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.

4 comments:

Paul Corrigan said...

"Twenty-seven, thirty-seven, forty-seven years... and that's just the beginning for her."

I like how Teresa implies that twenty-seven years is the fast track in spiritual terms.

For me, as with what you've shared, the reason to not take time is to get things done. But what do I have to get done? There is no great big life goal for me that I must hurry towards. The big life goal is to walk in the spirit moment by moment.

I've been thinking lately about the life that Jesus lived. It seems that he "took his time." He had no great "objective" to accomplish that required him to strive and hurry. Instead, it seems, he lived at the pace of the spirit, and when the time came to die, he went to do that.

"Take your time." This is an edifying reminder. Thank you, John, for posting.

RC said...

John, very insightful and wise posting. I defintely want to live this way--and perhaps most importantly to relate to others with this kind of wisdom. It is so easy to be to impatient with the development of others as well as with your own, I think. May God grant me more patience, peace, and grace with others and with myself.
--Rickey

living stones said...

John, it seems being productive and in a hurry is so normal to Americans--including me. Going slow is counter cultural but so necessary and beneficial. I deeply appreciate being reminded to slow down. Time doesn't move according to my agenda. Lord, help me to be patient with myself and others moment by moment. Thank you for sharing, Anna

Daniel said...

John, I'm just enjoying a re-read of your post and realizing that I forgot to say a word of thanks. Your mention that "we are somehow complete even as we grow" is insightful and encouraging. And Paul, I really like your phrase "the pace of the Spirit." What a great prayer!

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