“Time flies” so the old Latin goes – to which I’d add “especially during a pandemic.” Hmm. Or maybe not. Time is relative, isn’t it? Maybe in a couple of different ways – not only according to Einstein – but also in how we experience time.
It’s hard to believe that it’s already been a year since I arrived to join you all in ministry in this diocese as the Canon to the Ordinary; that year has gone by very quickly! My last days in my former parish in Texas were a whirlwind of moving and packing and farewells and included a high-speed (well, as the law allows) cross-country journey with my cat, Mjölnir. That all has gone by very quickly.
On the other hand, the “before-time,” prior to our awareness of COVID-19, seems like a long, long time ago, doesn’t it? The quaint olden days of sitting with people nearby, whether in restaurants, theaters, or church. Actually being okay with breathing alongside folks who we haven’t asked to do a health screening. You know. The before-time.
Crisis events have a very odd effect on our perception of time. You know how, in the middle of a critical stress event (like someone falling or an auto accident), everything seems to slow down – like everything moves in slow motion? I always imagined that we had some kind of hyper-awareness that kicked in at moments like that, fueled by adrenaline, that allowed us to see and respond more quickly. Apparently, that’s not quite what is going on. I heard about a study on this perception of time slowing down in crisis in which the scientists demonstrated that our sensory and cognitive abilities pretty much worked the same in those critical incidents. What did kick into high gear, though, was our ability to document the details of the event. Think of it like a high-resolution image, for those technically minded, densely packed with more information than a normal snapshot. When we remember these events, even immediately afterwards, we have many more details of our experience available to us, so we subconsciously recall the event as if it were going more slowly, to get in all the details available. That doesn’t mean any of us remember perfectly or accurately, since memory is always shaded and shaped by our experience and many other factors, but there’s a lot more data to process in a crisis.
We are in two long-term critical incidents at the moment – the pandemic and the renewed struggle for racial justice in the public square – and we are each taking in a lot more information. We take it in personally, experientially, and also in what we see and read on our screens. Maybe that’s why the before-time seems so long ago. We have a lot more to process in times like these. That awareness wears on us in its own way and we need to find ways and opportunities to take a break, mentally, spiritually, and reset. To clear the cache for a moment. This summer may give you some additional opportunities, even for a day or part of a day, to step away and focus on something else for a bit, to allow our minds and our spirits to reset and renew. We will be in both of these critical incidents for a good while to come, it would seem, so take those moments when you can, to refocus.
A year in, I’m thankful to be here with you all, whether in sickness or in health. I mean, I’d prefer health, honestly, but glad to be with you all no matter the circumstances. I’m thankful to get to know you better and better, and to share in ministry that is challenging, but life-giving. Prayers continue for our common life – and our work continues for the spread of God’s reign.