We run a two-person line in the kitchen at Duke, which means I have one other guy cooking with me at dinnertime. As the year has gone by and we have developed more of a customer base, the two of us stay quite busy; Wednesday night we served 104 dinners. One of the ways we are dealing with our growing business is to teach Tony, our dishwasher, how to cook with us on the line, which falls into the time honored tradition of how one works his or her way up in the kitchen. The cooking lessons happen on the nights when Abel is working because Tony is newly arrived from Honduras and speaks less English than I do Spanish. Both my and Tony’s vocabularies are growing because two of the four nights Abel is not there and we have to communicate with one another.
One of the words I learned first was espera: wait.
Our roasted chicken Marsala requires us to wait until the pan is smoking hot on the stove before adding the oil (and waiting for it to get hot) and then the chicken. When the dish is made with patience, the skin browns and crisps beautifully, but if we don’t wait, it sticks and tears.
When the tickets are stacking up and we are trying to get the food out, it is tempting to push a bit, but then we are left with offering less than our best work, mostly because we failed to add enough patience.
One of my traveling companions for this Lenten journey is a new little book by Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier called Living Gently in a Violent World: The Prophetic Witness of Weakness. The title alone led me to believe it was a voice I needed to hear for these days. I’ve not been disappointed. In the introduction, John Swinton describes Vanier, the founder of the L’Arche communities, as a gentle man and goes on to say,
Gentleness is a vital dimension of the kingdom of God (Matthew 11:28-30), but it is a learned skill that requires work and demands patience, slowness and timefulness. Such work means that we have to become “friends of time,” a patient people who recognize that “we have all the time we need to do what needs to be done.”
I am fascinated by time. I make time, take time, have time, lose time, waste time, save time, and spend time, but I’ve never thought of befriending time, or living with timefulness. What a great word. I couldn’t find the word in the dictionary, but I did find a reference to it in an online article that spoke of “yoking our awareness to the present moment.”
If I can go back to the kitchen for a minute, when the ticket prints, telling me someone wants the chicken for dinner, I make a choice. I can choose to let my sense of time be controlled by the little piece of paper saying they want dinner NOW, which leads me to rush the dish; or I can see the ticket as an invitation to take the time I need to prepare the dish well: taking a minute or two to get the pan hot, and more time for the oil to warm, and more time for the chicken to brown, and the sauce to reduce, until the dish that goes to the table does so with, well, timefulness.
As much as the latter choice seems the obvious one, I’m well aware of how hard it is for me to live timefully. Espera doesn’t come easy. Whether it’s the dinner rush or some other self-imposed deadline, I can quickly become consumed with The Task at Hand, and push time and everyone else around with the pugnacious impatience of a conductor determined for the train to leave on time at all costs. I know what needs to happen and I want it to happen now.
Time too easily becomes a force, rather than a friend.
As Vanier begins to tell his story, he invokes Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus, focusing on Jesus’ words,
The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.
And then he says,
My life has been privileged enough that I never quite knew where I was going.
I laughed out loud when I read the sentence because it took me back to the parking lot of the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas many years ago. Ginger and I drove there after a family gathering in California because neither of us had ever seen the city. I was taking our bags to the car about nine in the morning and followed two people out for whom it was still the night before.
One said, “I tell you one thing: you gotta know who you are and where you’re going.”
“Well, hell,” the other replied, “I’ve always knowed where I was, but I ain’t never knowed where I was going.”
I was still thinking about them when I read this paragraph:
What makes transformation possible? Jesus says that when we’re born of the Spirit, we don’t know where that Spirit is coming from or where it’s going – there is a reason for not knowing. Transformation gives us the audacity to advance along a road of unknowing. At the same time we can’t be totally unknowing. There must be points of reference . . . .” (27)
I wrote in the margins, “I may not know where I’m going, but I know who I’m going with.” Grammar aside, I can see the transformational possibilities when I can remember the who more than the where. To be friends with time is to choose people over tasks, shared moments over schedules, passion over punctuality. When I have the wherewithal to live with patience and intention – to let the pans get hot, if you will – much less of life is left stuck and torn.
well done, sir. reminded me how close espera is to esperanza…
Thank you for a beautiful reflection. Like Sarah above, I found myself thinking about the connection between waiting and hoping…