Always in a Hurry
“I don’t have time for this!” I wanted to yell, as I stood at the kitchen counter tearing an egg carton apart, so I could put it in the compost pile. I was severely tempted to throw the carton into the trash and be done with it. We were headed out of town the next day. I had what seemed like a million things to do before leaving. What difference would one carton make? Instead, I took a few deep breaths and discovered ripping apart the carton was a great way to diffuse the frustration and anxiety I had about everything on my to-do list.
A lot is written about the way our modern lifestyle has disconnected us from the natural systems of the planet. This disconnect is the impetus behind the famous quote from Sir David Attenborough, who said, “No one will protect what they don’t care about, and no one will care about what they have never experienced.” Not knowing a place leads to not understanding the ways our actions impact it. Even when given information about the harm we’re causing, few of us will make the needed changes in our lives, when we don’t know the people, creatures, and places who are harmed.
Less is written about the way our modern lifestyle has disconnected us from the natural time cycles of the planet. Our species, Homo sapiens, first appeared on Earth about 300,000 years ago. Until the invention of oil lamp, human activity was entirely dependent on the light cycle of day and night. Earliest known lamps are from about 10,000 - 15,000 years ago, which means our species was diurnal for 97% of its existence on this planet.
The industrial age of the 18th and 19th centuries changed our sense of time. Clocks had been around for centuries, but they weren’t part of daily life for many people, until steam-driven factories and transportation required coordination of people and events. Prior to the industrial age, towns set their clocks by the sun. Noon was the time when the sun was at the highest point in town. Which meant noon was not at the same moment in one town as it was in another town. The problems caused by this difference came to a head of steam (pun intended!) with the railroads. At their urging, time became synchronized to the standard we use today.
Standardized time led to our sense of time being driven more by the clock than by the diurnal cycle. Tasks became due at a pre-determined time on the clock. Instead of pushing to complete tasks before nightfall each day, people started having numerous times during the day when they had to hurry and a complete a task before a set time.
The 20th century brought us the information age and system time. The passage of time now is reduced to ticks of a computer that can continue 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. A 24-hour lifestyle became convenient. Computers free us from the diurnal cycle to shop, worship, visit friends, and do just about anything we want at any time.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel freed from the diurnal cycle. Instead, I feel like I’m on a treadmill that never stops. Instead of hurrying to meet a time on a clock, I now hurry because there’s always one more thing for me to squeeze into the day.
Hurriedness has consequences. A Princeton Theological Seminary experiment revealed people in a hurry are significantly less likely to stop and help someone in distress. Study participants who were in the greatest hurry only stopped about 10% of the time. Those who were not in a hurry stopped nearly two thirds of the time. The irony is in the way the experiment invoked a sense of hurry in the participants. They were given a rush assignment to prepare a homily on the parable of the Good Samaritan.
If being in a hurry prevents us from responding to a neighbor we see in distress, imagine the role it plays in us not responding to environmental distress. The egg carton personified that role for me. In my hurry, it was easy for me to consider throwing the carton into the trash, because I do not see the people living near the landfill. Nor do I see the creatures who lived in the woods where the tree for the carton was harvested.
Stepping off the time treadmill may be a daring form of eco-justice activism. Many powers have a vested interest in keeping us on the treadmill. We’re told it’s the path to success and security. Instead, the treadmill numbs us to the harm being done to us, our community, and creation. Walter Brueggemann, in his book Sabbath as Resistance: Saying No to the Culture of Now, compares the demands and consequences of our modern treadmill to Pharaoh’s brick yard, where the Hebrew people labored in ancient Egypt.
Sir Attenborough says we must reconnect to our place within the natural systems of this planet, as one creature among many, if we are to know and care for creation. Maybe we also must reconnect to a sense of timeliness based on natural cycles, which aren't driven by the clock or the computer. It’s not coincidental that the ancient tradition of sabbath included rest for the animals and land, not just people. A sense of time that allows for sabbath may lead us to what is needed for the healing and restoration of our world.