Let us consider the nature of time: how we experience time and think about it, and what, in the spiritual life, is known as “opportune time”or, in the words of St. Paul, “the acceptable time.”
Spiritual time isn’t the same as chronological time, which is marked by passing increments of minutes, days, and weeks that either hang heavily or race by depending on circumstances. We often think of chronological time as something we can have either to waste or use wisely. Moving from the Midwest to Washington, and from a position with a certain set of responsibilities to a position and role with seemingly infinite responsibilities, I am acutely aware of a new experience of time that is my new life. Even so, chronological time is something we fill and define. Not so with spiritual or opportune time. Opportune time has a sense of purpose and potential all its own. It is time-charged energy that transcends whatever we might make of it.
Have you ever worked really hard to make something happen, but—no matter how hard you tried—nothing happened or things actually got worse? But then in a different context, in an opportune moment, you worked perhaps just as hard, and this time something else was working alongside you—there was wind in your sails—and you were able to accomplish something that was once impossible. That’s what opportune time is: the right time for something to happen that we cannot bring about on our own.
It isn’t easy waiting for opportune time, particularly when we can see what could be or needs to change. Try as we might, we can’t force things along faster than the acceptable time allows. Actually we do try all the time, and sometimes by our sheer will we force things along, but we do so at the risk of damaging the very thing we hope to bring about. As one of my teachers used to say, you can’t make a bean grow faster by pulling on it.
Yet it’s also true that opportune time may come for us as individuals, and certainly as a society, long before we feel ready. All the great movements of history tell of struggle and work and leadership that coalesce at a critical moment—along with this sense of time, the right time for something to shift. Not everyone was ready to make the change. But no matter how they resisted, things moved forward anyway, because the time for change had come. It can be that way for us as individuals, too: the time may be upon us, whether we feel ready or not.
The marriage equality debates that have gathered momentum in the country of late now have a feeling of opportune time about them. There’s a different energy and momentum, a sense of possibility that would have been unimaginable even five years ago. As supportive as I considered myself to be for full inclusion of gays and lesbians in our church and country, I would never have predicted how quickly the issue of marriage equality has captured the imagination and a sense of possibility. That kind of spiritual energy and movement in society is important for us as people of faith to pay attention to. It doesn’t happen every day on every issue, and we have a window of time—of opportune time—to act.
One of the most important tasks of life is to consider the nature of time: what time it is now, and for what. Of all the good things we might strive for, how can we discern the opportune time for particular things? There’s nothing to be gained by pining for the changes we long for but can’t bring about, if in the process we avoid the particular task before us whose time has come.
God is always at work in us, bringing something to fruition at its acceptable time. Take this day to ask yourself what time it is for you. Knock on a few doors, and see which one opens. Consider the things that you exhaust yourself to make happen and the things that seem to have their own power and momentum. Allow yourself to feel the weight of time and the gift of it. God is at work in and through us, and in and through time. The acceptable time, the opportune time, will come. Amen.