THE SPACE WITHIN TIME
Victor Frankl writes, "Between a stimulus and a response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response.”
Herein lies our growth and our freedom. Within that brief millisecond, it is ours to determine the weight we will assign to what we have seen or heard and what impact it will have on us. It is ours to decide what will be our response. All in that millisecond.
Because it carries so much portent, the space that Frankl describes, though brief, must, of necessity, be deep. Our western concept of time is irretrievably linear and, often, seen as in movement--swift movement at that. But in the stutter step of a paused movement, another dimension of depth opens up to us.
"There's a world of meaning in every spade of earth." I still recall that line from one of John-boy Walton's neighbors. The young, would-be author was dreaming of far-flung places but paused to talk with an elderly black woman, up to her elbows in earth from her garden, a woman who'd never traveled 50 miles away but imbued, nonetheless, with enviable wisdom.
What if we're missing something? What if there's "a world of meaning" if we but bend down and dig deep? What would that look like?
Once upon a long-ago time, a chance encounter with a long-lost friend first introduced me to the idea of deep time. She'd moved some distance away and I'd not seen her for years. But there she was, out and about, and looking good, and I was surprised, for I knew she had a chronic and ultimately, terminal disease. Her son whom I remembered as a boy, was now going away to college. She smiled, "I sure enjoyed his graduation. I know I may not be there for his next one, but I know he's going to make it." I asked about her health. "Not good," she said, "but here's the thing. I may not get to dance with Jamie at his wedding and I may never get to hold a grandchild in my arms, but God has given me so much now and has taught me that time does not have to be long if it is deep.” Her hope, she said, came from 2 Peter 3:8. "Do not let this one fact escape your notice, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as one day.” She lived with the promise and the expectation of each given day being a thousand years deep. "I may not have been given length of days, but I have been given depth of days."
Depth of days. What would it mean to live that way? This kind of awareness often comes to us from those whose lives are at risk; Frankl survived Auschwitz and Dachau and Kit lived daily with the knowledge that she was terminally ill. But what about those of us caught up in the routine of day to day living? What if we could bring such awareness to bear in our lives, and in that space or millisecond that Frankl describes?
It seems impossible. The span is far too short, that space between stimulus and response. How can we possibly discern all that seems necessary? Only by recognizing in this brief space, the opportunity for a sacred pause, a place where we can enter deep time, God’s time.
Here we exist in a subliminal, eternal space where length of time is irrelevant, for Eternity, God, is not bound by time. Here we may pause ever so briefly and be intentional. We can choose to align ourselves and our intentions with God’s larger Purpose for ourselves and beyond ourselves. This space is not about discerning or arriving at understanding—God’s Purpose is beyond all that. It is about acknowledging there is more here than meets the eye, that "it’s not about me,” that God is afoot in this world and in my life, that I can choose to participate in God’s grace—whatever that is. Our response, then, is the decision to cooperate in all of the above.
We need not be held hostage to the conditioned response, the knee-jerk reaction, the patterns or habits of old. We can choose differently. This was the wisdom that Frankl gained. Even in the dehumanizing conditions of a Nazi death camp, where everything else was beyond his control, he retained the ability to choose his response to whatever was done. The gift of free will is ours as well in the lesser challenges of our days. We can and do receive the grace to respond differently, authentically when we pause and remember what we are here for. We are not alone in that moment, that brief, deep moment where God abides.
Try this just once today. Ask to be made aware. Slowly, we can and will become more attentive and pause more often. Will it change the world? Not that I can see—yet. But it can change who we are.
Originally sent out October 2018, this reflection, slightly altered, is offered again as inspired by recent conversation. If pondering deep time is important to you, you may want to consider the retreat, God’s Gift of Abundant Time.
So sad, but not surprised, to have to say that the planned Colloquy in Assisi this September has been cancelled, as have so many events, due to Covid-19.
The conversation, however, remains vitally important. According to organizer, Lucinda Mary Varney, it will take new life. WITH ONE ACCORD: Learning and Living the Feminine Dimension as Church will become a quarterly online journal, a dialogue with women and men, students, theologians, teachers, priests, bishops, laity and religion. Each edition will focus on a theme previously scheduled for the Colloquy with content, both written and virtual, from invited presenters--like me! I will keep you posted as this promising, new format develops.