Today is the first day of my not working on Wednesdays on a regular basis, as I move into this phase of life I’m calling my “multiple part-time life.”
I am a part time pathologist as of this week, being paid a per diem for working anywhere from six to ten days on a given month.
I am a part-time chaplain intern as of this week.
I have been a part-time seminary student for a year now.
The temptation, of course, is to fill my life with more stuff. For now, I’m resisting it. After all, I haven’t totally figured out my finances, I haven’t totally figured out my weekly routine for now, and I am still nowhere close to knowing where this is all taking me.
Something came to mind, as I was on a walk today. A lot of pastoral ministry, including chaplaincy, is about being a time traveler. Oh, I don’t mean time traveler like The Time Machine or Dr. Who or Quantum Leap. Mostly, it is a form of time travel that is happening in the present–navigating minutes that seem like hours or years that in retrospect, seem to have sped by in the blink of an eye, yet we remember that our perception of those times at the time, was so much different.
I was talking to a long time friend last night, and we were discussing both our lifestyle shifts at roughly the same age. We both lived a lot of our adult lives on the hope of delayed gratification–but there is a place when we are gray enough and far enough along in the fall of our lives, that we recognize the delay is now, even if we prepared poorly for it.
As I walked, I was reminded that I used to regularly travel time as a child, in what nowadays would be considered a very unscripted life–lounging under trees, riding my bike back and forth and around and around with friends, reading books in my alone quiet time and looking over the horizon imagining times past and future time.
The people who wrote the Bible traveled time differently. For starters, lives were much shorter and maybe, just maybe a person could live to 40. This is why it’s a big deal the Old Testament patriarchs and matriarchs lived to an old age. They measured the day by the sun, and if the sun wasn’t out, pretty approximately at that. Time was more about seasons and cycles of the moon and sun and minutes weren’t even on their radar.
Modern religion (particularly in more evangelical circles) spends a lot of time fretting about eternity, when in reality, where we are needing and craving God’s presence is in the here and now. The job of the pastor or chaplain, I believe, is to help people navigate the irregularities of present time in a God-aware state far more than it is about assurance of one’s status in eternity. It’s things like sitting alongside them as the hours their loved one is in the operating room agonizingly tick by. It’s about hunting for holy space when someone missed attending their loved one’s death by minutes. It’s about the realization that the window of time closed for some things we did differently and we drift in a windless sea of regret.
One of the things I do when I walk down the road by my house is to rejoice in the window of time I am traveling through the subtly changing seasons down a road I must have traversed over a thousand times in 15 years. It has a sameness, and a not-sameness. Brown yields to green; spiderworts and prairie roses give way to chicory and prairie blazing star; a few weeks later they are replaced by white heath asters, sunflowers, ironweed, and goldenrod; finally yielding to purple heath asters and the reddening of sumac leaves before the brown of impending winter takes the point. In that cycle are fleeting seasonal delights like morel mushrooms and wild garlic and baby woodchucks and fat monarch caterpillars; all to be savored, all a place to rejoice despite the fact nature can be very cruel to living things at times.
Perhaps this is the meat of the Jesus story, particularly as it relates to God’s presence with us in the here and now. It is his transcendence beyond time and body that creates the bridge between God and humankind in his life, death, burial, resurrection and ascension. Our doubts about any of those things from time to time take on less consequence in light of what we are just beginning to understand about time and space and alternative or multiple universes. Sure, we create memes about Schroedinger’s cat, but our own journey through present time teaches us that each of our lives both has more effect than we imagine or believe, and less effect than we fear–and simply speaking, perhaps the priestly ministry, the pastoral ministry, or the chaplain ministry is simply about providing a touchpoint for God in a swirling sea of irregularly-lived time.