Dr. Thomas Lane Butts: What Time Is It?

When I retired in 1998 a friend gave me a unique wall clock. All the numbers are in a jumbled pile in the lower left-hand corner of the clock, and in the middle of the face of the clock, in bold letters, is the word, "Whatever!" I am not sure whether my friend was suggesting this was how he thought I viewed reality or whether he thought this is what my life would be like after retirement. Every now and then I look up at my imprecise "Whatever" clock and hope that retirement has not made me care less about important things, but made me less anxious about unimportant things.

Someone asked Yogi Berra, "What time is it", and in typical "Yogi" fashion he asked, "You mean right now?". Sam Keen once said, "Wisdom is knowing what time it is in your life". It is important for us to know what time it is right now.

There is a beautiful passage from the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes (3:1-8) in which we are reminded graphically and specifically of the importance of this philosophical idea.

"To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven:

A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which 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 cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

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

A time to get, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away;

A time to rend, 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 of war, and a time of peace."

Three verses later the writer expands the specific into a profound general theological principle.

"God has made everything suitable for its time; moreover God has put a sense of past and future

into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end."

We can know something about time past and we can speculate about the future, but we cannot know everything. That esoteric knowledge is for God alone. But if we pay close attention, we can know what time it is in our lives. We can know when to slow down and when to speed up. We can know enough not to let the urgent usurp the fundamentally important. I once heard someone say, "The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing". That is very important!

Samuel Coleridge fell asleep one day and dreamed an enchanting dream. Upon awakening he set out to write the dream in a poem, "Kubla Khan". He was interrupted in his writing by a man from Porlock who detained him for over an hour. Upon returning to his writing table he found, to his utter surprise, he had forgotten most of the dream except for a few scattered lines.

We have all been interrupted by the "man from Porlock" who distracted us in the midst of some important task. Sometimes the "man from Porlock" is an angel sent to save us from preoccupation with lesser things and redirect us to higher things and thoughts that might have escaped our attention.

Other times the distraction is a comfortable pablum of white noise and busyness designed to numb and blind us to what is genuine. The test is being able to discern whether the "man from Porlock" is there to detain us for greater or lesser things.

Rembrandt loved to play chess. Once near the end of his life he was invited by an old friend to play a game of chess. Obviously realizing what time it was in his life, Rembrandt said to his friend: "No, no more chess. Life is too short. At least for me. Too short for books and for chess - too short for anything except one single problem and one that I shall never solve." (The Life of Rembrandt Van Rijn, by Hendrik Willem Van Loon, Heritage Press Reprints, circa 1930, pg. 226). Sometimes life whispers to tell us it is time to stop playing games and center our undivided attention on what we know to be of singular importance. Are you listening?

Do you know what time it is in your life - right now?