Don’t Blink

Lois Mae Blakey was born on March 11, 1924, and grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as a small but spirited girl. In 1941, at age seventeen, on her first day of class at Oklahoma State, she met an athletic young man named Duane. A courtship began, and a few months later, when Duane joined the Army as the United States went to war, he asked Lois to marry him. Duane survived World War II, and when he returned, the young couple moved to Houston.

I didn’t know Lois well, but after Duane’s death I visited her at her home, a bright little apartment in a nice neighborhood where we sat down and spoke about her life and her memories. She recounted how she met Duane, her concern for him when he was serving his country overseas, and then how she and Duane raised their two remarkable boys, Paul who ran the 5000 meters in the 1976 Summer Olympics in Montreal, and Greg who worked with his dad and became a successful businessman. When she finished, Lois looked around her apartment at their pictures and her keepsakes, and then she leaned back and said something that struck me as humorous, deeply poignant, and undoubtedly true. “You know,” Lois said, “you just blink and you’re old.”

Right now, time itself seems to be doing some weird things. Even when it seems like the days are trudging along, the weeks and the months might then accelerate. There’s a sporadic nature to it all. When we look at important and anticipated life events approaching on the calendar, then watch them pass by in a way that leaves us empty—or not occur at all after being canceled—we feel a distinct sense of loss. In addition, in this time that sees us more restricted to home or limited in terms of activities, the days blur together and have a way of getting away from us. Life has a fleeting quality. But even now, we should acknowledge that it’s the fleeting nature of life that instructs us most clearly that we’re always walking on holy ground.

With this in mind, try a thought experiment: Imagine right now that you or you and your family are safe on the street, but your house is on fire. The fire is raging, but you have a chance, just a fleeting moment, to safely retrieve something crucial to you. What would it be? A scrapbook, a computer, your mother’s china, your father’s watch, your baseball glove?

Neuroscientist Sam Harris tells us that this is one way to look at reality. We’re always continually waking up in the burning house of the present, deciding what to grasp, deciding what matters, what is worth paying attention to in each passing moment. Time is finite, and we can only give our true attention to one thing at a time. Harris points out that if we’re not truly thinking of our attention as something valuable, we’ll find ourselves pursuing and then holding on to something worthless most of the time. Our attention is our most important possession, the most valuable thing we have—in some sense the only thing we have. So don’t blink. Pay attention to your attention. Give it to what matters.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, in his book called Between God and Man, writes that one of the most important words in all of Scripture is the Hebrew word kadosh, which translates as “holy” or “sacred.” He then points out that the first thing God declared kadosh in creation wasn’t a thing like a mountain, a place like the garden, or a person like Adam or Eve. No. At the end of the creation story, “God blessed the seventh day, and made it holy.” Kadosh. Holiness was first applied to time. Six days a week, Heschel writes, we live under the tyranny of things, but on the Sabbath we try to become attuned to holiness in time. The Sabbath is a gift from God that gives us the thing we need most—an awareness of time and its sacred nature, a time of rest, a moment to refocus, a day to reset, to reboot, to slow our lives down from their unsustainable velocities. To simply be rather than do. If you feel like you’re missing something every time you blink, if life’s going by too fast or seems too blurry, remember the Sabbath. God is there, inside this “palace in time,” as Heschel calls it, just waiting for us.

When we look at the question of whether we’ve borne this season well, or any season of challenge and difficulty in the future, a key point will be whether we used our time prudently and whether we refreshed and rebooted ourselves from time to time, as God not suggests but commands. I expect that simply being more aware of what we give our attention to day by day, being more conscientious about our spiritual health and God’s design for us week by week, will give us a better sense of how life moves moment by moment and blink by blink.

God, may I gather a better understanding for the rhythms of life by being more careful of what I give my attention to day by day; being more attuned to the most valuable uses of my time moment by moment; and listening for your summons to observe the Sabbath blink by blink, consistent with the rhythms of my soul. Amen.

This post originally appeared in Let It Be Said We’ve Bourne It Well: Following God in the Time of COVID-19 by Gregory Funderburk.

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