There is quiet synchroncity to the rhythm of summer vacation days, distance drawn from the drama of daily events that somehow releases a comfort and calm. Even monastics, living such as they are in schedules that demand attentiveness to each increment of time, benefit from “vacation days”, days apart from the usual. And while I was quite surprised when I first heard that from a Poor Clare, I realized she was opening the door to a deeper understanding about time, what it means in our lives and how we live it.
There is an ardent temptation among us to cling to what was known, to a past that was relevant in its own present. And so we hold on to images and customs, stereotypes and patterns of thinking without much consideration of why it was like that and with little conversation about purpose or impact. And there is the opposite inclintion as well: to embrace what is new simply because it is new and so must be better than what was. There too, the shift can come without discussion about purpose or perspective, significance and meaning. Living fully, I learned from the Poor Clares, is choosing to consider time, past and present and beyond, with a real attentiveness, a sense of life and being that intimates each next step with awe and appreciation. Time, after all, is a gift to be relished and shared with the world around us and the persons in that world.
Change occurs over time; it is a force within each of us, sculpting wrinkles and weilding memories and deliberately altering days. Change surrounds us; it inhabits every day, every encounter and every institution and every person. How we deal with that change matters, impacts self and others. The Gospel of Matthew dances with this very human theme of change and time. The passage begins with the questions about fasting but ends with the often quoted, “…they pour new wine into fresh wineskins, and both are preserved.” Those words can be fastened to a literal image of ancient times; they can apply, too, to the newness each generation brings to their shaping of the time in which they live. But, too, the words speak ot the changes each life meets, and the need for each of us to meet that change, newness, and to grow.
The pace is not as important as the process. The immediate impact here is not as important as the long-term effect. There are beginnings and there are endings, and all of it is happening simultaneously, somewhere and somehow, and we are the witnesses to the wonder of all that if we choose to be. Time allows us the privilege of being and opportunities to be. Ironically, Poor Clares make definitive choices about purpose and lifestyle; for them, there is a fluidity to time, to the process of change and attentiveness to growth. There is new wine every morning, and new wineskins at the ready. Maybe that is a lesson from the contemplative world to those of us who live outside it: that time is a treasure, choices are gifts, and options are always there.