We don’t know how to receive the gift of time. We over-crowd our calendars, invent ever-speedier transportation and communication devices, pack in as much entertainment or work, education or experience, as we can. We stretch and push ourselves, jostling and trampling each other in our hurry.
Behind this gift of time are God’s mercy and good purpose. Everything works within it. We watch a movie over minutes and hours, not dropped on us like a bomb. A sentence unfolds one word at a time. If words came all at once, we couldn’t receive them.
So too, we receive all that is — God’s being and ours, the mystery of life, of death — a drip at a time. If God gave us, at once, all God is, it would destroy us; we’re too tiny. God gives us time to receive him. In time, we grow bigger, gradually and steadily, or in great leaps.
How much time? As much or as little as it takes.
“Why is everybody always rushing?” The question floated down through a crowded rush-hour subway station. I’d just collided with a stranger. He was rushing downstairs to the platform, I was rushing up to work. Unseeing, we jostled each other. A minor incident, but a woman rising with the up-escalator saw, and asked the gathered pack: “Why is everyone always rushing?” Nobody slowed to answer her.
As I rushed on to attack the day, the question stayed. Where can we rush from God’s love? Why do we rush from God’s love?
I recalled a summer’s day, a planned trip to Sainte-Marie-among-the-Hurons, with visiting friends from Europe. This “living museum” combines Ontario beauty with re-enactments of 17th- century life.
It was a beautiful day. We drove out from the city toward Midland. Many other city people were equally eager to drive north, and soon enough we found ourselves bogged down in traffic. Instead of gazing upon scenery and history, we had an excellent view of the popular makes of cars, as far as the eye could see. Frustrating, though our European guests were unperturbed; but my Canadian friends and I quickly fell to bickering about whether it was better to stay on the packed highway or try the meandering back-roads, why we had left so late and whose fault it was anyway.
We arrived at the gates of the living museum just as they were closing. The Europeans, who’d enjoyed the drive and didn’t know what they were missing, were calm and comfortable. The mortified Canadians were angry at themselves and each other, and mightily frustrated that time had played us such a trick.
Too late . . . too late.
Those words haunt human ears, keeping us rushing and trying to control time. We know time is remorseless. It doesn’t turn back for anyone. Humanity has learned much about time and space, their relativity, their properties. We study time past and time present, and through our inventions can see far further than humans ever could. Still we fight time, and still it strips us of everything. Our need to control time is our fear of death and lack of faith. All these are natural. Can God, who is beyond them all, somehow meet us here? Can he really carry us across the impenetrable barriers of time, space and death? Could we even survive the journey?
My friends and I, unable to enter the museum, wandered over to the church, which remained open. We heard and read about the Canadian Jesuit martyrs who gave their time to the Huron people here. And here, time ended for them. A story of defeat? Time squandered?
I told my friends of my first visit here, with a group of young people and a priest. We saw all the sights which today were closed to us. Then we celebrated mass on the spot where Jean de Brébeuf was put to death.
In that eucharist we were beyond time, present to the sufferings and hopes of those long-dead, both the Jesuit martyrs and the First Nations people. They were not past but present. And we were present to Christ and one another, in our time and place, with our unknown futures ahead of us.
We may be rushing to escape our lives, or to find them; to leave someone, or to meet someone; to get somewhere, or to be someone. “We’ve got all the time there is,” as Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote, and in the time we’ve got is all we need. God, the surgeon of our souls, gives them time to grow into life and freedom and knowledge of him. Whatever our story, we stand always at the edge of eternity. It’s our destiny.
Thank you God for time, by which we take you in, and you take us out: out of ourselves, out of time, out of death into life.
Jean de Brébeuf and companions are commemorated Sept. 26 in Canada, Oct. 19 in the U.S.
Marrocco is a marriage and family therapist, teacher of theology, and writer, and co-ordinates St. Mary of Egypt Refuge. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org