Our Superstition of Time

This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.

— Gollum’s riddle to Bilbo Baggins in The Hobbit


Time. It terrifies and preoccupies, captivates and desolates. We obsess over how to spend it, how to save it, how to use it, and how to gain it. To the busy man, time is his prison and his poverty, for he has no time.  To the leisurely man, it is his liberty and his wealth, since he has all the time in the world.

But all this is vanity (cf. Eccl 3:1-19). Why? Because time is not man’s to have. It is not a piece of property like a chair or a desk; nor can we possess it like money or clothing. We cannot have more or less time. We cannot have all or no time; we cannot “have” time at all.

In one of her books on prayer, Servant of God Catherine Doherty insists that “we must lose our superstition of time.” Her point is both provocative and profound: time is not ours to give or to receive; it’s not ours to have or to hold—and to think otherwise is to attribute to man a power he does not possess. It’s as superstitious as imagining that the health of my mother’s back depends upon my attentive avoidance of cracks in the sidewalk.

If we give up our superstitious belief in “time management,” we will come to see that, as Doherty delightfully notes, “God laughs at time.” Divine Providence encompasses all, sees all, knows all, orders all. In one eternal now, all things lie open before the all-knowing God. Nothing surprises him. Nothing inconveniences him. Nothing frustrates him.

God possesses time, and human beings are possessed by time. Let God be God, and let yourself be human. You don’t have to order the world—or even your own life—according to a detailed plan of your own making. Trust in the goodness of God’s plan for your life. Giving up the superstition of “our” time makes us available: available for prayer, available for charity, available for God, available for our neighbor. This is, at least in part, what it means to “render unto God what is God’s.” Let God laugh at time in your life. It may be the most liberating thing you ever do.

Image: Mikhail Nesterov, Solovki

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Fr. Philip Neri Reese was ordained to the priesthood in May 2015. He grew up just outside Annapolis, Maryland. He attended Dickinson College, where he obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree, double-majoring in philosophy and religious studies. On DominicanFriars.org