Monday, July 25, 2011

Time will tell - or not

After realizing last summer how much having clocks in my face created an artifical sense of urgency, I made a conscious effort to keep them out of sight. I turned off the clock in the corner of my computer screen, take off my watch unless I have a reason to wear it, and have moved the clock off my physical desktop as well.

I really didn't need to know what time it was as often as I looked to see what time it was. I watch the clock when I teach, I wear a watch when I have an appointment (or set an alarm), but most of the time I can be "off the clock." And more and more I'm choosing that option.

Last week Math Man had some minor surgery done. There's a lot of waiting involved, but once you are there, no real need to know the time. It takes what it takes, as my mother might have said. At one point, I looked at my wrist, wondering what time it was, only to realize (1) I had been writing before we left, so wasn't wearing it and (2) I didn't need to know, they'd be done when they were done. It was just a reflex. (And it's clearly a hard habit to break. I've been trying for a year!)

Somewhat counterintuitively, I tend to wear my watch more often on retreat. Meals, Mass, meetings with my director -- none of these are good to miss, and unlike at home, no one is going to come looking for me for the first two. Still, on principle I prefer not to use my watch for prayer, but instead set a timer (I have a lovely virtual meditation timer on my iPad). On retreat at Wernersville last month it was hot (though not as hot as it's gotten lately) and my favorite spot for prayer in the chapel (third floor balcony) was unbearably hot. Instead I went outside and lay on the grass near the eastern cloister, looking up at the midnight stars.

The second night I went out there, I realized that I'd forgotten my iPad with the timer and wasn't wearing my watch. I thought about going back to my room to fetch a timing device, but given that my knee was seriously unhappy about stairs and taking the elevator at that hour threatens the peaceful sleep of those whose rooms are nearby, I decided to simply stay until I was done and trust that I would take the customary hour.

As I lay there, I realized that the constellation that had fed my contemplations of the previous night was once again overhead (the heavens do run like clockwork). I remembered that as I had finished, the constellation was just edging out of my sight behind the cloister roof. And so I let God's clock time my prayer, aware again of God turning my face toward the immensity of creation, letting one more strand fall from my hands.

You can watch me talk about unplugging during the Spiritual Exercises and afterwards here. Click on the square with my name (and find out how old I am).

The column I wrote about watching the night on retreat last year is here. And if you want to see a magnificent photo of the night sky at Wernerville, check out Robin's vignettes of her retreat.


  1. excellent read says the man who does not want to be late for work, so I may need to glance at the time.

  2. Anonymous11:41 AM

    I'd like to talk to you about my spiritual path (and to hear about yours). Can you spare ten minutes at some point?

    Annie Millar

  3. Annie, send me an email? (

  4. Delightful. Irony. Painful. Our metrics for the Spirit. I use my chronometer on my watch (Timex Ironman!) to meter my casework with indigent clients. And I’m not even charging them. Pro-bono. My pro-bono tick, tick, tick – forget the quality of love in these cases and just herd the cattle (God’s children) out of my presence so I can herd more cattle in. God, forgive me. I use that same nifty wristwatch to meter God too (my Timex Ironman!) in my private and silent daily prayers. I turn God into William Paley’s watchmaker God (my Timex Ironman!) No wonder God withdraws (doesn’t really - just lets me feel the Divine Absence! - now God is the Timex Ironman! – with more time than I!). God forgive me. God make mercy triumph over the metered cruelty of my wrist watch. ~ Jim.

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  6. I love the concept of using the constellations to tell time. A night time analog to a sun dial.

    My college boyfriend cured me of watch wearing. I only wear one now when I travel to a different time zone. Clocks are ubiquitous and hard to avoid. The best clock in my house has no numbers or dots on it and hands that are a broad arrow, a squiggle, and a thin line.

    Interesting read!

  7. Jim, may I quote you??? A column is growing from these seeds!


  8. Yes. Michelle, have away! ~ Jim