Prayer is about our relationship to God. Like any relationship, it requires time. Some of us are used to praying on the run, but our relationship with God cannot flourish unless we find time to be fully present to God: speaking and listening to one another, sharing silence or beauty, delight or sorrow. Intimacy grows when we invest in this kind of quality time – both in human relationships and in our relationship with God. There is truth in the familiar phrase, “If we’re too busy to pray, we’re too busy.”
We must pray for no less a reason than our life depends on it. Jesus promised to give us life, abundant life, yet we will only realize this promise when we live in sync with God on God’s terms, on God’s time. Talking about God and time is a paradox: Time is created by God, yet God is not subject to time. God is timeless, however we can only experience God in time. And, miraculously, we do! There are moments in our life when we actually get in touch with the timelessness of God. Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” God comes to us in time and space, in the now. This is why moments of prayer and worship are so important: In the midst of time, we actually perceive the Timeless that intersects the now. Prayer opens the space needed for that encounter.
You don’t need to live in a monastery to set aside time for prayer. In fact, the busier we are, the more we must not let our schedule get in the way of demarcating sacred time. Francis de Sales, the great 17th century spiritual director observed: “Half an hour’s listening is essential except when you are very busy. Then a full hour is needed.” The more the tyranny of the urgent demands your time, the more time it will take to stay centered in the ground of your being, to remain rooted in your relationship with God.
Try this: On a daily basis, set aside some time when you will be simply and fully present to God. There is an ancient monastic phrase, vacare Deo, which is about being empty for God, being at leisure or available to God.
In the morning: Many people find it most meaningful to vacare Deo first thing in the morning, perhaps even before getting out of bed. (Resist the urge to turn on your phone or check your email first!) Decide how much time you will spend each day, and stick with that time every day. You might light a candle, or start the day with a prayer of praise, gratitude, self-offering, or intercession. If you read from the Psalms, or make your way through a passage of Scripture, jot down a word or phrase that stands out to you, and keep it in your pocket throughout the day. You might find journaling a useful way to connect with God. Write a few sentences to capture your thoughts, fears, hopes, desires, thanksgivings.
At the midday: Claim some moments in the middle of the day to once again give God your full attention. This need not be elaborate. You might sit for a few minutes, consciously being still in the presence of God. Pray with your breathing. Breathe in what you need – hope, strength, joy, love – and breathe out anything that is clogging your soul – fear, despair, anger, temptation. Or if you wrote down a word or phrase in your morning meditation, return to it again. This midday connection will reawaken what you received from God in the morning. Enter again into that experience of grace in the middle of the day, whether you’re full of light and joy, or when you’re stressed or distracted.
In the evening: Save some time to reflect on the day that has passed. Claim and name your gratitude; acknowledge where you missed the mark; ask God to take whatever residue may be weighing on you, and then rest in peace.
Many people today experience their relationship with time as disordered or out of balance. There never seems to be enough time. Time bears down on us, hurries us along at a relentless pace, and demands that we keep up. Time can become a burden rather than a gift, something to escape rather than something to embrace and enjoy.
One solution to this perceived relentlessness of time is simply to stop: stop rushing, stop achieving, stop doing – at least for a time. A life without pauses is like a paragraph without punctuation; it runs on and on, leaving us breathless and overwhelmed. When we stop, we are able to see more clearly the moment we are in. We are able to notice things about ourselves, about those around us, and about the world in which we live. We are able to respond thoughtfully and sensitively to people and situations.
This will help immensely: claim times in your day, your week, your year, when you simply stop; when you say to yourself, “That’s enough work for now”; when you intentionally disengage from technology; when you unplug your computer, turn off your phone, and walk away from your “to do” list. Claiming time to enjoy solitude and silence, away from the constant barrage of advertisements and news flashes, will make a world of difference to you. Consider taking a full Sabbath day each week and protecting it as a time when you stop working, stop achieving and producing, stop acquiring, stop running to and fro to meet the demands and expectations of those around you.
God commanded the people of Israel to “remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy” for two reasons: first, God created the world in six days and rested on the seventh day, thereby setting an example for us to imitate. We need this weekly day of rest; we have been created for work and for rest (Exodus 20:11). Secondly, we are to keep the Sabbath to remember that God has delivered us from the tyranny of work (Deuteronomy 5:15). In Egypt there was no rest; the Israelites worked endlessly to satisfy Pharaoh’s insatiable desire for wealth and power. But God freed them, and brought them into a new land where they were allowed to rest, and where work resumed its rightful place in the ordering of their lives. Whether the taskmaster is our employer or our own sense of obligation or ambition, God wants us to be free from the tyranny of overwork.
What should you do when you stop? Nothing at all. Simply stop and be still. Or you can pick one simple thing and do it with all your attention. For example, at a coffee break, try taking your mug of coffee in your hands, smelling it, feeling it, sipping it, savoring it. Resist the temptation to carry on working or typing or checking your emails during your break. Be fully present to the moment. This is a reordering of time, for it teaches us not to dwell in the past or yearn toward the future, but to be really present to life, in the present, which is where we will find God’s presence.
Taking time to stop brings order and balance into our lives. Try it. Try it now.
A Conversation about Time with Br. Geoffrey Tristram and The Rt. Rev. Nick Knisely.
So many people today seem to suffer from a sense of disordered time; our experience of time is polluted by misuse and abuse. And it’s poisoning our lives—like a disease, really. Yet time is meant to be a gift from God. Geoffrey Tristram sat down with Nick Knisely in the hopes of gaining a better understanding of this complicated realm in which faith and science intersect.
GT: Thanks so much for sitting down with me, Nick. I know that you wear two hats, being both a bishop and a physicist. I’m hoping that you might be able help us to gain a clearer understanding of how time and space relate to each other.
NK: If we can solve that one, we’ll win a Nobel Prize! Well, let’s start with Einstein. Essentially, Einstein took the relativist philosophy of the nineteenth century and began to express it mathematically. To do so, he went back to some mathematical equations that Hendrik Lorentz had devised at the turn of the century, dealing with the mathematical idea that when you move, things begin to change their character, or your experience of them begins to change their character. Lorentz’s equations found a way to express the idea that as you are moving, space begins to collapse or conversely time slows down. Either way, whether it’s time slowing down or space collapsing, the two effects give you the equivalent result: that light is always the same speed in every direction no matter whether you’re moving or stationary or anything else.