August has turned on me. This eighth month with unforgiving precision is moving on. We have long since passed the first week of August and its defense against the mind’s slide into thoughts of the second week. And of course the second week, knowing its place, has thrust us unrelenting into the third week of August. The end of the third week. The State Fair opens Thursday. Need I say more?
Yes … I am a teacher. I love my work and my students and I know the first days of a new year bring beginnings and excitement and I’m happy to take part in that joy as both an educator and a parent. But I do value my annual rite to a grumbled discontentment directed at the end of “summer vacation”. The poet William Carlos Williams wrote, “In summer, the song sings itself.” Friends, that song is fading.
June’s promise and July’s heat have receded into hazy memory. Home with my two children, those golden days invited easy routine and deep questions: Wake and coffee, always. Then: bike east on Summit toward the Cathedral or west to the river? Library or playground? Yard work or nap? Are we lunching on a gyro at The Naughty Greek or getting a burger at Whole Foods for the umpteenth time.
Summer days, contemplating not much more than the next activity, the next meal, tidy border lines of minutes and hours passing, chronological time doing it’s thing.
Did I take time to appreciate those easy days? To lovingly gaze at my children as they explored their own rites of summer? To take deep breaths during the quiet moments? I hope so, but I don’t remember. Time passed, as ordained. No more, no less.
Krista Tippett interviewed the priest and writer Richard Rohr on her radio show and podcast On Being in 2017. In the interview Rohr discussed the idea of chronological time versus deep time.
“Chronos is chronological time,” says Rohr, “time as duration, one moment after another, and that’s what most of us think of as time. But there was another word in Greek, kairos. And kairos was deep time. It was when you have those moments where you say, “Oh my God, this is it. I get it.” Or, “This is as perfect as it can be.” Or, “This moment is summing up the last five years of my life” — things like that, where time comes to a fullness, and the dots connect…”
Rohr’s challenge for me is to see the connection of life’s moments. Whether they be “Ah-ha” moments of inspiration or quiet moments of contentment.
Rohr continues, “I think that’s what the tradition means by the word “contemplation,” that to be a contemplative is to learn to trust deep time and to learn how to rest there and not be wrapped up in chronological time. Because, what you’ve learned, especially by my age, is that all of it passes away.”
Contemplative, apparently, I am not. At least not yet. I am still stuck on time’s ticking clock, the forward march. The end of August means looking ahead, structuring the Fall schedule, school emails flying, registering for kids’ activities, checking and rechecking dates and times, accepting and sharing Google Calendar invites. Are your parents watching the kids that night? What time is your flight that day? … and on, and on.
It seems that these accumulated moments — “The Calendar” — take precedence, that the stress and fullness of a busy schedule are more vital than the moments themselves.
It may be that stress is more relatable and more interesting and we therefore prefer the busy to take center stage in the conversations and narrative we share. To be sure, we do need calendars and to make appointments, and yes, to be on time. And life is busy and challenging and there is surely reward in accomplishing all we do.
But maybe, too, there is something intimidating about the call to contemplate deep time, to search within the moments for connection. As a defense mechanism, am I relieved to be overwhelmed?
If I learn to accept deep time and “rest there” as Rohr challenges, then my life’s moments become layered with meaning. More than just layers of meaning, actually: all the moments taken together are me. I become more than a body just trying to get to the end of the day. I become a moment-gathering being whose thoughts and corresponding actions are essential in the unfolding narrative of God’s Creation.
Beyond that intimidating proposition lay another: the vastness of God’s Creation when compared to my tiny (yet vital) moments reminds me that I, and everything I know, are mere blips on the universal radar. And that is unsettling and something more easily ignored when busy.
Small mindset changes, then, to help me focus on my connection of moments to the Big Story and, ideally, to make me a more complete person.
The minor stress of dropping Jameson late to dance class can instead become a survey of the welcoming faces and kind words from his friends as he hurriedly puts on his shoes. I can find peace in his connection with friends and encourage him, in turn, to share that generous spirit in other times and other places.
In the car, late on the way to Jameson’s class, when Nora requests that song to be played again, instead of a means to appease her I can view it as an opportunity to fill her emotional memory-banks with the joy of “singing with dad” so she might in turn share her song with the world, and sing with her kids and then those kids with their kids. One moment, one choice, carrying weight.
An inventory at the end of the day. Were my best moments positive and sustainable? Did the low moments present opportunities for growth? Are my children going to bed secure in themselves and of my love? Was I a good husband to my wife and at which moment was I not good?
All of my moments are me. The challenge is to find a way to treat each as vital, bursting with consequence, and to act accordingly amid the tumult of life. Each moment in my story is part of the unfolding story of God’s Creation.
To be clear: I’m still bitter with August. But September might just turn out all right.
Scott Karli serves on our church council at-large and also helps with children’s faith formation activities.