Consciousness of Time: Wisdom in the Sabbath

Consciousness of Time: Wisdom in the Sabbath

“Where did the time go?” we often ask, and no matter the frequency of this conversation, it’s never boring, because we feel its truthfulness each time. Blink once, it’s Monday, blink twice it’s Thursday, and so the weeks, months, and years pass by.

 

Age, I hear, accelerates this experience, and I can probably agree. It took forever and a half to reach age 10 and another half to 17. But to the observing adults, my aging probably did feel fast. They certainly talk about the flying time with more intensity.

 

Mathematically, it’s been explained that the ratio of a fixed amount of time, say, a year, to the total length of our growing lifetime will only diminish, hence the increased speediness. It’s perfectly rational. I like rational. But, if the math is the real cause of the experience, how scary is that? It means life will only move faster and faster, like a runaway train that’s gone out of hands. Is there nothing to be done about it?

 

A Glimmer of Hope

 

Reading Oliver Sacks’ Gratitude and Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air tells me that there may be a way out. Written when their authors were cancer-ridden—the first, a collection of essays written during Oliver’s[1] last two years of his life and the second, written during the two years between Paul’s diagnosis and his death—both writings seem to know how to slow time down.

 

Faced with the finiteness of their lives, these authors mastered the art of living consciously (isn’t this why time feels fast—it goes by and we are not conscious of it) and thus put a break to the speeding train of time. The writing certainly feels that way, and in reading their words, my time too slows down.

 

Consciousness of time, I think, is the kindred subject that occupied both men, evaporating the near half-century gap between their ages. Linked to this is also the fierce quest of meaning and the evaluation of their lived years.

 

Confronting mortality, humankind is forced to reflect. What of my life? Has it been good, meaningful? Am I contented with who I am? And in reflecting, time is recaptured, somehow.

 

Whether intended or not, Paul and Oliver’s writings have this recapturing effects on me. Their sense of sacredness in the time they had left produced words that grace their readers with wisdom. Yet, is this gift only possessed by those close to death’s door? I’m not dying–not that I know of, at least–and I too am covetous of this consciousness of time.

 

Sabbath

 

Oliver’s last and poignant essay was titled “Sabbath,” published in the New York Times two weeks before his death last August, and one that was very important to him. As his days were closing, he found his thoughts drifting back to the Sabbath.

 

And now, weak, short of breath, my once-firm muscles melted away by cancer, I find my thoughts, increasingly, not on the supernatural or spiritual, but on what is meant by living a good and worthwhile life — achieving a sense of peace within oneself. I find my thoughts drifting to the Sabbath, the day of rest, the seventh day of the week, and perhaps the seventh day of one’s life as well, when one can feel that one’s work is done, and one may, in good conscience, rest.

 

After abandoning his Jewish faith and heritage for decades, Oliver recalled one Sabbath celebration in 2014:

 

The peace of the Sabbath, of a stopped world, a time outside time, was palpable, infused everything, and I found myself drenched with a wistfulness, something akin to nostalgia, wondering what if: What if A and B and C had been different? What sort of person might I have been? What sort of a life might I have lived?

 

I wonder if the Sabbath was made so that humankind would live, in the deepest sense of the word, with consciousness of time. The gift of rest in the Sabbath surpasses the physical realm into the essence of life itself. This infusion is not automatic—I’ve lived Sabbath to Sabbath my entire life and I know that Sabbath too can be busy—but it is a space and time carved out to stop and reflect each week. Did I do well? Was I good? Did I do things that matter?

 

Robert John Aunamm, 2005 Nobel Laureate in Economics, said in an interview that Oliver mentioned in his essay[2],

 

The observance of the Sabbath is extremely beautiful, and is impossible without being religious. It is not even a question of improving society—it is about improving one’s own quality of life. For example, let’s say I’m taking a trip a couple of hours after the Sabbath. Any other person would spend the day packing, going to the office, making final arrangements, final phone calls, this and that. For me it’s out of the question. I do it on Friday. The Sabbath is there. The world stops.

 

After the ceremony, Robert John told Oliver, “had he been compelled to travel to Stockholm on a Saturday, he would have refused the prize. His commitment to the Sabbath, its utter peacefulness and remoteness from worldly concerns, would have trumped even a Nobel.”

 

 

Peacefulness and remoteness from worldly concerns. What would it look like to live, entirely divorced from even the privilege of winning a Nobel Prize. It seems like Robert John estimated the prize very differently from most people; something else mattered to him more. Perhaps it was an understanding of ultimate things—what is the most important thing in life, what matters most, things we usually understand when death is nigh, when time is short.

 

Perhaps the Sabbath is like speed bumps, preventing life from being overrun by the train of time. It is a reminder to be conscious of time, like a balance by which everything is scaled against eternity. The things that exist in the Sabbath realm are the things that matter in eternity—they will always matter—like family, friends, love, reflection, peace with God and peace with self. Everything else can take a pause, irrelevant for one day.

 

I’m writing this at the entrance of a Sabbath. For the next 24 hours then, I’m going to live with consciousness of time.

 

[1] I’ll use their first names here to make the post more personal instead of academic.

[2] Read the whole interview with Robert John Aumann here.

 

Photo by Johnny Loi

 

Happiness Is Pursuit

Happiness Is Pursuit

When I look back to the time periods I’ve felt happiest, I’d say they are times when I am in intense pursuit of some goal—knowledge, skill, project, service, mission, etc. Before somebody lectures me about happiness vs. joy, I want to say that I am not talking about joy. I’m talking about happiness–excitement, exhilaration, smile-on-my-face happy.

 

These are the moments I’ve felt most alive, as if every cell in my body aligns to the same direction. There’s a reason to stay up late and wake up early, and everything else I do is more efficient so I can free up time for the pursuit.

 

Part of the fun is brainstorming with like-minded people, when one idea feeds another in a chain reaction, exploding to… something awesome. Or not. The ideas may totally tank. Regardless, the process is fun.

 

A pursuit has the ability to orient an entire life to a certain directionality. Everything counts; every moment is infused with a purpose. I can’t think of any better way to live.

 

It would be a sad day when one finds nothing else to pursue. It’s like being on top of the highest mountain and finding there is no other peak to climb. While the satisfaction may last a while, boredom will surface from a long-term state of sameness. And boredom is the opposite of happiness.

 

I’ve definitely experienced this unhappiness. The thought of resting and settling down a bit after a phase/pursuit ends is nice, but detrimental if prolonged. I’m not sure I can live without some kind of overarching pursuit.

 

The good thing is that there’s always something to pursue. Life is too big and too vast to run out of goals.

 

I’m writing this to remind myself to always live and strive for something—something good, something better.

 

What have you been doing pursuing lately?

 

P.S. This will be my next light read: The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest That Will Bring Purpose to Your Life.

 

 

The One That Tops The List

This Is My Story, part 9, the Finale.

This day, thirteen years ago, marked the beginning of my publicly declared and lifelong commitment to follow that lovely Man whose likeness cannot compare to any other. Did I know inside out what that commitment would entail, or understand the full import of following Jesus? Absolutely not. But there’s such thing called growth, and the thrill of being surprised.

Sure, there should be research and thoughts before making any commitment, but if one insists in knowing 100 percent of everything that would happen afterwards, what’s the fun in that, right?

The impact of the Gospel, of knowing God, His kingdom, and His righteousness, has been pervasive in my life. It is true that there have been many moments of God’s special gifts and miracles, but what amazes me even more is His influence that is steady, His work that continues for years, silent, unglamorous, but radically transforming me into a newer and newer person.

It’s like He is planting a seed in me and waits for it to grow. Slowly, but surely, life transforms that seed into a tree, but one does not necessarily see the evidence of that life until years after. And once evidence starts to pile up, hindsight provides the opportunity to say, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I knew it not.” Gen 28:16.

The Gospel has changed me, in character and in personality. It has weaved new relationships and rejuvenates old relationships (here, here, and here) that multiply my joy in this earthen life. It has given meaning to my education that is higher than any common ambitions, and it has expanded my world beyond anything I ever dreamed before. The entire world is open enough to learn from, malleable enough to impact, destitute enough to joyfully serve, and rich enough to enjoy. God wants to take the Gospel to all corners of the earth, and because I am His child, He takes me on this global ride as well. I am on a path of infinite growth (again, a plug for the book Education), and God will not stop being my Teacher until eternity.

But wonderful though they may be, they still pale in comparison to the one gift that is so incredibly, fundamentally central, without which any of the others would not be possible. This gift is Jesus Christ Himself, His sacrifice, and the forgiveness of sin.

Since the focus of this blog series has been on God’s blessings, perhaps it makes me look more saintly than I really am. The truth is, I’m still wretched, still poor, still selfish, and still needing grace, more than ever. The core reality of my day-to-day existence is written in this poem, which is why I am most thankful about God’s amazing grace.

When God came into my life, I changed from being a sinner to being forgiven. And this forgiveness still happens everyday, every moment. Nothing compares to the thought that a sinner can stand in front of a holy God, blameless. How can that be? That difference is Jesus Christ, the mediator.

I’ve enjoyed many added benefits to following Jesus, but they are accessories that follow the first, most important step. For to gain Christ, and to gain only Him, is to gain all.