The idea of time and the way it shapes my teaching and learning has been rolling around in my head for quite a while now. Aware of an internal rushing that I was always managing, I have longed to silence it. This sinister voice, ‘get going, seize the moment, multi-task’ seemed cloaked as a virtue, but somewhere deep down I could hear, though the signal was weak, that it was really a vice.
We live in two time zones. We’re all familiar with Greenwich Mean Time and it’s ticking clocks, blinking digital numerals, various chronometers and alarms. But there is also what older voices might have dubbed “real time.”
There are four clocks or timekeepers that mark real time:
The body’s clock that measures when I am hungry or satisfied, weary or energized, sad, lonely, or content.
The day’s clock which is marked by the movement of the sun and moon, from sunset to sunrise, to noon. The waxing and waning of the day.
The season’s clock with spring, summer, autumn and winter.
The church’s clock which measures time with the liturgical calendar. While it is a way to pay attention to movements in the soul, it does so by paying attention to the other clocks, especially the rhythm of a day (vespers, compline, matins, dawn…), and of the seasons (advent, epiphany, lent, easter…).
Our view of time flows into the other postures we hope to cultivate. By adding attention to our senses we find that we are now gazing, scenting, savoring, listening and stroking…not just seeing, smelling, tasting, hearing and touching. Mindful presence adds so much more. No attending can be done in a hurry.
An Unhurried Education
From the inception of our school three years ago, I have been haunted by an idea I heard from Chip Denton of Trinity School, of an “unhurried education.” What an intriguing thought! Not knowing why, but in the true spirit of our impulsive response to being seized by an idea, we rushed out to put this quote under all of our clocks:
“He who is in a hurry delays the work of God.” (St. Vincent)
I think that each teacher knew it was an indictment rather than a description. There was something compelling about this thought and now, a few years in, we keep seeing ways that the mystery of this truth holds water and shapes our community of learners.
In paying more attention to GMT than to our other real time clocks, we have perhaps read the Scriptures words about time in a false way. Solomon had no watch on when he said that there is a time for every purpose under heaven. We feel that time is running from us, slipping away, and therefore read words like “redeem the time” and “teach us to number our days,” as a call to hurry up. We buy more elaborate calendars with bible verses on them while ignoring baby’s cries on our “Ezzo-esque” hyper-schedules. “Redeem the time” has come to mean “fill in every second of the day or you will miss opportunities,” often losing the gifts of the moment by either regretting how we missed the last one or dreading the oncoming one.
The idea of real time calls us to pay attention to each part of the day or year as it comes…in its own sweet time.
Two organizations, also awake to the frenzied, chaotic pace of current living have added mindfulness to the areas of food production and travel. Carl Honore’, an Italian, conceived the idea of the Slow Food Movement one day while he was walking by the Spanish Steps in Rome, and saw the construction of a McDonalds across the street. (Frank and Pardis Stitt in my own community are part of this movement). Listen to some of their comments:
“Slow is not about doing everything at a snail’s pace; it’s about working, playing and living better by doing everything at the right speed.” (I can cook eggs in the microwave, but have you ever eaten them that way?)
“The Slow Food Movement was an organization that was founded to counteract fast food and fast life, the disappearance of local food traditions and people’s dwindling interests in the food they eat, where it comes from, how it tastes, and how our food choices affect the rest of the world.”
The Slow Travel Movement pays attention to the journey, not just the destination.
Antidotes for a Hurried Education
Not long after the school year began I remember sitting with a child, aware that the math concept was not attaching. I felt the inner angst, but knew that the habit needed in this scenario was not math propensity in the child, but an ability to wait in me.
Unhurried. Waiting. An ability to be inactive while expecting something.
The natural world waits with such grace. The quiet cocoon, the simple bud, the tiny seed…all beautiful in their silent, fallow forms. Each embody Job’s words, “waiting for my change to come.”
Jan Comenius was a Moravian Bishop who lived in an age of violence and exile. Born in what is now the Czech Republic in 1592, his own schooling was rigid, full of rote learning and harsh discipline. Writing about education and teaching filled his days. Themes including ‘a liberal education for all,’ an emphasis on atmosphere, the need for personal motivation in learning and direct experience were his directives. He wrote that Nature spoke to education in these ways:
1. Nature observes a suitable time.
2. Nature prepares the material, before she begins to give it form.
3. Nature chooses a fit subject to act upon, or first submits one to a suitable treatment in order to make it fit.
4. Nature is not confused in its operations, but in its forward progress advances distinctly from one point to another.
5. In all the operations of nature, development is from within.
6. Nature, in its formative processes, begins with the universal and ends with the particular.
7. Nature makes no leaps, but proceeds step by step.
8. If nature commences anything, it does not leave off until the operation is completed.
9. Nature carefully avoids obstacles and things likely to cause hurt.
One can only imagine how deeply Charlotte Mason was informed by Comenius! He was a champion of cultivating the inner landscape, and although he lived with many sufferings and deprivations in his lifetime, he was a man of expanded spirit and a gentle, compelling person. It was Comenius who said to “start with local, then branch out”, themes found in these slow, time-conscious movements.
Proportion and Rhythm
A richer view of time will help us live more proportionally- to work, live, and play at the “right speed”. Charlotte Mason said “we allow no separation to grow up between the intellectual and the spiritual life of children, but teach them to that the Divine Spirit has constant access to their spirits, and is their Continual Helper in all the interests, duties and joys of life.” This idea allows us to see the value of every dimension of life and pay attention to each. We can become full participants in life, instead of amputating sections of our being to make up more time.
The Rule of St. Benedict survives to this day primarily because its adherents find a view of life there that helps them live in proper proportion. Prayer, community, work, rest, food are all attended to in a rhythm that attends to each without neglecting the others. He was able to keep the dialectic between silence and community, leisure and work, being and doing, resting and waking, listening and responding. A large part of that was knowing that each has it due season, but also that each must be set aside to attend to others arenas. There is a time to take my work up, but there is also a time to set it down. “That’s enough for today.”
Hospitality, Openness, Lack of self consciousness
The ultimate hope is not so much seizing the day or enjoying the moment, as being present in the day and in the moment. This is the way to hospitality- to becoming open to others (people and ideas). This rhythm fosters the ability to say of any interruption, any suffering, “who knows what God has brought me in this child, this event, this thought, this moment?”, and to then give it my full attention.
The work of giving time to each person, idea or moment yields the fruit of increasing humility, a lack of self-consciousness, which Charlotte Mason says is the distinct “goal” of a life of abundance. How freeing to be so present to you that I forget myself? Then you are not burdened by pride or fear, and neither am I.
Listen to Jean Louis Servan-Schreiber in The Art of Time: “It is in our early years that we are most profoundly, naturally and intimately involved with time. Never again will we be as open as the child for whom everything is new and who can dream, and be surprised and forget everything else to benefit from the moment. Without the burden of a past, without a care for the future we live our childhood happily in the present, before our memories and our projects gnaw it down from both ends. The fundamental experience of the present, of the fullness of the moment, the intensity of feeling (joy/pain, pleasure/suffering) here and now is not that difficult to acquire since it is with the reach of every child. What is harder is to not forget it.” He is simply talking about recapturing what was once natural to us, a child-like view of the world.
So, in thinking about life ( i.e. education), perhaps I might pay more attention to time. The life of the soul and the life of community are deeply connected to waiting and to a steady, restful, yet attentive pace. My lesson plan says that we should be at a certain point, but what are all these young faces telling me? Why am I still working when the sun has gone down hours ago? Was it back in the fall when I last had coffee with my colleague? What do I learn from the long, bright days of summer and the shorter, darker days of winter? Does this season of the year call me to pay attention to ideas that I have neglected? What is my eight year old saying about my calendar, especially now that it has merged with my cell phone? Shall we take time this week to think about time?
Here is one final thought from Pierre Teillhard de Chardin:
“Above all, trust in the slow work of God. We are all, quiet naturally, impatient in everything to reach the end without delay. We should like to skip the intermediate stages. We are impatient of being on the way to something unknown, something new, and yet it is the law of all progress that is made by passing through some stages of instability – and that it may take a very long time.
And so I think it is with you. Your ideas mature gradually – let them grow, let them shape themselves, without undue haste. Don’t try to force them on, as though you could be today what time (that is to say, grace and circumstances acting on your own good will) will make you tomorrow.
Only God could say what this new spirit gradually forming within you will be. Give our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”
So, tell me dear comrade, what thoughts do you have about all of this?