Slowing Down

 April 7, 2019 — Rev. Paula Norbert


Ecclesiastes 3:1-13

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance;

a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to throw away;

a time to tear, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;

a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace.

This familiar reading from Ecclesiastes reminds us of the importance of seasons in our lives.  There is a time for every purpose under heaven.  For many of us in this modern, industrial, tech-savvy world, we have lost touch with the seasonality of life. We want what we want, when we want it. We come to believe that no time is off limits and the lines between busy and rest, work and play, have become increasingly blurred. How far are we from the rhythms and “pleasure of our toil?” What is the cost to ourselves, to our relationships, and to our planet is this frantic pace? How has our denial of the passage of time and seasons of our lives created an anti-aging sentiment as well as the worship of everything “fast” and the sense that immediate gratification is “normal?”  Let us pray,  Slow us Down, O God of all Seasons; help us to be present to the moments of each day, to the treasures of each season, and to the seasons of our lives, our relationships, and our conversations with You.  Amen.

Does it seem like life moves at a more frantic pace for you than it was in the past?  Is it just the normal process of aging, or does everything seem to be moving faster these days?  I have a sweet memory from childhood of sitting on the back porch with my great aunt and fixing garden peas.  There is nothing like fresh peas in the summer and I remember how calming it was to just sit there and fix the peas together as if we had all the time in the world.  In recent years, as much as I love those peas, often near the 4th of July, it seems like it is a time-consuming task to fix enough peas to feed us all.  And yet, the peas symbolize to me a time when life was slow and oh so mellow, as that song Try to Remember goes.  Do you remember that song?

Carl Honore, a British writer, published a book called In Praise of Slowness where he speaks about his developing awareness of the rapid pace of so much in our lives and the toll that is taking on so many of us.  He offered a wonderful Ted Talk on this and I have published info about how you might find that in our News today.  It’s worth watching.  In the talk, he explains about how he came to this awareness of how the rapid pace of things in his life had made him lose touch with what is most important.  He talks about all the things that have sped up from speed walking to speed dating, and one day, he was walking past a storefront with a sign for Speed Yoga.  Speed Yoga?  Calm yourself and your body down in 20 minutes or less, because that’s all the time it takes.

For him this all came to a head when he found himself reading to his young son at bedtime each night.  He says, “ my wake-up call came when I started reading bedtime stories to my son, and I found that at the end of day, I would go into his room and I just couldn’t slow down — you know, I’d be speed reading “The Cat In The Hat.” “ He’d was skipping lines here, paragraphs there, sometimes a whole page, and of course, his little boy knew the book inside out, so they would quarrel.  “what should have been the most relaxing, the most intimate, the most tender moment of the day, he recalls, “when a dad sits down to read to his son, became instead this kind of gladiatorial battle of wills, a clash between my speed and his slowness. And this went on for some time, until I caught myself scanning a newspaper article with timesaving tips for fast people. And one of them made reference to a series of books called “The One-Minute Bedtime Story.”  At first he thought that it could be a wonderful solution to his dilemma, but then he found himself thinking about it and realized that something had to change.  He ended up thinking for a long while and realized that he wanted to investigate what he calls our ‘roadrunner culture’ and to explore what it was doing to him and to everyone else.

He pursued two important questions; the first was how did things get so fast and the second was is it desirable or even possible to slow down.  He realized that so much of what has created this fast pace in our lives includes the usual suspects such as urbanization, technology, the workplace and consumerism.  We see it all around us and we’ve been talking about this throughout Lent.  And he realized that part of it comes from our western idea that time is linear; we believe that time is scarce that it is always draining away and so we have to pick up our pace so we don’t waste time.  Yet, he also discovered that there is a growing “global backlash against this culture that tells us that faster is always better, and that busier is best.”

He found that across the world, people are doing the unthinkable; they are slowing down, and guess what? Contrary to conventional wisdom, people are finding that by slowing down at the right moments, they are doing everything better.  They are working better, they are eating better, they are exercising better and most importantly, they are living better.  There is literally an international slow movement where people are choosing in a more deliberate manner to slow down and take stock of what is most important, slow down and find time for the things that really matter and to let go of the things that do not.  This ripples out to so many parts of our world and to the lives of so many people.

I don’t think that we need to do a great deal of research to be able to assess how the fast pace of life has taken its toll on us, on our bodies, our minds, our very souls.  Too many young people are overscheduled, overwhelmed, anxious and depressed.  Schools are reframing their expectations and encouraging families to slow it down.  Even Harvard University sent out a letter to undergraduates — freshmen — telling them that they’ll get more out of life, and more out of Harvard, if they put on the brakes, if they do less, but give time to things, the time that things need, to enjoy them, to savor them. And even if they sometimes do nothing at all. And that letter was called “Slow Down!” — with an exclamation mark on the end.

Another person whose work I encountered, Jessica Rose Williams, writes about the importance of seasonal living, of listening to the rhythms of the seasons, of listening to nature and attuning our lives in some ways to the learning that we may draw from that.  In some ways, particularly with the weather, we need to do that, but in other ways, we have become used to seasonal food throughout the year, even though local strawberries in June, I think we’d all agree, are far sweeter than any we might purchase during the winter months.  There is nothing like Maine blueberries in August or sweet corn that is local and in season.  Now with the beauty of farmer’s markets, we can eat locally and return to some appreciation for those who grow our food and transport it to market…and it tastes so much better, doesn’t it?

To everything, there is a season.  As the beauty of spring begins to unfold before us, let’s hear the invitation to delight in the joys of this very season, to open ourselves to the pace of the days and be present.  This may take some adjustments in our schedules, but it also takes a shift in our thinking, a paradigm shift, if you will.  We are invited to pause and to consider the ways we spend our time and what is most important in our lives.  That may mean we have to live with the discomfort of letting go of things we once thought were so important; we have to let go of the schedules that have taken control of us and we have to assess.  Where is the time for day dreaming, for prayer, for creativity, for silence?  Do we even have God on speed dial?   Slow us down, O Lord, slow us down that we may see the beauty of you in all of Creation.  Slow us down that we may be present to this Season of Spring, this Season of Lent and the things you are trying to tell us if only we may take time to listen.