Have you ever noticed how often you use the word, or reference the concept of, “time” during the day, even if just to yourself? “What time is it?” “What time do we have to be there?” “How long will it take?” “I need to carve out some time.” Generally speaking, Americans tend to be very time-centric. We are more concerned that a meeting begin and end when scheduled than we are that it actually accomplishes its goals.
We also live in a culture that values “being prepared.” We purchase insurance policies, we post emergency exit maps and signs in buildings, we write wills and establish trusts. We have entire (multiple) television series devoted to people being surprised by different things because seeing someone not be prepared for something (positive or negative) is sensational.
Our spiritual lives often become relegated to these same cultural tendencies toward an emphasis on time and planning. We have a specific time of day, or the week, where we often go to a specific place, and follow a specific routine for the maintenance of our spiritual lives. Occasionally we may change things up by going on a retreat, or to a new spiritual director, but in general we are creatures of habit. We like our predictable times, spaces, and routines.
And this is not, necessarily, a bad thing.
Continuing with a theme of spirituality in time and space, most people experience seasons where the Presence of God is more or less easily engaged. We go through periods of time where every blade of grass or whisper of wind causes us to feel loved. Worship is deeply moving and disciplines are meaningful. At other times, the Presence of God seems to bring with it agitation, or perhaps there is a question of whether we have been abandoned. Doubts rush in, the spiritual joy of others feels like nails on a chalkboard, and we wonder if perhaps we are lost after all.
This is not, necessarily, a bad thing.
Seasons in the life of faith are completely normal. The Christian mystics have long referred to the changing seasons of the felt presence of God as “consolation” and “desolation.” In desolation, God feels far off or absent. Many refer to this as a season of “dryness,” “loneliness,” or “confusion.” Consolation, however, is comfort food and good wine. It is energizing, encouraging, and abundant Presence.
When we consider how much we enjoy having a predictable routine, it becomes easy to see how trauma can feel disruptive in every aspect of our lives. Being “prepared for trauma” is a relative and degreed state. When life becomes chaotic, we tend to respond instinctively.
- What instincts are you spending time developing?
- What habits are you cultivating that will help sustain life and health when other routines or structures are stripped away?
The truth is that when our spirituality is completely dependent on time and space, it will be easily lost in chaos and confusion of trauma. Suddenly our time is required elsewhere. Space is suddenly missing and routine is irreversibly altered. This is why the best times to prepare our souls to weather the storms of trauma are peace times.
During peace times, we can relax with intention. Being mindful of what is helping us to feel calm and at rest helps us cultivate that feeling and find God within. Seasons of consolation are particularly valuable as times to develop new disciplines. This is when we are motivated to engage in new habits or move to new spiritual depths. These spiritual springtimes can help grow the deep roots of experience and rhythm that sustain the soul when winter returns.
Most people can recall a time when they were: “The most stressed I’ve ever been.” Or perhaps most afraid, sick, or lonely they have ever been. It sometimes takes more thought to identify the times that have been the most peaceful, brave, or loved. When we begin to explore those experiences of peace, bravery, and love we may discover common threads that are not dependent upon a particular time or place. It may be a posture of our heart, or the warmth of a friend, or the comfort of good food that whispers so deeply in our hearts: “You are not alone, you are loved.” Tapping into those experiences, developing habits of the heart and mind that are enhanced by time and space rather than dependent upon them, will help sustain us.
So in times of peace, when your body and mind are at rest, consider and engage with:
- What helps you be present to the Divine?
- How do you pray when you have no words?
- Do your chosen spiritual practices bring calm and promote community?
- To what degree is your spirituality dependent upon predictable time and space?
- To what degree is your spirituality enhanced by being present in time and space?
- If you are leading a ministry, are you encouraging those you lead to find their own answers to these questions?
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