It's About Time

by Donna Whitney

Every week you’ll find different types of posts here on the ABS blog. Today’s post is for individuals, to encourage personal reflection and Bible study.

L’Arche is an international network of people with disabilities (“core members”) living in community with caregiver assistants. In his book Living L’Arche: Stories of Compassion, Love and Disability, Kevin Reimer relates his observation of core member Moses and caregiver assistant Sriram cooking dinner together in the kitchen:

By the wall clock, it takes Moses more than half an hour to chop a single onion. Each piece is painstakingly crafted into cubes of incredible similarity. Moses chops with the precision of an industrial diamond cutter. He chats with Sriram, all the while slicing with movements which deviate by microns. Sriram is obviously enjoying himself. Meal preparation in this kitchen is entirely about the journey. Edible outcomes are something of a bonus.[1]

Reimer tells us that Moses and Sriram spend three hours preparing a simple one-pot meal. In their kitchen, time is not a commodity, and time is not money. Time as a commodity is sterile, even toxic, but when time is liberated from commodification, it becomes a fertile medium in which people and relationships grow.

In many of the L’Arche stories that Reimer tells, time functions differently from its usual utilitarian constraints. Core members and caregiver assistants play together and sometimes just bask in one another’s company. They dance. You can’t dance in a hurry; you have to go with the beat.

Dr. Victoria Sweet tells the long story of her immersion in “slow medicine” in her book God’s Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine. Dr. Sweet came to Laguna Honda Hospital (actually the last of the alms houses in North America) in San Francisco over twenty-five years ago, intending to stay for two months. Instead, she has made her career there. Many of the indigent patients at Laguna Honda came for extended stays; some made Laguna Honda their home. Hired efficiency experts found fault with nearly every aspect of the operation, but Dr. Sweet found the opportunity – rare in the mainstream of American “healthcare” – to offer thoughtful, attentive and unhurried care that allowed her to make diagnoses that others had missed and save lives that would otherwise have been lost. This slow medicine was also less costly than the technology-intensive practices of “state-of-the-art” facilities. Describing the case of one particular patient, Sweet says that what made the difference between life and death “wasn’t much – a simple physical examination and an old-fashioned X-ray – but it did take time, quite a bit of time, actually.”[2] Dr. Sweet typically spends two hours conducting the initial physical examination for a new patient with a complicated presentation.

Abraham Joshua Heschel describes the Jewish Sabbath as “a palace in time.”[3] The time of the Sabbath has nothing to do with commercial or utilitarian value. Sabbath time is valued outside of any system of valuation. Russian Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann observes that the modern church no longer understands the concept of the feast.[4] Religious feast days in Jewish and Christian practice, like the Sabbath, are meant to be times of joy, times outside of time, times in which the soul can expand. But Schmemann finds that feast days have degenerated into times for mere relaxation and fun that actually aren’t very relaxing and are often not much fun. Heschel says, “…the Sabbath as a day of rest, as a day of abstaining from toil, is not for the purpose of recovering one’s lost strength and becoming fit for the forthcoming labor. The Sabbath is a day for the sake of life.”[5]

Increasingly, we are busy people. More and more, we have a tendency to stake our identity and measure our worth by what we accomplish or what we produce. But the Sabbath interrupts the doing, accomplishing and producing to allow us to simply be, to allow us to value persons over production. Sabbath practices for the 21st century do not have to take place on a specifically designated day of the week, although, of course, they can. Likewise, they do not have to extend for a full twenty-four hours, although they can. The busiest people can suspend activity for twenty minutes, even five minutes to breathe deeply or to meditate or to listen to music or to pray. Little Sabbaths sprinkled throughout a day or a week are still authentic moments of time-beyond-value in which to relinquish doing for the sake of being.

Recommended reading

Hamman, Jaco J. Growing Down: Theology and Human Nature in the Virtual Age. Waco, TX: Baylor University Press, 2017.

Hersch, Fred. Good Things Happen Slowly: A Life In and Out of Jazz. New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2017.

Heschel, Abraham Joshua. The Sabbath. New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1961.

Reimer, Kevin S. Living L’ Arche: Stories of Compassion, Love and Disability. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2009.

Sweet, Victoria. God’s Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine. New York: Riverhead Books, 2012.

Sweet, Victoria. Slow Medicine: The Way to Healing. New York: Penguin Random House, 2017.


[1] Kevin S. Reimer, Living L’Arche: Stories of Compassion, Love and Disability (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2009), 20.

[2] Victoria Sweet, God’s Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine (New York: Riverhead Books, 2012), 140.

[3] Abraham Joshua Heschel, The Sabbath (New York: Farrar, Strauss and Giroux, 1961), 15.

[4] Bruce T. Morrill, Anamnesis As Dangerous Memory: Political and Liturgical Theology in Dialogue (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000), 117.

[5] Heschel, 14.

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