Settling Back in

Hard to believe the blog post drought is over a month long now. I’m trying to get settled back in to work and the daily grind again – always a difficult task following the holidays. For the Metzes, this is especially a difficult route since our past month is so full – our anniversary was on December 18 -8 years already, so hard to believe (we went and watched Sweeney Todd at the Palace Theater in Columbus and had steak at Mitchell’s – nice), then was the Christmas Eve service, and of course Christmas, New Years, and . . . as if all that’s not enough, a week later is Clark’s third birthday – January 7. We’ve been to Defiance, Lewisburg, Murfreesboro, Nashville, Mt. Juliet – drove over 1,000 miles, stayed at 3 different houses, and are really glad to be home! It still amazes me how the holidays can be so busy. I am trying more and more to slow down – not be so busy, but in reality, the holidays were what they were – busy.

Reading continues to be a challenge with the baby and with the schedule. I didn’t get nearly the books read I wanted to in 07 (is that a resolution I hear . . . nah!) but I did finish one that I haven’t had a chance to review here and it fits nicely with an end of the year/holiday reflection.

I ran across this book last year as I was preparing for a Christmas sermon. It was about a year ago that I really began to appreciate the Christian calendar in my spiritual formation. As I studied the Old Testament and saw the natural relationship the people of Israel had with nature and with their annual festivals, I saw the basis for such in my own life. Coming from a Christian tradition that has eschewed the liturgical calendar, it is taking me some time to acclimate myself and my routine. It was in my studies last year that I came across the concept of the “rhythm of life.” I find this to be an intriguing concept. Life, indeed, has a rhythm to it. Why had I never acknowledged this before?

There can be no doubt our lives all have rhythm. This rhythm is what Gary Eberle tackles in his very intriguing and provocative memoir. Sacred Time is an interesting mixture of philosophy, personal reflection, biblical teaching, and devotional. While I think some will find Eberle a little too out there [I just can’t forget the point he makes in discussing the rhythm of life as he talks about how even in our conception rhythm is involved – I just can’t get pas the sophomoric giggle that comes to mind in thinking about that], the bulk of his work will be beneficial for any reader serious about changing the way he or she understands time. It swept me in immediately. My pen went crazy underlining and marking important points along the way. Eberle does a great job reflecting on time in the modern world. In the midst of this crazy, frantic, non-stop world, Eberle reflects on the need for sacred time. This sacred time, however, is not merely some quiet time to “get away for a little while.” Sacred time is a realization that sacred time is real time. It’s not something to get away to, but rather its always there, always a part of us, we just fail to acknowledge or realize that. In Eberle’s words:

“Sacred time is what we experience when we step outside the quick flow of life and luxuriate, as it were, in a realm where there is enough of everything, where we are not trying to fill a void in ourselves or the world, where we exist for a moment oat both the deepest and the loftiest levels of our existence and participate in the eternal life of all that is.” (p. 7).

Utilizing a metaphor from Edward T. Hall, Eberle critiques the way we typically view time: like an un-ending conveyor belt of empty bottles given to us constantly, in different shapes (minutes, seconds, hours, months, decades, etc.) all needing to be filled. If we fail to fill one, we feel we’ve let someone down, not been effective, whatever. This is a concept of time we must move beyond. We are part of something much more significant, much broader.

Eberle acknowledges the rhythm that exists in our world. I can’t help but think of the Africa drum that beats, constantly, mimicking the rhythm that all of us live by. The rhythm, however, is different for each of us. Many of us, Eberle points out, live according to the rhythm of the television schedule. New shows, new season . . . “season” – interesting choice of word! And then there’s sports . . . a season . . . or eve commerce as there is a holiday shopping “season.” Isn’t there a better choice?

In subsequent chapters Eberle examines the roll that day planners have played in scheduling our time and how strict we’ve been in “keeping our time.” He discusses how computers have completely altered our concept of time and productivity and information. Modern conveniences now dominate our lives to the point where we are always available, always on-call, and never unreachable. The irony of it all, says Eberle, is that the modern day clock had its origin in the monastery. It was a device to help keep the hours for the sake of prayer. Once the sun went down, it was difficult to know when the midnight prayers should be offered and the morning office should be followed. Thus the invention of the clock helped keep time in the monastery. However, the monastery couldn’t hold it. Eberle follows the evolution of time through history, perhaps most exacerbated by our Puritan forefathers who saw “time as money” and the now-embedded notion that to waste time is as wasteful as throwing money out the window. The clock now dominates all of life. It has sped out of control.

In a great analogy, “Like people who eat to much junk food, we have filled our lives with the wrong kind of time, and rarely if ever do we avail ourselves of the kind of time that will truly nourish our spirits.” (p. 127)

Eberle ends the book by exploring the different experiences of sacred time in various different faith traditions. (Eberle comes from a very interfaith-ecumenical position looking for experiences of God in all faiths.) He mentions the melodic tone of bells ringing through the small town (the church being the center of time, ringing so all the town knows the time), the architecture of a cathedral or temple creating some sacred “breathing space,” the Jewish bar mitzpah celebrating the passage from one “time” to another, Christian baptism, the eucharist, the sabbath, festival sand feast days. There are glimpses of sacred time here, Eberle sees, but only small glimpses crowded out by the noise and bustle of our culture.

Sacred time provides respite from the many vicissitudes that flow freely in our current cultural milieu. Eberle offers a corrective: “There is so much we can say no to in this life – the war, violence, crime and greed of humanity, the apparently random cruelty of the natural world – and a cheap and easy cynicism about all this is a hallmark of our age [and the church too, I am afraid]; but those who experience the delights of the Sabbath will be able to say yes in spite of all, and to affirm the value and worth of living, even if they have had to fast and save in order to stage the festival itself . . . Like an underground stream, sacred time is always present, even if hidden, always ready to be tapped into to quench the thirst of the time-weary traveler.” (p. 151 – 153).

In the final chapter Eberle (who by the way took a year sabbatical from his teaching duties to research, write, and experience), reflects on a life lived according to the Christian calendar. As someone who is relatively unfamiliar with the calendar, I found this part of the book to be insightful, encouraging, and convicting. There is more I can do to follow this calendar. It can add such value and depth to my life.

I don’t often strongly recommend books, but I think this is one that many, many Christians would do well to read (or really anyone for that matter). It’s ironic that Christians are often the busiest people you’ll ever meet. What a shame! Let’s find peace in the midst of a culture of hurry.

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