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Timelessness

I used to know time. I was intimate friends with the hours, days, and the months of the calendar.

Juliana used to joke that my party trick was that someone could ask me the date of any Sunday in a year, whether the second Sunday in February or the fourth Sunday of July, and without hesitation, I could answer. Weekdays, too.  

For two decades of my life, I kept close track of the days, and kept an especially watchful eye on Sundays. My life oriented around time, the religious rhythms of the year, the holidays, the celebrations, the turning of the seasons, and the weekly rhythms of a full time minister. Third Thursday of the month: Board meeting. Every Wednesday at 7 p.m.: mid-week worship service. Tuesday mornings: Staff meetings, followed by Leadership Team meeting. Wednesday: Worship Team meetings. Thursday afternoon and Friday morning: Sermon writing time. Sunday mornings at 9:30 a.m. and 11:15 a.m.: Worship service.

My most intense church related anxiety dreams involved somehow losing track of time on a Sunday, and realizing that worship service had started. In these nightmares, I’d look at the clock and realize it was 9:40 a.m.; the pianist kept playing prelude music, waiting for me to arrive. Congregants politely cleared their throats. But in the dream, I couldn’t find the right shirt to wear, and when I finally did, another 10 minutes had passed. Now, I was really late; maybe it could just be a silent meditation service? But the adrenaline and shame fueled panic wasn’t over yet. Just as I was about to leave home to show up late to worship, I’d realize my pants didn’t fit right, or had a hole in them, and after going through my whole closet unsuccessfully searching for a good pair, it would suddenly dawn on me that I could preach in my robe. That would solve the problem! I raced off to church, noticing it was now nearly 10 a.m. At church, this demonic dream would torment me even further, as the pages of the imaginary sermon wouldn’t print, and when they finally did, 5 minutes later, I’d race into the sanctuary, as the last few congregants were leaving their pews, heading home. I’m quite certain every religious leader has had some version of this dream.

During my ministry, it was as if I lived in a big, wind-up, mechanical clock, my body wrapped around minutes and seconds, my head full of the hours, and the necessary ministry tasks each week, month, or year required.

It’s taken months on the road in the states, and months in Baja, Mexico, and I’ve finally lost track of time, my body unwound from the big and little hands of the clock, my brain unplugged from the digital readout of the minutes ticking by, and my heart reclaiming itself from the nooks and crannies of the calendar, blocked out with pastoral visits and calls, supervision one on ones, weddings, memorial services, and all of the other meetings that help build and sustain a community of faith.

As I write this, we’re boondocking on a beach at Bahia de Los Angeles, a remote bay on the Sea of Cortez, in the middle of the Baja Peninsula. There’s no cell service. We’re completely unplugged. And it is here, at least for a little while, that I’ve finally lost track of the time and the day. As I’ve watched our youngest move through his days, skipping stones in the Sea of Cortez, playing imaginary games with his friends, and just being with the people and gifts of the day, I feel a deep resonance. I am a child again, outside of the construction of time and calendars.

Yesterday, (a Thursday, it turns out), as Jesse woke up, we settled down together, on his bed, and played a game of Magic the Gathering. Why? Because we could, because I had time, and I was experiencing timelessness. It didn’t matter what any clock said, and there wasn’t even a clock to look at. It was time to be with Jesse. Later, it was time to explore the rocky beaches and skip stones. St ill later, it was time to play another game of Magic, as we said good night to the day. It was timelessness time, a time I really haven’t known in years, perhaps since I was 7 or 8 years old, and I played outside with such focus and presence that I was always a bit shocked when I realized the bats were out, darting through the air, the sun had set a while ago, and the streetlight was blinking on – how and when did this happen?

When I left the congregation I served, I shared two reasons for my departure: 1) I felt I had done the ministry I was called to do, and 2) I wanted more time with my family. But maybe what I really meant was that I wanted more expansive time with my family. More unrushed time. More timeless time. 

The truth is that despite 20 years of being together, during our time on the road, Juliana and I have learned new things about each other. It’s simultaneously shocking and delightful to discover that we’re still quite mysterious to one another, that time hasn’t unwrapped all of the gifts we are. And although our kids are spending much of their time with the other kids we are travellng with, we’re still in a tight orbit with them, in close proximity.

Much of the time on the road has been “elemental,” more basic, a more essential unit of living. What time is it? Time to eat. Time to sleep. Time to travel. Time to play. Time to read. Time to walk. Time to love. Time to find more water and where to put waste.

Don’t get me wrong, I loved ministry and I loved my life as a minister. And. With my inbox full, and a to-do list that never quite got done, there was a sense that I never had enough time to do all the things that needed doing. 

This feeling has faded. And I’m grateful for timelessness time, for enough time, for this time right now.

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