Our sense of time is actively shifting in this virus-ridden world. The quickness and ease of getting what we want—information, groceries, entertainment, medicine—is in constant flux. Forget wanting. What is it we really need for ourselves and our families?
In the past weeks, I’ve realized I don’t need information in a blink and a bite. I don’t want to rush out to buy distilled water or toilet paper because a shipment arrived at a nearby grocery. Yes, I want health and life for myself and my family, my neighbors, my city, but I also want to embrace this unpredictable lifestyle, not wait it out or fight it. Father James Schall proposes an unlikely antidote, one that requires time as its principal ingredient.
To counter an impatient way of life (and possibly now, an anxious one), Fr. Schall advocates a discovery process that seems at cross purposes with reason or emotion. He suggests walking and its companion effects. My husband and I have always been walkers, but many times we simply chat and catch up rather than truly look about us. Fr. Schall says that wandering about the same places again and again enables us to see the realness of places. That is why moments of discovery can reveal more of who we are and help us to see how to live. His is a call to attention, one I desperately needed to hear.
This burgeoning awareness, of course, is dependent on time, and without the freedom to use time, we easily succumb to being controlled by it. Part of weaning ourselves from this dependence is becoming aware of what we experience and how we experience day-to-day life—“We have here another way of seeing . . . we discover a way of looking about while we walk, and a way of walking that takes us to the knowledge of what is.” This means that it is already there, that we simply had no knowledge of it before.
Having awareness is seeing the “realness” around us, but it goes further than a daily walk. Fr. Schall cites French-British writer Hillaire Belloc, who says that we must “see and handle” actual things that are a part of mankind, our history, our future. To know ourselves as individuals then, we must embrace our broader humanity, to look at ourselves and past ourselves. He points out that part of awareness is knowing what is not. Knowing what we are not enables us to know more of ourselves— “We are set free to know, in fact, by almost anything that is not ourselves.” In a sense, it is a way of defining ourselves by narrowing and excising what we know is no longer relevant to us personally. More than what we need, more than what we want, what is relevant within our daily lives? From its Latin roots, relevant means “to lighten or lessen.” What touches us and thereby influences us? Should these things have that influence?
Awareness is more than a “knowing” because it is also “something beyond ourselves.” Belloc describes it as a “call” or “restlessness” outside of us. In Belloc’s account of a veteran sailor seeking an unknown port, he describes the ideal of an “ultimate harbor,” a place of “original joy.” In response to this adventurer, Belloc understands that the harbor he sought was not of this world.
Some would say this is a sort of transcendence, but Fr. Schall would acknowledge it as our eternal soul, a soul that longs for its Maker. It is this consciousness of who we are as children of God that is paramount to who we are as humans. This awareness, whether conscious or not, can help us contend against the shifting influences of our time-driven and anxiety-ridden culture.
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James V. Schall, S.J. “The Metaphysics of Walking.” The Life of the Mind: On the Joys and Travails of Thinking. Wilmington: ISI Books, 2006.
The featured image is “An Afternoon Stroll” and is in the public domain, courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.