We made our way through the streets of Falmouth, Jamaica, and as we looked back on the entire episode, the only descriptor that came to mind was “gross.” And even that term seemed inadequate.
If you’re new to the world of cruises, as I once was, here’s a bit of info up front: the corporations that own the ships also own the ports and much of the real estate in the cities where they dock. In short, they own both sides of the cruise experience—the vessel and its destination. Since they’re selling a “good time,” every port has a Disneyfied feel that removes any trace of authenticity from the experience and leaves little at all resembling the actual country you’re visiting.
My wife and I wanted to escape the glossy sheen of this particular Jamaican port and explore the “real” Jamaica, whatever that might mean. From the boat, we could see old stone chapels and other interesting architecture beyond the tourist trap, and we were anxious to explore. From the outset, it was a disastrous idea.
Within five minutes, I had four separate men asking if they could “take me to the girls.” Street vendors were not only forward but forceful. It took me back to similar marketplace settings I’d visited in Palestine, but this moved beyond the typical street frenzy and into uncomfortable territory. People groped me to get my attention when their calls didn’t work. One man stood in my way and commanded, “Stop and give me a real look, man.” My strategy was to look far ahead hoping to ignore the intrusion long enough for it to subside. It didn’t work.
We turned around after several minutes and went back to the comfort and familiarity of what I was so excited to escape in the first place. The reason was simple: we felt violated.
We are likely all familiar with spatial violations. We all know the feeling of lingering eye contact when the person across from us doesn’t look away. We’ve felt the unpleasant sensation of someone who’s a bit too touchy-feely. Even Seinfeld had the gag of the “close talker,” that acquaintance who stands a bit too close for comfort. In short, we know when our space has been violated. We also know enough to get away.
But what about the dimension of time? In the same way that our space is violated, is it possible for our time to be violated as well? If so, how should we respond?
It’s clear that we were created as inhabitants of both space and time. Our initial dwelling wasn’t simply a garden, but a rhythm inside of that garden. The beauty of creation is all around us spatially and rhythmically. When we speak of Eden’s harmonious relationship, we rarely think of the rhythms of time being in sync with one another as well—a rhythm of rest and work, of participation and reflection.
On the seventh day he rested from all his work. God blessed the seventh day. He made it a Holy Day Because on that day he rested from his work, all the creating God had done. -Genesis 2 (The Message)
The beauty of rest. The joy of sabbath. The blessing of reflection. These are things we so often miss because we are rarely cognizant of the realms of time. Space is something we know how to inhabit. We are consumed with the elements of space, striving every day to better the spaces in which we live and create larger kingdoms for our dwelling. Yet when it comes to time, we remain immature and unaware—content to live an unbalanced life only concerned with one dimension.
As encroached upon as I felt stepping into the streets of Jamaica, I am numb to the same violations of space. The demands of the day contend for one another without caring for what we have left. The dashboard reads “empty” and still we insist on moving forward, citing the excuses that space has taught us. Perhaps much of the time, we don’t even know if our time has been violated. Unlike spatial violations that immediate set us off with antennae-like responses sensing something amiss, we often succumb to the violations of our time as if they don’t matter. We attend to trivial matters while ignoring the projects we should be working on. We work endlessly to enlarge our domain, increase our influence or develop our security yet rarely spare much effort for rest. In short, one dimension ends up serving another—time for sake of space.
We have phrases for this, sayings that easily roll off the tongue as if they are not an offense to who we were created to be. “Time is money,” we say without consideration that it’s costing us something far greater. But time is not money. Time is time. The dimension of time does not serve the dimension of space. Both are necessary. Yet when we bend one to inhabit the other, we ignore the rhythm of life as it was intended to be.
Perhaps no one violates our space or sabbath more than our own selves. I am the enemy. I am the instigator. I am typically to blame for my own off-kilter life, for the unbalanced feeling that lingers. When I cater to “the tyranny of the urgent,” I need to stop and realize that I have sacrificed one dimension for the sake of the other. When I cannot recall my last full day of rest, it should signal a forced irregular rhythm on my part—one that I was not created for.
The writings of Abraham Joshua Heschel have been foundational for me in many ways, but mostly in the realms of sabbath and time. One of the most prominent Jewish theologians of the last century, his work The Sabbath is, for me, the most influential. He writes, “We cannot solve the problem of time through the conquest of space, through pyramids or fame. We can only solve the problem of time through sanctification of time. To men alone time is elusive; to men with God time is eternity in disguise.”
In other words, we can only begin to find balance in our lives by entering into that which frightens us. If we are afraid to be alone, then we must allow God to meet us in that space. If we are workaholics, we must confront what it is that drives us, be it ambition, pride, or fear, and set down the tools of our trade.
The silent violation of our time robs us of an essential dimension of our created being. To be whole is to develop a heightened level of sensitivity to the violations of both time and space around us and respond accordingly. A different rhythm is waiting for all of us if we will only stop to listen.