own terms. But like the seed, we have such dynamic potential and we are somehow complete even as we grow. We don't fault the sprout or the sapling for not yet being the flourishing tree. We ought not fault ourselves or each other for our seeming lack of progress. Just as we can’t see the sapling develop from day to day, I think that our lives are impossible to assess in simple, temporal terms. Life takes time to grow.

Blog Archive