Does Love Have a Speed?
Love has a speed—and it isn’t fast.
That’s what John Swinton argues in his thought-provoking book, Becoming Friends of Time: Disability, Timefullness, and Gentle Discipleship.
In western, capitalist culture, time is something to be overcome; conquered by techniques of efficiency, strategy, hard work and ingenuity. The quest for production is a race against time. Where we place in that race largely determines our stature in society. Our legacy is measured by how we stack up against the flow of time—relentless and menacing.
If only we had enough time to make another widget, to write another book, to meet the quota. The passage of time drives so many of us; society measures us by what we do with the time we have. The consequences of that can be destructive. We relegate relationships to secondary or tertiary status. And we often marginalize persons who do not effectively “use” time. We deem as lacking in value those who haven’t mastered the techniques for keeping up with time. They are “slow,” and in a society that measure us by the pace of production, “slow” doesn’t work.
In short: Western society’s marginalization of persons with disabilities can be explained in large part by the way we construe time.
These flawed economies of speed lead to the consequences that some persons are deemed unworthy of life, simply because they cannot keep up. Time is not on their side.
Swinton offers a profound diagnosis of this problem—this pathological idolatrizing of productivity and efficiency. He interweaves insights from theologians, philosophers, Scripture, and the sciences, and draws upon his own extensive experience in the medical profession, to argue that Christian discipleship is incompatible with how society often approaches time—and consequently, persons living with disabilities.
For Swinton, the anti-dote to the disease of our misguided understanding of time is theological: We should understand time through the lens of God’s time—and God shows us that love has a speed: slow. Swinton cites Kosuke Koyama, who suggests that God is a “three mile an hour God,” taking a leisurely pace. Jesus’ activity and teachings in the Gospels reflects the importance of “timefullness” and “gentle discipleship,” rather than a frenetic race against the clock.
This theological correction is best served with a component of praxis: Rethinking time and our relation to time through the witness of persons with disabilities. Swinton argues that many persons, particularly those with neurological disabilities (i.e. dementia) experience time differently than the dominant normative cultural view of time (as either obstacle to or driver of productivity). Their experience of time can fundamentally change our orientation to time, perhaps aligning us closer to God’s pace.
Christian discipleship calls for a reconfiguration of the way we think about time. It calls for us to slow down, to prioritize relationships over productivity, servanthood over speed, love over instrumentality. It calls for us to become “friends of time,” by becoming friends of others.
Christians ought to prophetically counter the structures and economies of society that privilege the “fast” over the “slow,” the proficient over the inefficient, the “powerful” over the “weak.”
I saw first-hand the way time can and is reconfigured through disability when my mom suffered from early onset Alzheimer’s disease. Growing up, one of my more prominent memories of my mom was her uncanny work ethic—she was constantly on the move. Whether working inside the house or in her career outside of it, she hardly sat down for long just to rest (or so it seemed to me). She loved to be productive, and could always find something that needed to be done.
As the dementia set in over the years, her ability to be productive waned dramatically. Yet the many years of muscle memory kept her yearning for activity. At one point, she would simply wander the house, sensing or believing she should be doing something, but unsure of what—or how to do it.
Despite a lifetime of habit, life slowed down dramatically for her—as it does for so many who experience the ravages of dementia or other debilitating disabilities. And this can be frustrating for those who care for them, because it slows them down, too.
Swinton makes this point beautifully: that in relationship with persons with disabilities, we are invited to experience time differently. To experience time slowly: as God does—because love isn’t frenetic, instrumental, or gauged by productivity.
The beauty of his proposal is recognized by all the panelists we have gathered in this symposium. Each of them brings their own expertise and personal experience to bear on their reading of Swinton’s text.
All the responses show a deep appreciation for Swinton’s work, and they each offer thoughtful questions for discussion. Several of the responses raise weighty challenges to his thesis, as well.
In his contribution, Jean Vanier reflects powerfully on his own experience living with people with disabilities in L’Arche. He affirms Swinton’s appeal that discipleship involves slowing down and setting aside our preoccupations with power or prestige, truly listening and “being with” the other. The result of gentle discipleship is genuine community.
In her essay, Debbie Creamer challenges Swinton for romanticizing former ages and cultures where there was presumably no race against the clock (the clock’s “second-hand”). The problem of marginalization and violence against bodies may not be a function of the changing technology of clocks, but deeper factors related to human nature. She pushes Swinton to clarify the normativity of his proposal that “fast” is negative, whereas “slow” is (always) best.
Adam McInturf challenges Swinton to consider whether, in his well-meaning critique of societal marginalization of persons with disabilities (and his important critique of theologies which blame persons for disability) he might have overlooked the tragic dimension of disabilities and the implications of the genuine sufferings that often accompany them. He suggests that “Holy Saturday” might be a way to reckon more realistically with the “liminality” that disabilities like dementia create.
Similarly, Sarah Jean Barton brings apocalyptic images into conversation with Swinton’s thesis. She argues that God’s dynamic interruptions in history, or “God’s breaking into time,” offers a complementary perspective to Swinton’s proposal that “slow” describes God’s approach to time—and therefore is normative for discipleship. She suggests that the Christian liturgy of baptism brings apocalyptic in-breaking together with the “slow work of discipleship.”
Medi Ann Volpe engages Swinton critically on his reading of Augustine’s famous discussion of time in The Confessions, and then interacts creatively with Swinton’s interpretation of the story of the paralytic in Luke 5, naming the problem of trust as the heart of discipleship. She contemplates how persons living with disability may show others of us how to trust, and therefore how to be disciples of Jesus.
Tom Reynolds offers an appreciative response, helpfully summarizing four key turns in Swinton’s book, and then naming the theme of “rhythm” as tying together Swinton’s insights on time and discipleship. He takes Swinton’s book as an opportunity to explore the dynamics of practical theology: one in which theology informs praxis but conversely, praxis informs our theology also. The experience of relationship with persons living with disabilities shapes our view of God and of time.
What results here is a lively interchange on a practical theology of disability around the theme of time and “gentle discipleship.”
Differing Relationships with Time
I greatly appreciate John Swinton’s work, in this book and elsewhere, as he guides us into deeper reflection and engagement with the world(s) of disability and religion. In this piece, I am particularly grateful for his invitation to consider our engagement with time from the perspective of disability, and the ways he offers countercultural and deeply faithful options for thinking and acting in new ways. Swinton provides what he describes as “an extended meditation” (11)—a nonlinear argument that unfolds like a conversation, sometimes pressing forward, sometimes stepping back to fill in gaps, sometimes sideways from one concrete situation to another, sometimes following a bit of a tangent, sometimes leaving gaps to be filled later. I find this to be a lovely model for writing in general and one that is particularly appropriate to this topic (and, especially, the ways in which he challenges linear, progressive, rigid “Standard Average European Time”). His style leads me, then, to offer some conversation in return, with the recognition that my context, questions, and curiosities might be quite different than his own. In particular, most of my own interest in disability has been with its ordinariness and its untidiness; this is a different context than Swinton’s attention to significant cognitive difference and other experiences of profound disability. I hope that my reflections here will complement his own while also suggesting that “disability, timefullness, and gentle discipleship” might be more complicated and messy than the book’s primary narrative suggests.
Differing Embodiments of Time
Early in the text, Swinton invites us to imagine “a time before the second hand” (25). Drawing on the research of others, he writes that “clocks in various forms have been around for a long time . . . however the clock and clock-time as we currently understand it are relatively new developments” (25). He traces the clock back to the Benedictine monks of the European medieval age who conceived of a system of bells to announce the schedule of the day. He talks of these bells, as well as those of other faith traditions, as having a very specific meaning and purpose: “to call the religious to spend time with God” (26). Swinton describes the development of time into minutes and seconds as something that raised economic implications (such as the workday) and also changed the nature of time itself: “Time had become a commodity that was judged worthy according to its economic utility and commercial instrumentality rather than its ability to shape, hold, form, guide, and sustain human faithfulness to God” (30). This, in turn, led to the colonial project of disenfranchising those who had “temporal weakness” (32) or who were a “waste of time” (35), with clear impact on the (mis)treatment of people with disabilities.
I appreciate this chronology of time and enjoyed thinking about the “time before the second hand” as well as the difference between a bell that calls us to worship and the chime on my phone that tells me I am late for a meeting. I agree with Swinton that there is a profound human and spiritual loss in the ways many of us order our life by calendars and clocks. And yet—while this may not have been Swinton’s intention—I also found myself suspicious of the inference that there was an era when time only signaled (devotional) relationship and was not linked to production. I think, for example, of women’s bodies, themselves a sort of a clock, with cycles and seasons, much of which can be understood in relation to production (of life, of nutrients) and which, simultaneously, embody relationality and even spirituality—all in ways that predate the clock of the market square. Similarly, the expressed needs of an infant (or animal) are as demanding as any alarm clock, and even those of us who are older in life can, perhaps, “tell time” by our own biological clocks and rhythms of hunger and sleep and energy and attention span, even if we were to disable all alerts on our mobile devices. Beyond this, it also seems that there are ways in which the “capitalistic” time of today (with hours, minutes, and seconds) can be profoundly meaningful, whether in support of human life (medication reminders) or relationship (a “date” with a friend for whom I might otherwise not “make time”).
In the end, while I am grateful to Swinton’s nudging that we turn off our phones or, at a minimum, be far more attentive to the ways in which we are attending to time and ordering our lives, I would suggest that the stories of the “deeply meaningful” time of the monastery bells and the “profoundly empty and meaningless” sense of clock time today (31) might be illustrative but not definitive, and, if over-told, could be dangerous. I would suggest that both eras are far messier, particularly as we consider embodied experience; there is no “golden age” or “better time” to which we can return. Attentiveness to embodied time—and not just to time that is enacted or imposed—also reminds us that the “time” of people with disabilities is, in fact, the “time” of us all, harmed by commodification and rigidity, defined by vulnerability and interdependency. We might see this more vividly when “we” look at “them” (and, especially, at persons with profound cognitive disabilities), but “we” are just as beholden to time, at least when we listen to our bodies and to the concrete realities of our communities.
Differing Paces of Time
One of the most memorable images in Swinton’s book was the “three mile-an-hour God” (67), drawn from the work of theologian Kosuke Koyama. As Swinton describes, “Koyama points to the fact that the average speed at which a human being walks is three miles per hour. Jesus walked at three miles per hour. Jesus walked slowly; Love has a speed” (68). The overall point here is that love takes time and moves slowly, something that we see in natural evolution as well as in the stories of Jesus. Swinton connects this to disability experiences, which might require us to slow down as we experience impairment (and simply walking a mile could take us all day) or as we attempt to communicate with someone with a cognitive difference (where sitting together for a long time might be necessary before a person returns a smile or joins in song). Swinton concludes that “slow is the new fast” (83), and that God’s time “is slow, gentle, and personal” (82).
Again, I am grateful here for Swinton’s reflections. As is true for many of us, I too often feel like I have to rush, like time is scarce, with deadlines looming (and passing). We (especially those of us with certain kinds of privilege) crave and need this invitation to slow down, to invest in friends and family, to mindfully engage beauty, to eat food that nourishes us, to be fully present. In the midst of disability, I feel this even more fully—gratitude for the invitation to rest when my pain is too high or to not be impatient when I cannot immediately understand someone. And yet sometimes speed is beautiful (for example, think of the Hamilton musical’s theme of “Non-Stop”). Similarly, an insistence on slowness makes me uncomfortable. This, too, is partly my feminist and liberationist consciousness, where “just wait” or “your time will come” are the words of the oppressor, of empire, of the status quo. As I was reading Swinton’s book, I wondered about the appropriateness of praising slowness in the midst of the Black Lives Matter movement, or the Dakota Access Pipeline protests, or the uneasiness of the recent US presidential election. I think about the woman experiencing domestic violence, or the day laborer (or adjunct faculty member) hoping for a permanent position, or for the person with a mobility impairment waiting for public transport to be upgraded. How long must we wait?
I do not mean to suggest that Swinton’s sense that “love moves slowly” is the same as suggesting that everything slow is good. He tries to differentiate slowness from sloth (71), and also observes that Jesus sometimes chose speed—as he writes, “Jesus probably did not wander slowly into the temple and slowly overturn the moneychanger’s tables” (81). But it seems that Swinton’s overall argument is that there is or should be a preference for slowness. As much as I want to say “yes” to the value of slowness, I am uncomfortable valorizing slow over fast, especially in a world indivisible from structures of power and privilege. I am also uncomfortable connecting slowness to disability, where sometimes even the person with dementia or Down syndrome might crave or need speed, and where even the person who is non-disabled might demonstrate profound slowness. I agree that in certain communities it might be beneficial to highlight the gift of slowness as a corrective to the pressures for speed and productivity, but I would rather see an approach where we might carefully and thoughtfully use (and value, and find beauty in) a variety of different speeds, based on needs and context, without any predetermination of which is best or ideal or closer to God.
Differing Evaluations of Time
If the image of the three mile-an-hour God was the most memorable one for me, then the most provocative was in Swinton’s discussion of “The Horror of Time” (165ff.), where he describes the linear and unchangeable nature of time, always holding a future of loss. Swinton illustrates this with two stories: the first, a multigenerational family gathering where a joyous reunion is also twinged with a recognition that this particular experience will never be repeated quite the same way again; the second, the story of a traumatic brain injury where the gravity of the injury seemingly created “someone else” (169) after the accident, significantly different than the “someone before.” In both instances, Swinton highlights the horror of time: “that it moves remorselessly and unstoppably onward toward death . . . nothing stays the same; there is no security; life comes and goes within the unchangeable flow of time” (167). Swinton then moves to theological language to highlight redemption in Christ, and especially the ways in which our identity is located “as lying outside the boundaries of our fragile bodies” (188), as a source of resolution for this horror.
Setting aside the ways in which my own Christology differs from Swinton’s, I was again both drawn to and worried by his narrative of time. At one level, I appreciate the language of horror to name the uneasy feelings that come in the midst of happy moments or nighttime anxiety. But I was again craving a greater sense of ambiguity. Even as the passing of time includes pain (and particular kinds of pain when trauma is concerned), it is also so much more than that. We talk about the healing power of time as, for example, in the need for time to grieve—we are glad when time passes. Similarly, we hope the days will pass quickly until we see a friend again, or until summer comes. Sometimes even at family reunions (the unpleasant sort, or even the unpleasant moments within happier gatherings), we hope that the time will move quickly and, perhaps, be soon forgotten. This sort of ambiguity around time passing is found in disability experiences as well. While the narrative of the pain and loss that comes after trauma is not unusual, we must also remember that sometimes the “after” is actually more favorable than the “before,” at least in certain ways or moments. And it is rarely as simple as gift or loss, good or bad. I think about PTSD, for example, where the past and present blur together, where nightmare and daytime are sometimes hard to distinguish, and where even genuine “horror” also includes experiences of strength and growth. I think about the multiple mixed feelings one might have at any given moment, how context and biology and environment affect our experiences and interpretations, how any event might feel different in retrospect than it did in “real time.” Even our memory of time changes over time.
The passing of time is horror, yes—but it is also a gift that I would not want to be without, perhaps not unlike how pain is awful and yet is also valuable and good. The danger comes, I think, when we favor one and forget the other, or when we try to make tight categories at all. It is dangerous, I think, to link horror too closely to disability or to trauma; it is not wrong, of course, but those same horrors (as Swinton names well) are part of the ordinariness of life, where a self is made up of hundreds of befores and afters, strung together through the meaning-making of individual and communal narrative. As we move into a deeper relationship with time, it seems important to note not only the horror but also the gift of the passing of time, and to highlight how both of these unfold in ways that are messy and multidimensional and open to interpretation.
In this book, Swinton invites us to become friends of time. As I conclude, I am reminded of the social media status “It’s Complicated,” a way of naming a relationship that does not easily fit into typical categories. I wonder, as I reflect on Swinton’s book, whether “friendship” is too small or tidy a category for a deep relationship with time. In part, I mean this in light of the type of “friend” we see in movies or greeting cards—as we reflect on actual friends, we know that these relationships are always complicated, whether it is the person you always enjoy being around (except for certain times) or the person you can trust with everything (except for certain things). Humans are messy, limited, complicated, imperfect creatures, and friendship is at least doubly so. But I also worry that the image of “friendship” might be too small here. I appreciate Swinton’s proposal as it adds balance or contrast to societal narratives—not (only) productive but (also) devotional; not (only) speed but (also) slowness; not (only) advancement but (also) horror. And yet I wonder here whether Swinton is aiming for a companion narrative or if he is proposing a counter-narrative that reverses our values but continues to privilege one way of being over another. As a companion narrative, I am grateful for the ways in which this book affirms much that is often overlooked or dismissed, including the wisdom that comes from disability and interdependent relationality. If it is meant as a counter-narrative, however, I worry that it does not attend as well to ambiguity and embodiment as it might, and, as such, could contribute to a continued understanding of disability as being one single thing (non-productive, slow, and in need of external redemption). Especially as one for whom Swinton’s Christian narrative does not fit, I find myself still conflicted by a “friendship” with time.
Living on Liminal Time
He it is who walks along paths that are no paths, leaving no trace behind,
through hell, hell which has no exit, no time, no being.
—Hans Urs von Balthasar
I have to begin by acknowledging what a privilege it is to be included on this panel. To have the opportunity to engage with a work as thoughtful and compassionate as John Swinton’s Becoming Friends of Time is a gift, especially in the company of such a wonderful panel of contributors. This is a particular privilege, since his earlier book Dementia: Living in the Memories of God was such an incredibly helpful book for understanding my own experience with my grandmother, who suffered from dementia while she lived with my family in her last years.
I deeply appreciate Becoming Friends of Time, a stunning and original work of practical theology that delves deeply into some of the hardest questions of our embodied existence and emerges with very clear and bold proposals. Because of how ambitious this book is, I do not think I can agree with him on all points. But most books with which one agrees completely are not worth reading. This one certainly is.
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Beyond simply being misunderstood, the disabled face a literal, physical threat to their lives. In the allegedly progressive, tolerant, and diverse societies of the modern West, we are staring down the real possibility of the extinction of people with Down syndrome, as their abortions have become almost perfunctory in Europe, and increasingly common in America. Swinton’s core concern in this book, as in much of his other writing, is to reveal the assumptions that would have us prefer our lives to be rid of the presence of the disabled. The same logic is at work when we presume that those with dementia would be better served by being euthanized than being cared for.
Swinton takes a pointed interest in the lives of those with dementia perhaps because they serve as a test case for how people who were once persons with rights become expendable. As with all other expendable human persons, the lives of those with dementia become disposable because we are able to convince ourselves they are no longer really persons, since they no longer meet our criteria for personhood.
Instrumentalism is the logic at work in both of these cases. Of course, human life has always been treated as an expendable tool in the hands of power. It is not a modern invention for the powerful to judge the value of lives on the basis of their utility. What Swinton reveals, though, is the way in which a new conception of time brought about by the industrial revolution came to be the primary arbiter between valued and worthless lives. He shows how the invention of the clock was a vital component in the rise of capitalism, unleashing new technology for the surveillance of speed which made possible new fixations on time-efficiency as a means of driving profit and progress.
This naturally gave rise to a new valuation of normal human life marked by speed and the conversely defective human life marked by slowness. So, in earlier times people with disabilities may have been thought of with many different characteristic features. The industrial West came to regard “the retarded” as essentially defined by single, universal characteristic: slowness. This ideology of “the time of the clock” brings with it a constellation of capacities necessary for acceptable humanness: “Thinking, speed, self-awareness, and autobiographical identity all become entangled in what personhood is assumed to be and what is presumed necessary to retain such a status” (31). And again, “As ‘time became money,’ so the disabled became a burden and a handicap” (43).
The great blessing of this book is its thoroughly theological perspective. Swinton does not pretend to write as anything other than a theologian, and that is a good thing. As such, he offers up an alternative account of time from the perspective of God’s interruption of our time in the life of Jesus Christ. In this account, we are invited to receive God’s time as a gift rather than a scarce commodity to be grasped after. In this time, we are freed from regarding others on the basis of their utility for advancing our ends under the threat of dwindling time. Rather, we have been brought into God’s time, where our lives are hid together with Christ. United in the broken body of Christ, the lives we once regarded as defective according to the world’s patterns of perfection are revealed as beautiful and valuable in a new way.
I am compelled by Swinton’s articulation of this vision, and embrace it wholeheartedly. However, I have questions about some of the conclusions Swinton draws from it, and hope to enter into dialogue on these points.
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My first question has to do with the broad application of this perspective on time to the very diverse experiences among folks with disabilities. One of the main difficulties in thinking and writing about the experience of disability is the fact that “disability” is a label applied to such a wide collection of impairments, complications, or just atypicality at work in physical, psychological, social, and mental manifestations. At times throughout this book, I struggled with a lack of acknowledgment of the possibility of different experiences of and relationships to disability (i.e., congenital versus acquired disability; static versus progressive courses).
Central to my concern is the way in which the ideology of time serves as a metonymy for the hostile structures of the world, which are understood as the primary source of suffering for people with disabilities. Swinton references the work of Nancy Eiesland early on, and his construal of time and disability in this book essentially fits her “social minority” model. While Eiesland’s powerful theological voice was essential in rejecting the normativity of typically-abled bodies, she nevertheless dealt in constraining norms of her own by insisting that the only thing wrong with any experience of disability is its social reception.
My fellow panelist, Deborah Creamer, names this dynamic very cogently in her book Disability and Christian Theology. “By emphasizing the social and political nature of disability,” Creamer argues, “the minority model devalues these individual challenges. When the experience of impairment is deproblematized, there is little room for people with disabilities to have a negative or even ambivalent relationship to their impairment.”1 My concern is that Swinton’s attempt to locate the negative effects of dementia in its social reception may curtail the ability to speak of the evils of dementia as they are experienced regardless of social setting.
We can never hear enough rejections of the demonic notion that disability is somehow God’s punishment. So I greatly appreciate Swinton writing, “It may be that people with profound intellectual disabilities are deeply implicated and influenced by sin, but that sin may well be located within their communities’ inability to share embodied love” (112). For many people in many stances toward their impairments, it is helpful and accurate to focus exclusively on the social and structural sources of oppression in their lives.
I wonder, though, might it not also be acceptable for some people with disabilities to regard their affliction as a facet of the inheritance of sin in a broken world? It would be hard to deny this in the case of someone who faced impairment as a result of physical violence. Although dementia may not necessarily have a cause to be blamed, there nevertheless needs to be freedom to speak of the oppression of the physical affliction itself.
From his own chaplaincy work, Swinton is well aware of the suffering undergone by those with dementia. I do not dispute that. However, the consistent emphasis on the external sources of their suffering almost implies that dementia is a neutral condition, the value of which is determined by its social reception. There is much good to testify to in what endures in spite of dementia, many encounters where presence is made known, joy is felt. The “what just happened” moments (135) are so powerful.2 Still, I am troubled by this impression of dementia’s neutrality. I find it hard to see dementia as anything other than an active evil; a weapon wielded by the powers of death attempting to separate us from the love of God in Christ. Even the most well-adjusted cases of dementia—the most well cared for, the most loved—nevertheless experience terror and feelings of abandonment. Many still feel abject horror and fear and anger on a regular basis. This is the work of death. And we must not call it by another name. The death that is at work in the affliction of dementia is not a neutral, “natural” facet of old age.
Elsewhere, Swinton has written of the need for recovering lament in our encounters with evil: “Lament provides sufferers with a hopeful language in which they can wrestle with God, self, and others as they attempt to make sense of the confusion that the experience of evil brings. Lament . . . enable[s] both individual and community to find healing, hope, and the ability to love God in spite of the presence of evil.”3 The language of lament allows us to deal truthfully with wounds that have not healed as we are gently invited to reveal them by the life of the crucified Nazarene.
We may ultimately find that lament allows us to affirm the experiences of loss, abandonment, and isolation on the part of those with dementia, while also affirming the personhood which is undermined by medical discourse in isolation. So, how might we go about opening up space for lament in the experience of dementia?
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Against the instrumental gaze of the time of the clock, Swinton locates our personhood within God’s time. He does so by grounding our personhood in the life of God. We are persons not because of our capacity for speech, our ability to generate profit, or our capacity for emotion. We are persons because of the electing love of God, who chose to be with us in the life of Jesus of Nazareth. Colossians 3:3 is a central passage in making this case for Swinton: “your life is hid with Christ in God.”
A theological basis of personhood is becoming necessary in light of growing acceptance that every unique capacity—from language to mourning our dead—is shared in some capacity by animals or ancient Neanderthals. It is also good news, considering how even those of us who meet (for now!) the criteria of acceptable humanness have our lives run by capitalistic ideology. So many lives have been sacrificed to the god of the market. I welcome Swinton’s call to renounce this idolatry by refusing to ground our selves in any source other than the gracious giving of God’s time through union with Christ.
I worry, though, that Swinton does not go far enough in specifying the particular character of the Christ in whom our lives are hid. We are told that our lives are hid in Christ but not a great deal on how they are hid, or specifically who this Christ is. Without this concrete specificity, it can almost come across as if this union with Christ serves only an instrumental function of securing a metaphysically unassailable hiding place for personhood that is difficult to ground elsewhere.
We are given an intriguing glimpse into the possibility of a more thorough identification with Christ as Swinton relates a story about Frances Young and her son Arthur:
Jesus’ abandonment by those who loved him and his exposure to violence from those who feared him opens up Arthur’s experience in a way that is both profound and revelatory of the difficult tension between God’s gentle, slow time and the anxiety-driven time that forms the backdrop to many of our lives. (123)
This passage invites us to consider how personhood in union with Christ might look if we tarried longer at the intersection of the suffering of Christ and the suffering of those with dementia. In particular to speak of time with Christ is to speak of Eastertide. As Paul says, “For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.” Our union with Christ places us in the context of time and movement between cross and resurrection.
I wonder if a vision of Jesus’s Eastertide may be in the backdrop of Swinton’s references to the dissonance and tension between lived experience and the promise of redemption. One place where a connection is drawn to the movement of redemption is in Swinton’s discussion of Hans Reinders’s use of “fall” language.
Reinders may be correct insofar as some folks may well feel their lives have fallen from grace. However, there is still an uneasy sense of theological nonresolution that inevitably accompanies the language of before and after and its juxtaposition to language about the fall. The story of God did not end with the fall, and neither does the story of people living with brain damage. After the fall came Jesus. With Jesus came redemption. (184)
This uneasiness with nonresolution sets our life with Christ in a binary: identification with the cross or the resurrection. Indeed, the stories of those with brain damage and/or dementia will not end in the fall. But it is also true that what they feel is reality: their lives are stuck. Try as they (and those who love them) may, Dementia enforces a space of liminality and will not yield in this lifetime.
While we must not acquiesce to experiences of death, we must deal truthfully with their reality. One way of reckoning with the perdurance of liminality on our end of the union with Christ is by attending to the time of liminality present within Eastertide itself: Holy Saturday. On Holy Saturday, we attend to this day between cross and resurrection on which Jesus lay dead in the grave. Affirming this day within God’s time may allow us the space and time to speak truthfully about the lived experience of death and alienation that will not resolve during the earthly lives of those with dementia. Holy Saturday allows us to affirm that precisely as we are held in Christ there is still a real perdurance of evil and death in our lives on this side of the eschaton. While we endure this death we are in Christ, and because of that we are not left with the “somewhat bleak picture of their present state and future possibilities” (184) that Swinton fears.
In developing a theology of Holy Saturday and its application to the lived experience of trauma, I have found the work of Shelly Rambo to be instructive and profoundly life-giving. In her book Spirit and Trauma,4 Rambo gives voice to a theology that sees God’s presence at work precisely in experiences of trauma, not simply in their being overcome. In place of a language of victory and overcoming, Holy Saturday affirms life by a witness of remaining and abiding in the strange life that exists mysteriously in the midst of death.
I am intrigued by the prospect of connecting Rambo’s work on trauma with the experience of disability. Particularly striking is Rambo’s development of the concept of “middle spirit” which she describes as operative on Holy Saturday. This “middle spirit” has strong affinities with the “liminality” of dementia. She writes, “Between death and life, there is a testimony to Spirit, to a love that survives and remains not in victory but in weariness” (79–80). It is this testimony that is needed as we walk with those suffering dementia, rather than an immediate, triumphal movement from cross to resurrection. For such triumphant narratives simply do not do justice to the wounds of dementia and acquired brain injury, wounds that remain with us.
* * *
For those living with dementia (and I suspect for the many people who experience trauma as an enduring wound), they live in a gap that simply will not be bridged. We may (and must!) give the best care we can, offer the most faithful companionship, and explore creative points of contact; nevertheless, we cannot stop the tide of darkness rolling in on almost all people with dementia. In light of that, I struggled with some of Swinton’s language which seems a bit optimistic about the resolution that might be accomplished for those with dementia.
This comes through in a beautiful passage, which poignantly evokes the difficulty at the heart of trying to speak theologically about a condition of enduring brokenness. He writes,
In the case of people living with acquired brain injury and the experience of the changes they go through, we might encounter a similar dissonance between theological and experiential effectiveness, only this time the dissonance arises from the tension between what we know about God and ourselves and what we feel about ourselves and see within ourselves. Despite the fact that God in the power of the Spirit is ministering to us and holding our identity in a place of hiddenness in relation to who and whose we are, we may not feel the importance of realizing that we are who we are only in Christ. The theology may be so distant from the experience that it makes little sense. We may have developed a theology that bridges the gap between before and after, but unless it is accompanied by a set of practices that bridges the apparent experiential gap between theological and operational effectiveness, nothing much will change. The question is, What kind of timefull practices can help ensure that our theologically effective perspective on being in Christ is accompanied by ways of being in the world that are operationally/experientially effective? (196)
What needs to be addressed here is the belief that the dissonance, the gap between the reality of grace and the brokenness of our experience, must (let alone can!) be overcome.
I fear that naming the practices of the church as the means of overcoming the dissonance of our mortality may be off the mark in several capacities, but I will highlight three. First, it minimizes the real horror of looming death for those whose only companion is darkness by treating it as a thing that can be overcome by our practices. Second, it invites despair when we encounter the inevitable failure of the practices to overcome the dissonance. Finally, it may also lead us to an evasion of the actually unresolved dissonance enforced by an ideological insistence that the practices must “work” and therefore whatever we are experiencing must ipso facto not be that dissonance.
I support Swinton’s invocation of the practices of the church. But we should be clear about what they are really able and called to do. The practices do not change the world, and they do not change us. To ask them to do so is to ask them to bear false witness. What they may do, however, is help us to remain. They may help us to be content with not being in control of the world or ourselves, and so help us be present with those who are in a much more painful way not in control of themselves. There is no community, whatever space it makes or rituals it performs, that will be able to resolve the alienation and loneliness of a person who is no longer able to build new memories or form shared history. The church is not called to fix, but to abide.
At work in our desire to so quickly move from Saturday to Resurrection may be an unwillingness to accept our brothers and sisters with dementia precisely in the brokenness of their condition. I fear that moving too quickly to a positive construal may reveal our own secret belief in an instrumental anthropology in which we need the lives of those with dementia to be specially revelatory in some way, or just to “be positive,” in order for us to affirm their personhood. Our desire to imagine a wholeness onto the experience of radical brokenness may just reveal our desire to be a certain kind of church with certain curative powers. The harder task may be to accept them in the boring and mundane shape of their suffering, and embrace a life of abiding with one another with no immediate payoff in sight.
Creamer, Disability and Christian Theology (Oxford University Press, 2009), 27.↩
I remember my grandmother, looking up as I opened the door to leave for school, saying, “Adam, I pray for you every day.” Her sudden clarity and presence in that moment startled me. Swinton’s book has helped me better understand what was happening there as my time was interrupted by hers.↩
Raging with Compassion: Pastoral Responses to the Problem of Evil (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 129.↩
Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2010.↩
Time in New Creation
Apocalypse, Baptism, and Remembering
I am honored to participate in this symposium responding to John Swinton’s newest book, where as usual, Swinton exemplifies profound theological reflection alongside a creative pastoral resourcing for Christian practice. Swinton’s book is marked by a heightened Christological focus, particularly in his appeal to Barth’s soteriological objectivism, affirming the sole truth about human identity as grounded in God through Jesus Christ.
With this keen Christological focus, Swinton explores the theological nature of time as a gift. This gift of time offers not merely a point of interesting theological reflection but also holds significant implications for discipleship and the formation of Christian identity. In response to the stark realities of time economizing and normalizing a particular vision of the “right, desirable, and true” (51), Swinton responds with an alternate Christian “temporal consciousness” (28). How might Christians faithfully respond to God’s gift of time? For Swinton, the answer lies in practices marked by timefull discipleship: a slow, gentle, and peaceable way of being in time.
For Swinton, living in relationship with people experiencing profound intellectual disabilities provides a means of encountering a “different mode of time and experience, a mode of time that is personal, present, deep, loving, caring, and timefull” (47). Swinton also offers expanded reflection on the vocation of “being” among persons with profound intellectual disabilities. Interacting with theologian Kosuke Koyama’s book The Three Mile an Hour God, Swinton centrally claims “love has a speed” (68). In faithfully responding to time as a Christian disciple, Swinton emphasizes the necessity of becoming friends with slowness (73).
I wish to both challenge and expand Swinton’s prioritization of slow discipleship with attention to the role of apocalyptic time, particularly as it relates to Paul’s “in Christ” language, baptism, and Christian identity. Vocational witnesses to God’s love are not only faithful in practices of slowness and gentleness, but also in the mode of apocalyptic testimony. I will suggest that an expansion of Swinton’s notion of God’s time, as encompassing both slow and in-breaking apocalypse, might enrich and enliven Swinton’s interaction with baptism throughout his book, on both theological and practical registers.
God’s Breaking into Time: Apocalypse
Swinton centrally claims, “We need to learn what it means to become slow disciples. Frenetic disciples may get a lot of things done, but in doing a lot of things they may miss the very things that God is doing” (123). While disciples do not often encounter flourishing within frenetic practices, the life of discipleship is not solely constituted in slow experiences of God’s love. Throughout Christian Scripture, we see the slow and gentle movement of God juxtaposed by God’s apocalyptic breaking into the world in order to enact swift, liberating, and life-altering work. This apocalyptic mode of God interrupting time is not only present in the Revelation to John, but in the transfiguration, the incarnation, Saul’s conversion, and Paul’s description of baptism, particularly his “in Christ” and “new creation” language. For example, Pauline scholars often note the absence of a verb in 2 Corinthians 5:17, resulting in a heightened apocalyptic sense of what it means to belong in Jesus’ body: “anyone in Christ . . . new creation!” God’s disruption of time may also be exemplified in experiences of acquired disability and the horror of time, as Swinton examines in relationship to brain injury.
Swinton supports the primacy of God’s slowness from an evolutionary standpoint (67), however, as we see throughout Scripture’s narrative, and particularly Pauline theology, God’s work in time includes frequent apocalyptic movement. Swinton’s text raises tensions of how crucial Christian experiences and other identity “breaks” in the life of Christian discipleship—such as baptism or a traumatic brain injury—robustly integrate with ongoing sanctification, vocational discernment, and sustained practices of timefull discipleship.
From my own experiences as an occupational therapist collaborating with many people with acquired disabilities, some of the most critical moments of revelation emerge from times of breakage. I have had the immense privilege of listening to stories of radical encounters with God through the disruption of an accident, a conversion, or a poignant moment of forgiveness. I question how Swinton’s argument holds together both realities of the sometimes slow and sometimes apocalyptic nature of God’s love and how gentle practices of discipleship might welcome both these modes of God’s participation in time.
In a similar vein, I wonder if Swinton’s argument restricts a potential apocalyptic witness emerging from relationships with people with profound intellectual disabilities. My own experience as both a clinician and a disciple of Jesus has been disrupted in holy ways by patients and friends with profound intellectual disabilities—their “vocation of being” suddenly breaking me out of rigid patterns of efficiency at my church or job. Might a consideration of the apocalyptic witness of disability provide an alternate and equally powerful testimony to God’s love and coming reign? If so, I am curious how Swinton might wish to expand his account of slow discipleship to encompass moments of apocalyptic witness, particularly the power of God’s liberating disruption to testify to the coming of the New Creation. Building on the theme of baptism interwoven throughout Swinton’s book, might baptismal participation serve as a prime example of God’s in-breaking witness hinging on Christ’s death and resurrection? This kind of witness, alongside that of slow discipleship, may powerfully serve as a kind of “contemporary apocalyptic”1—a means to unmask the idolatrous cultural entrappings of the modern Christian West and to practically enact a vision of God’s good future.
Baptism and Time
In Swinton’s text, baptism appears as a communal means of initiating new disciples into the story of Jesus—through baptism one becomes a part of the church, and therefore, belongs (109). Baptism is a radical act that helps guard against the assumption “that certain ways of being in the world are a waste of time” (36), in that it deconstructs progress as the measure of what is good, true, and beautiful. Willie Jennings, reflecting on racial formation and baptism, suggests how the apocalyptic work of baptismal renunciation deconstructs a Christian orientation toward time contingent on progress:
Although renunciation surely points to a central work of confession and the gesture of turning away, it builds directly from the decision to follow Jesus and live inside his repentance, his own turning away. We are turned in and toward his body, that multitudinous body which collapses the visions of the true, the good, and the beautiful formed by various peoples, clans, and nations. This operation of renunciation first disrupts the processes of racial becoming which have placed all peoples on trajectories toward the original colonialist dream of having global significance, endless resources, and eternality. (288, emphasis my own)2
Jennings’s work both highlights the disruptive nature of baptism and raises an interesting critical perspective for Swinton’s work from the vantage of racial formation: might Swinton’s vision of slow discipleship privilege particular people groups who do not face social conditions contradictory to slow practices of discipleship? Relatedly, how might Swinton’s vision of discipleship disrupt violent and anti-Christian “processes of racial becoming”?
Returning to the apocalyptic nature of baptism, Jennings continues, “Baptism is also about becoming . . . Renunciation in this regard breaks open and reroutes every determination of life . . . What we renounce is not a single path of life, but every path of life that does not wait on the Spirit of God to speak guiding words to us surrounded by sisters and brothers different from us who together with us call on the name of the Lord in many tongues” (288, emphasis my own).3 As Jennings powerfully describes, baptism holds together the apocalyptic work of God in Jesus Christ with the slow work of discipleship in waiting on God’s Spirit embedded in the diversity of Jesus’ body. Apocalypse is a necessary companion to slowness. Especially at critical points of enacting justice, of renunciation, and of liberating deliverance, divine apocalyptic action and witness to this divine apocalypse through practices of discipleship, is crucial.]
Swinton reflects on this reality through Paul’s “in Christ” language, arguing, “through Christ we are included in Christ. When we come to realize that all that needs to be done has been done in Christ, we come to realize that all that we are and all that we can be is who we are in Christ” (187). Becoming a “timefull people” for Swinton hangs on Jesus’ action of opening the fullness of time to all the world and drawing all “creation into the heart of God” (63). This action of Jesus offers a paradigmatic vision of God’s apocalyptic relationship with time, deeply resonating with baptismal theologies and practices. Baptism exemplifies a core practice of Christian communities that witness to God’s in-breaking work. Attention to baptism in connection to God’s opening of the fullness of time provides a way to expand Swinton’s vision of Christocentric time while also expanding his exploration of identity and belonging “in Christ.”
Paul’s “in Christ” language, the anchor of Christian identity, comes alive for Swinton in communities of belonging and slow discipleship:
Within Jesus’ body diversity has become the new norm, and living faithfully in the midst of diversity is the expected way of being in the world. As people are baptized into the body of Christ, so they enter into a space of deep and radical belonging. Within the body of Christ, every body has a place, and every body is recognized as a disciple with a call from Jesus and a vocation that the church needs if it is truly to be the body of Jesus. (208)
This radical community of belonging, witnessed and born anew in the apocalyptic work of baptism, certainly excites me about the power of slow discipleship within contemporary communities of faith. However, I remain cautious to affirm the experiential power of this theological claim for many contemporary churches. Though many faith communities would certainly offer a robust affirmation of Swinton’s theological vision in doctrine and even proclamation, most communities remain in desperate need of accompanying practices to enact this kind of baptismal imagination. Beyond affirming the vocation of “being” and the centrality of baptism for a radical actualization of Christian belonging, sustained communal practices that enliven discipleship in response to the apocalyptic work of Jesus are desperately needed.
In an anecdote regarding pastoral responses to questions surrounding re-baptism, Swinton helpfully highlights the experiential effectiveness of the practices that sustain a vocation of timefull discipleship, in contrast to the primarily theological effectiveness of the apocalyptic witness of baptism (194). Swinton identifies the “absence of an embodied memory of baptism” (196) as troublesome for many Christians, in the sense that a lack of embodied memory largely disconnects baptism from a vocation of discipleship. Building upon Swinton’s acknowledgment that both modes of effectiveness (experiential and theological) are needed for faithful living, I argue that practices of baptismal remembrance serve as a sustained and timefull practice capable of holding together the apocalyptic nature of baptism, while also working experientially to sustain practices of slow discipleship. Through practices of baptismal remembrance, God’s slow and apocalyptic interactions with time are held together. The radically Christocentric work of baptism is re-centered at the core of what it means to live in the baptismal vocation of discipleship.
Baptismal Remembrance and Christian Identity
Practices of baptismal remembrance help expand both Swinton’s key focus on the slow work of God and the vocation of discipleship, as well as his notion of memory as “sensuous, embodied, and timefully free” (150). Remembering one’s baptism consists not only of reciting verbal re-affirmations of one’s baptismal promises. Instead, this deeply timefull, communal, and embodied practice of remembering includes the sight and sound of the baptismal waters, the tactile sensation evoked by sprinkling, smelling the chrism oil, hearing songs or hymns associated with baptism, and a kinesthetic encounter as one walks or wheels to a baptismal font to encounter the holy waters of disruption, perhaps even marking oneself with the waters in the sign of the cross. These embodied practices remind the gathered community of baptism’s power to shape vocation to discipleship. These practices of remembrance ground baptism not only in theological effectiveness, but in repeated embodied experience, underscoring what Swinton understands as the key to vocation: “being called out of perceptions of ordinary time, wherein our future is a matter of personal choice, into God’s time, a mode of time where our vocation can be seen as participation in God’s redemption of time” (116). In her book Efficacious Engagement: Sacramental Participation in the Trinitarian Mystery, Kimberly Belcher also affirms this expansive embrace of God’s time present in baptism and practices of baptismal remembrance, where the witness of baptism is “not a static declaration of God’s past and present work but provokes a crisis of recognition in the hearer, demonstrating that salvation is both ‘at hand’ and ‘yet to come.’ In this way it can be considered prophetic, because in declaring the work of God it also evokes a recognition and response that becomes, for the hearer, justification and liberation” (135).4
Swinton’s emphasis on a vocation of “being” among persons with profound intellectual disabilities as “a deep and powerful vocation” (124) is, I believe, strengthened in light of the baptismal framework I have proposed above. “Being” grounded in baptism connects one’s vocation to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It binds one’s body, through both baptism and practices of baptismal remembrance, to the very body of Jesus which displaces notions of allegiance to progress and achievement bound up with Western conceptions of time. Swinton’s notion of re-membering as a sustained training to pay attention to the whole body of Christ—a body in which every body has a place—requires a breadth of practices to freshly remind the gathered community of the vocation to discipleship for each body. Embodied practices of baptismal remembrance serve as an ongoing training in paying attention to one another in light of the mighty acts of Jesus Christ, uniting disciples in Christ’s death and resurrection, and heightening perception to God’s radical in-breaking work of New Creation.
Swinton has provided us with a tremendously important theological exploration of time, a practically focused means to faithfully engage disability, brain injury, and memory loss from a theological perspective. Swinton’s centering of Christological commitments, the vocation of discipleship, and friendship with slowness, open up new ways to deepen communal practices related to belonging. I hope my critiques of Swinton’s focused account of slow discipleship reflect the importance of his work in its ability to enliven and expand future conversations about time and disability, particularly by examining new ways to hold different approaches to time in tension, such as slowness and apocalypse, and connectedly, to enliven practices of re-membering within faith communities toward an end of more robust Christian formation.
James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009).↩
Willie Jennings, “Being Baptized: Race,” in The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics, 2nd ed., edited by Stanley Hauerwas and Samuel Wells (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell, 2011), 277–89.↩
Kimberly Hope Belcher, Efficacious Engagement: Sacramental Participation in the Trinitarian Mystery (Collegeville: Liturgical, 2011).↩
Time, Disability, and the Speed of Theology
Becoming Friends of Time puts forward a proposal anchored in the saving work of Christ that treats the topics of time, memory, and disability from the perspective of discipleship. John Swinton offers an astute diagnosis of the problem with clock-time in the modern Western world and suggests a way out. He explains that when progress replaced providence as the “means of understanding the direction and meaning of time . . . any perceived difference in capacities inevitably came to be seen as a form of suffering insofar as it prevented people from fully engaging in the forward, progressive movement of time and history that is required for the betterment of the species” (42–43). On this view, any condition that causes someone to inhabit time less efficiently must be eradicated. Becoming Friends of Time offers a corrective to this modern error, reminding us that in God’s economy, time is gift (78). In fact, Swinton argues that inefficiency-creating conditions reveal flaws in the notion that time must be used for progress. “[Vulnerable] lives act as reminders of the fragility of our cultural idols of reason, intellectual prowess, autonomy, freedom and self-representation. Reminding people of such fragility challenges our taken-for-granted perceptions of human flourishing and draws out anxiety and fear” (36). (Not only that, but I would argue that the benefits to be gained from spending time with people whose pace is considerably slower than that set by clock time can also be found in sharing life with very young children—good news for parents!)
In Swinton’s proposal, unseating progress as the regnant secular doctrine turns certain assumptions about people with disabilities on their head. “In God’s time,” he writes, “the idea of killing people with dementia because they are a drain on our resources and cannot contribute to the so-called good of society seems to come crashing in from another world and another time. Likewise, the suggestion that the world would somehow be a better place without people with Down Syndrome is revealed for what it is: a mistake” (82–83). I agree wholeheartedly with this claim, both as a theological ethicist and as the mother of a girl with Down Syndrome. In what follows, I want to explore some aspects of “God’s time” and the nature of slow discipleship. My response comes in two main parts: first, a probing of the theological account of time, in conversation with Augustine’s Confessions; and, second, further discussion of the gift people with intellectual disabilities can bring to the body of Christ.
Augustine and “God’s Time”
Augustine has more to offer than Swinton’s brief discussion of his account of time indicates. In the first place, Augustine could come to be an ally for theologians writing on intellectual disability, even as Aquinas has. (I hope to make this argument in a future essay.) In the second place, and more significantly, reference to book XI in the chapter entitled “Time and Christ” does not begin an extended discussion with the text directly. Instead, it opens up a conversation among modern theologians. This treatment of the topic of book XI is unsatisfying not because of the voices that we do hear, but because of the voice that is heard least: Swinton’s own. The remarkable insight and wisdom that makes the conversation with his interlocutors and his reading of Scripture so compelling is not brought to bear directly on the text of book XI. Instead of concentrating on some of the things that Augustine says about time that could contribute to his proposal, Swinton addresses a vague criticism of Augustine and engages modern commentators on Augustine to deal with the perceived problem of “timelessness.”
Yet Augustine’s own description of eternity suggests a way out of this problem. Eternity resembles perfect attention in the present, rather than the cold and distant notion of “timelessness” that Swinton brings in John Howard Yoder to counter (59). Augustine explains how God’s being transcends time. “In the sublimity of an eternity which is always in the present, you are before all things past and transcend all things future, because they are still to come, and when they have come, they are past . . . but . . . your Today does not yield to a tomorrow, nor did it follow on a yesterday. Your Today is eternity” (XI. 16). Eventually the discussion does come round to something like this, by way of Jonathan Tran’s employment of Augustine. But we are missing Swinton’s own interaction with the text, which would bring to bear his practical experience as a mental health nurse, a minister, and a practical theologian. (It’s tantalizing to think about what that interaction might have yielded.) Similarly, the notion that eternity “designates life without limit” (seemingly attributed to Tran) originated within a hundred years or so of the Confessions. Boethius (475–526) described eternity as “the total and perfect possession, present all at once, of life without end” (“interminabilis uitae tota simul et perfecta possessio”; tr. Anthony Esolen, personal correspondence). On this interpretation of eternity, the difficulty we humans have in thinking about how God knows time (and everything that happens within it) is that we can only know events in time as successive, whereas God knows everything as we know the present moment. So Augustine’s description of our experience of time as being really three times, the present of the past (memory), the present of the present (attention) and the present of the future (expectation) also points to the similarity between the immediately present and the eternal. Augustine’s account of eternity gives the impression of ceaselessness, whereas “timeless” suggests fixity. Considered in more detail, this concept of eternity illuminates an aspect of God’s time worth exploring further.
There is a second aspect of God’s time that might also have benefited from Swinton’s own reading of book XI. The attention given to timelessness draws the reader’s attention away from one of the key ideas in the chapter: that “the purpose of time is to facilitate and sustain love” (58). This observation might follow from what Augustine says about time in the Confessions, although the argument for this understanding of time does not draw on book XI much. I say it might follow because although Augustine says a good deal about how we ought to conceive of time, he is less explicit regarding time’s purpose. As a dimension of creation, time offers what creation itself offers: the opportunity to discover that we exist because of God’s love and in God’s love. In his ruminations on what time is, Augustine explains that God created the heavenly bodies and orders their movements, but those movements are not “time.” Augustine takes the example of Joshua to demonstrate this, but it also shows something about the character of time. “At a man’s prayer the sun stood still, so that a battle could be carried through to victory (Josh. 10.12ff): the sun stopped, but time went on. The battle was fought and completed in its own space of time such as was sufficient for it. I therefore see that time is some kind of extension” (Conf. XI.30). Likewise, in Augustine’s reflection on his own life in book XI, he regards time as a “distention” within which he is drawn (back) into God. At first Augustine describes his life as a distention “in several directions,” yet he sees only one of these as its proper trajectory: forgetting what lies behind and pressing forward to “the prize of the high calling” (cf. Phil 3:13), which is delight in the presence of God. Augustine’s telling of his life in the Confessions bears witness to the truth that “time is not an impersonal, free-floating commodity intended for the satiation of human desire” (58). Ultimately, indicating the purpose of time serves chiefly to tell us is what we ought to do with the gift. Augustine’s study of time in book XI tells us something about what time is for without letting us forget that time is a mystery.
Digging into the Confessions book XI helps in two ways. First, further consideration of “eternity” draws us into the richness of the present (which is what God’s “timelessness” seems to be most like, according to Augustine and Boethius) and hints at the benefits of slowing down and paying attention. It’s not just “grounding,” like we could get from a spa or mindfulness training, but a taste of God’s eternity. Second, because time is a gift from God, what we do with that gift is an integral part of Christian discipleship. Since God has created the material universe and the time that orders its movements, as Christians we are required to learn the rhythms of God’s time. This isn’t something optional or extra, not a sign of special giftedness, but a commandment—as Swinton reminds us: Sabbath rest is a commandment. Living without anxiety isn’t just for some special Christians, but for all Christians: it is an indispensable aspect of discipleship, just as neighbour-love is essential and idol-worship is anathema. Far from being objects of our charity, folks who inhabit time differently help us not only to slow down, but to enter into God’s time.
The Gift of the Paralytic and the Nature of “Slow” Discipleship
In chapter 5, “Time and Discipleship,” Swinton quotes me saying that the example of the paralytic suggests that getting to Jesus doesn’t have to be something we do by our own strength or initiative (99). There is more to be said here about the paralytic and the character of discipleship in support of John’s argument for the vital role of people with intellectual disabilities within the body of Christ. I wish to elaborate first on the example of the paralytic. In Luke 5, the friends of the paralytic are indispensable. Without their willingness to help, he would not be able to get near Jesus. From the perspective of the reader, his need for physical healing—his disability—is all he has to offer. The way the scene unfolds, however, suggests that not only is discipleship not a solitary, do-it-yourself project, but that the one who seems mostly to need help actually has an indispensable role as well.
Immediately preceding the drama of the roof removal, the reader of Luke’s gospel is treated to a couple of narratives of healing, and given the information that “the power of the Lord was with him to heal” (Luke 5:17 RSV). The stage is set for another healing, and it appears as though his helpers have brought the paralyzed man to be healed by Jesus. But Jesus responds in an unexpected way: he announces to the paralytic that his “sins are forgiven.” The physical healing follows, as a confirmation of the forgiveness (which God alone can give); it isn’t the focus. Although the paralytic seems to offer nothing except his need for healing, his paralysis gives his friends a reason to go to Jesus and becomes an occasion for Jesus’ identity to be more fully disclosed. It appears that the paralytic only receives—help from his friends and healing from Jesus. Yet he plays the central role in the unfolding of the narrative.
Swinton tells a beautiful story about another helper who needed to be brought to Jesus, which illustrates the dynamic I have described. Michael, an assistant, had to accompany “David, a middle-aged man with profound intellectual disabilities, to the chapel,” although he hated going—he was an atheist. But when David died unexpectedly, Michael found that he missed going to Mass. The one he was helping transformed him, by bringing him to Jesus: “David’s heartfelt desire became Michael’s salvation” (123): this is the gift of the paralytic, the one who brings us to Jesus.
Yet the paralytic only gets us so far in our consideration of the discipleship of people with significant cognitive impairments. To need help is only the first step; the next step is to trust. As Swinton explains, the disciples “responded to his call because they trusted Jesus even though they did not truly understand him or know the fullness of his identity” (99). There are numerous examples of blundering disciples in the gospels, but there is a more favourable instance in John 6. Crowds have been following Jesus. But when he starts talking about eating his flesh and drinking his blood, many turn away. So Jesus turns to the twelve, and asks whether they’re going away, too. Peter’s response is famous: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.” Note that he doesn’t say, of course we’re not going, Jesus. We get it. We’re with you. Rather, Peter expresses their trust in Jesus: “you have the words of eternal life.” Following Jesus doesn’t require perfect comprehension; it requires trust in Jesus. And trust is possible for anyone, however cognitively impaired. The “hard sayings” challenge the disciples: those who go away do so because they don’t understand, and they cannot trust what they can’t understand. This is not a problem for those who have no choice but to trust; it is a problem for those of us who’ve come to believe that discipleship somehow depends on making rational decisions. Discipleship is about trust and following, especially when things don’t make sense.
Trust and the Speed of Theology
I said at the beginning of this response that what holds this book together is the remarkable insight and wisdom of its author. John Swinton demonstrates the gentleness to which the book’s title refers. He engages thinkers from a wider range of disciplines, and moves the discussion forward with patience and always charitably. A great many authors rely on criticizing others to make their arguments. But not John. His proposal is made in gentle conversation with his interlocutors, not by pointing out their shortcomings. The whole tenor of the book is one of trust rather than competition.
While I may have criticized (gently, I hope) certain aspects of John’s argument, I have nothing but admiration for his theological instincts, which are borne of long experience of following the three-mile-an-hour God. Slowness is necessary if we are to see what the Father is doing, which is what theology is all about, in the final analysis. What Swinton does extremely well in this book is to show us how to draw together practical experience, academic work, and biblical wisdom. He begins from the sure belief that people with intellectual disabilities and other cognitive impairments are made for life in Christ’s body, just as much as those of us who write books and respond to them. Drawing that belief into conversation with a very broad range of sources, he has written a perceptive book about a complex set of issues relating to the way in which we think theologically about time, memory, and cognitive impairment. Not only our academic discussions, but our discipleship will benefit from it.
Belonging Has Rhythm
John Swinton’s recent book, Becoming Friends of Time, opens up important new areas of consideration for the growing literature in theology and disability. I’ve been an admirer of John’s work for a while now, and see this new project extending a line of research that is reflected in previous writings, particularly following his award-winning book, Dementia. My thoughts here are structured in two steps. First, I offer an interpretive rendition of what I take to be four key themes in the book that seem generative in providing insights, possibilities, and challenges moving forward the discussion on theology and disability. Second, and to conclude, I begin to think through some of these generative themes, briefly raising two questions that open up possibilities for further reflection.
First, while the four basic areas around which I’d like to structure my thoughts stem from the book, they don’t necessarily reflect the order in which the chapters develop. All of them are interrelated, and in my scheme here, will move with increasing focus toward the idea of discipleship, a prominent theme. I’ll name them here briefly. The first concerns “practical theology,” which John argues, and I agree, is an approach most suitable for understanding and speaking to the very real intersections of theology and experiences of disability. The second is an important critique of normate conceptions of time—the rationalized sense of “clock time” that orients and drives modern Western society, which John, drawing on Benjamin Whorf, calls “Standard Average European Time” (SAET)—within which certain kinds of bodies are deemed “behind” and “slow,” unproductive and inefficient, and disabled. This corresponds to a third, point, which seems to me to be a crucial axis around which book revolves, namely, that social access and belonging have a fundamentally temporal dimension, and are not simply about spatial orientations. Genuine access and belonging involve an orientation to time, indeed, a critical reorientation, for which a theological moment is required. The fourth theme, discipleship, emerges in connection to such a reorientation, which involves becoming “friends of time” (a term John draws from Jean Vanier) as followers of Jesus in relation to the experience of disability. Interestingly, then, the key question (as I see it) is not what church communities need to do to become more welcoming of people with disabilities, but instead: “what does it mean to be a disciple in God’s time with people with disabilities?” This opens up generative possibilities for moving beyond approaches rooted in desires to contain, cure or somehow normalize disability, and for moving beyond thin accounts of inclusion, instead gesturing toward belonging together in mutual hospitality, in a time-full and gentle cadence as the body of Christ. Belonging in this sense has a distinctive rhythm.
Appreciating the benefits of such consequences, however, requires first stepping back and attending to the wider scope of John’s approach, that is, as a self-described “practical theologian.” A theology that aims to intersect with practice and be attentive to experience has two advantages. First, it is interdisciplinary in scope and attends to diverse experiences of disability. This is a significant strength because it acknowledges the complex and multidimensional linkage of time and embodiment. The book references a wide range of literature, from theologians like Augustine, Bonhoeffer and Kosuke Koyama to philosophers of embodiment like Ian Hacking and Merleau-Ponte, and decolonial literature, medical science on dementia and brain injury, liturgy and pastoral care. Particularly noteworthy is how the analysis focuses on different experiences of disability, devoting sections to severe intellectual disability, dementia, and brain injury. There is a recognition that the theological implications of time will reflect variously in different kinds of experiences, though in each it is the priority of God’s time-fullness and grace through which unique vocation and identity of all Christians emerges, and not according to human constructions of time and standards of normalcy.
The second advantage of practical theology, and its way of bridging theory and practice, is that it “attempts to hold the center” (6) between theology and experience in a correlation or conversation, where theology listens carefully to experience and experience is informed theologically. A kind of hermeneutical circle is created, avoiding both empty doctrinal speculation (for theology distant from experiential rooting may appear hollow and senseless) as well as aimless anti-intellectualism (as experience without theological perspective or orientation can be directionless). The issue is how to get into the circle in the right way, how to “hold the center.” John notes the tension, stating: “The question is, ‘What kind of timefull practices can help ensure that our theologically effective perspective on being in Christ is accompanied by ways of being in the world that are operationally/experientially effective’?” (196). If our experience is different than our belief, or vice versa, then there will be problems, a kind of crisis of dissonance.
This dissonance is what John’s interrogations of time reveals—the second key theme. The experience of time can become reduced to clock time as a mechanized and empty form of measurement, the social effect of which evaluates and regulates bodies according to standards of productivity, efficiency and, most generally, speed. John notes how bodies are compared against temporal standards, some becoming judged negatively as “backwards” in processes of colonial othering. Lost is a sense of time as God’s gift, and introduced instead is the tyranny of the clock and an obsession with progress and keeping up with time. The implications are wide reaching. Living within such a framework not only represents time as an object to control and consume, a scarce commodity (and there’s never enough time to buy or to go around), it also exerts a constrictive pressure that ends up excluding a whole range of bodies from social participation—the category of disability here representing a flaw or diminishment in the capacity to negotiate time. The point crystalizes in the idea that modern Western conception of time elevates speed as normal (SAET) and negatively judges what can’t keep up as “slow.” Perhaps, however, imagining time differently, as a gift of God offered in a rhythm not captivated by clock time, changes the whole setup, opening up a space within which disability appears differently.
When perceived from the perspective of God’s time, the experience of disability presents not as a deficiency but as an embodied difference inviting alternative possibilities for being together. John employs the work of Kosuke Koyama to reorient time in the form of Christ as a “three mile an hour” God, God with us in slow speed, moving from place to place at an average walking pace—a countercultural model of time in an age dominated by travel at high speed to “save time.” Love has a speed; it takes time. “Slow” now is reevaluated positively in a reversal that critically disrupts normalized conceptions of time, speaking prophetically against disabling ideals of temporality and cultivating instead new forms of inhabiting time together—via modes of access and belonging—that open “temporal space” for bodily differences that live and move in various rhythms.
With this we’re already in the midst of a third key theme, namely, that access and belonging require a temporal as well as spatial reorientation. Referencing Jean Vanier, John suggests that this kind of reorientation invites slowness, becoming friends of time (74) alongside of people with disabilities and in God’s capacious time. And in this connection, disability—building on the perspectives of Judith Snow and John Hull, among other authors, who reflect on living with disability—can be an invitation to receive what John calls “the gift of slowness” (72). Access and belonging takes time, and involves receiving gifts of time in companionships that are demeaned if hurried and pressed to conform to preestablished timelines.
Time is also closely aligned with discipleship, the fourth theme. As John notes, “When we (whether by choice, circumstance or necessity) slow down and walk with Jesus in God’s meaning-filled simultaneous time, we find ourselves noticing new aspects of the world and acting differently in response” (74). And what does acting differently entail? “Slowing down and paying attention to God’s time moves us toward the possibility of gentleness” (74). Time-fullness and gentleness are interconnected, modeled in Jesus. Discipleship then becomes a vocation, a call to live in God’s gentle time, which is restful and conscious of Sabbath as well as nonviolent and not driven by anxious captivity to the clock. The vocation or call to discipleship here is a gift of grace, not reducible to human norms or measurements of abilities. All have a vocation in a priesthood of believers. John repeatedly highlights how human identity is ultimately woven into God through the grace of Christ. Considering intellectual disability, dementia and brain injury, the book foregrounds various ways a person’s vocation can be revealed as a gift, irreducible to brain neurology or linear conceptions of time and memory that, for example, depict events in a scheme of “before” and “after.” God relates to human beings first, so relation to God is not a matter of knowing or doing, but of grace.
I appreciate how these four interwoven themes contribute toward transforming the way Christians might imagine time and disability, moving toward a model of discipleship that is connected to companionship and belonging among all members of the body of Christ, each person having different gifts to give and receive.
These themes also raise some related questions for me, which I will consider by way of conclusion. First, related to practical theology’s correlation of theological formulations and experience/practice, I value the way John is attentive to both sides. Yet I wonder if a methodological tension exists between—on the one side—suggesting that we first need to perceive things from within God’s time (theologically) in order to open alternatives to the tyranny of clock time that, consequentially, slow us down so that disability is perceived differently, and—on the other side—suggesting that the experience of disability reorients how time is perceived and opens up new theological conceptions. I read both as different yet interrelated ways that this book correlates experience and theology, and especially appreciate this as a parent/caregiver of a child with disabilities and also as someone who lives with depression—and who sometimes experiences the crunch of time in difficult ways. My experiences have provoked me to rethink theology from the ground up. The correlation of experience and theology moves in a hermeneutical circle, each simultaneously implying the other, as my experiences are already theologically laden and my theology is already contextualized by experience. Yet still, I wonder how to begin, whether I should first slow down and recognize God’s time in order to receive the gift of time, or whether first being in relation to my son and living with depression is an invitation to reimagine discipleship as gentleness. I read the emphasis in John’s book being on the former, yet not without qualification in many references to personal stories—e.g., Francis Young, Jean Vanier, and even Darwin. But does stressing the former threaten to undermine the method of correlation by which “holding the center” is possible, creating an imbalance that might lesson the creative gains of the project?
Another related question arises with reference to the way the experience of disability is addressed. I value the way John is careful to qualify what might be perceived as a theological reduction of the experience of disability to “spiritual blessing” or somehow “closer” to God’s time. “Slow” is a term taken up in a transgressive way to invert the temporality of normalcy, similar to how Paul in 2 Corinthians speaks of “weakness” or how Jesus in the Gospels speaks of the “last being first” or “least of these as greatest.” My question, however, is whether “slow” becomes the new “fast.” Does slowing down end up becoming productive and useful, but on spritualized terms? Can the reverse idealization of normalcy’s negative judgments about certain kinds of bodies inadvertently reinforce those negative judgments, still appealing to disability as “slow” against social standards of efficiency and speed? I read John as resisting this by honoring different kinds of experiences of disability, cautious to avoid homogenizing disability as a “spiritual teacher” by highlighting the countercultural power of gentleness. Indeed, “slow” can be prophetically disruptive of a system structured around speed as a management of time through elevated efficiency and productivity, inviting an alternative way of being together. But I am hesitant to embrace “slow” language to describe disability given the dangers of it being taken up to describe people with disabilities.
There are a number of related implications that emerge from these two questions. But I will close here by simply expressing my appreciation for such a stimulating book, which will no doubt influence future conversations on theology and disability.
6.19.17 | Jean Vanier
Inhabiting Time Differently
It was chapters 4, 5, and 6 which made me slow down, stop and reflect on all the consequences of what John is opening us up to in this book. Let me say first that there is a struggle within all of us to win, to win money, power, success and so on. This causes us to rush ahead to do things, driven by the ego that seeks an identity in power. Buddha says that some people can conquer one million men in battle. But the greatest is the one who can conquer his own ego, his need to prove that he is better or more worthy than others. And when we have ceased to be in competition, to see others as opponents and obstacles to success, when we have ceased to rush under the compulsion of our ego, we can finally meet the other. This means that to slow down, to live in God’s time, is fundamentally about relationships. It is about transformation, about becoming open to the beauty in the other. It is about meeting people, particularly those who are different. It is about becoming human. Is it not our capacity to be in relationship with one another that makes us human; that brings us human fulfillment? Our world is a place of struggle where few win and many lose. But maybe, if we can slow down, live time differently, it can become a place where we work together, each with their gift, to make of our societies a place of mutual recognition of brother and sisterhood.
Jesus came to reveal to all of us the true mission of God: be compassionate as my Father is compassionate. Do not judge and you will not be judged; do not condemn and you shall not be condemned. Forgive and it will be forgiven to you. In short, love one another as Jesus loves us. And people are to know that we are his disciples if we love one another. All of this means that we should take time to be with people. To grow in love is to grow in patience, gentleness, kindness, and openness. Are we not all on this struggle to grow in love for one another? This is the fundamental struggle at the heart of our lives. We need help, we need the Holy Spirit; we need community.
People with disabilities can be a wonderful Godsend. In so many and different ways, they are slower. Their concept of time is different. This means that, to be in relationship with them, we must learn to inhabit time differently.
Michael described his experience with Peter, a man with a disability in his community. Peter, he told me, walks about ten meters an hour. This infuriated Michael and he would struggle to push Peter along. One day, however, Michael was tired of putting on pressure. He decided that today he would walk at Peter’s speed. And a whole new world emerged. There were flowers and birds; there were careful handshakes and smiles exchanged. Being with Peter in his own time offered Michael a new vision of humanity.
Indeed, people with intellectual disabilities have a mission of showing others the road to humanness. Some people in our societies are fearful of those with intellectual disabilities. They are seen as not being fully human. Others are totally indifferent to their suffering. Some people, however, can become kind and generous when they see that the person with a disability needs help. Helping can, little by little, evolve into a friendly relationship. They may talk together; have a real meeting, each being truly present to the other, understanding the other. Generous people open up their hearts to people with disabilities in an even more general way. Their prejudice and fears begin to disappear. They are, in some ways, transformed by their friendship with people with disabilities. Little by little, they discover that such people are less capable intellectually and manually, but they have beautiful simple hearts, and a loving nature. They are not seeking power; they have the gift of real relationships. Being truly present to one another—particularly to the one who is different and has been rejected and excluded, brings us back to the question of time. We are then not concerned by our own success but by another person. We are living what John calls “God’s time,” not rushing ahead into the future, not rushing ahead so that we can win. To live this present moment, isn’t that the way we live in God? Is not prayer where God is present to us?
Let us move on to chapter 5 and 6 where John discusses the distinction between discipleship and belonging—an excellent distinction. The disciple is a follower of Jesus. He loves and trusts Jesus, he learns from him. He responds to the call from Jesus to enter into a deeper friendship with him. Belonging is about being all together a part of the body of Christ, a community of Christians, disciples together, belonging together, making up the church, the body of Christ. Each one needs the others; each has a gift to bring to the body.
Here John reminds us that people who are more fragile need the body in a particular way. They need to be recognized as a person and loved as a friend of Jesus. Did not Paul say that God has chosen the weak and the foolish, the most despised? The parish community must then recognize the presence of God in the weak. It’s not just a question of being with them at a Sunday service, but in recognizing that they are part of the body, they belong, they have a vocation, they have gifts to give to the living body of Christ. Belonging then becomes the sign of the true body of Christ. Christian communities and parishes are being called to truly accept people with disabilities in their midst as brothers and sisters in Jesus, as people who can bring us closer to God in a very particular way.
Over my years of living with people with intellectual disabilities in l’Arche, I have observed that they sometimes have hearts of children in adult bodies. That is their pain, but it is also their gift. Children, by their capacities of simplicity, wonderment, trust, love, have a lot to teach us all. To enter the kingdom of God, are we not all to become like children? Blessed are you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for having hidden these things from the wise and clever, and having revealed them to the little ones. People with intellectual disabilities have a lot to teach us, a lot to teach the whole church. If we enter into a real friendship with them, if we are in a place of belonging with them, they transform our hearts. They lead us more deeply into the heart of Jesus.
6.19.17 | John Swinton
Time, Humility and Belonging—A Response to Jean Vanier
A number of years ago I had the honor of being a part of the L’Arche theology group, a reflection group set up to think through some theological issues that were considered central to the organization’s present and future. The group was headed up by Jean Vanier, David Ford and Frances Young and met in various locations in France and in the United Kingdom. I remember flying down to Birmingham for one of the meetings. I got off the plane and jumped into a taxi. On route I discovered via a very friendly taxi driver, that Birmingham has more canals than Venice! My destination was a little nunnery nestled in the middle of a housing estate on the outskirts of the city. It was quite beautiful. A little haven of calm and peacefulness in the midst of a noisy vibrant city. I got out of the taxi and stood at the gates of the nunnery. There was a steep hill leading up to the front door. As I entered the gates I noticed Jean Vanier standing at the top of the hill. When he saw me he rushed down to meet me. He embraced me and said, “It’s so good that you are here!” Immediately I felt welcome; I felt that I belonged. I also thought I was going to suffocate from his embrace! We separated and he held my hand. Now, if you can imagine the scenario. A six-foot-four Catholic Frenchman and a five-foot-ten Afro Caribbean Presbyterian Scotsman walking hand in hand towards a nunnery, you will encounter a vision that goes some way to capturing the oddness of God’s kingdom. But the dissonance of that moment was a turning point for me. Love has no airs and graces; love simply loves no matter how odd and how awkward such moments of love may be. In the clasp of Jean’s hand I discovered an odd freedom that moved me to begin to see the significance of bodily presence for Divine love.
It goes without saying that Jean Vanier has been deeply influential to me in my theology and in my life and his presence is very much a part of the book we are discussing. The title of the book and some of the narratives within it reflects something of the way in which he has helped me to reimagine the theology and the practice of time. The main way in which he has helped me to understand time differently has been by watching him live out time differently. Jean and his life alongside people living with intellectual disabilities, not only helps us to see time as slow and meaningful; he also helps us to see the need for humility when we reflect on time. Jean has defined humility in this way: “The word humble comes from the Latin humus, for earth, the ground. So what’s humble is down here on the ground, the opposite of exalted or raised up.”1 If we take this into the context of time we begin to see that God’s time is not only slow time as I have tried to argue in the book. It is also humble time. Humble time does not see time as something that is above or before us. Rather humble time perceives time as something that is “down here on the ground”; something to be lived with and lived into. In humble time we leave behind our egos and live into a mode of relationality that can only be sustained if we move slowly. As Jean puts it, “God’s time is fundamentally about relationships.” As we become open to the beauty of the other we can be allowed to meet them in their fullness. My good friend and colleague Cristina Gangemi has produced some lovely work on what it means to meet with people living with profound intellectual disabilities.2 To meet someone requires more than simply presence. It involves looking at someone, seeing them as they actually are and learning to love and to receive love.
The nature, shape and form of our relationality is important. As Jean has put it elsewhere, “All one’s relationships are mediated by, or at least under the shadow of, the concern to be important in the ways that that is defined by the Normal: achievement, influence, competitive superiority, attractiveness to others, popularity, being admired, having privileges, and the like.”3 Standard clock time has an inbuilt tendency to desire us to be the lover of the norm. But Jean sees a different mode of time; a counter mode within which our world is turned upside down. “Our world is a place of struggle where few win and many lose. But maybe, if we can slow down, live time differently, it can become a place where we work together, each with their gift, to make of our societies a place of mutual recognition of brother and sisterhood.” It is precisely this counter-mode of time that I have tried to capture in my book.
What I see in Jean’s response to my book is a gracious affirmation that at a minimum I might be onto something. The fact that there are communities (L’Arche communities) across the world who not only see the value of a change in our perceptions of time, but embody such time and live into it and out of it indicates that living slowly might actually be a viable possibility. Jean and his friends within the L’Arche communities bear witness to God’s time in ways that are tangible, visible, challenging and transformative. My point is not that Jean Vanier is a saint. I am pretty certain that is not the case. Neither do I want to suggest that the L’Arche communities are idealistic bastions of God’s time; little pieces of heaven where time is constantly being redeemed. Living in community is hard work; filled with joy, love, pain, angst rejection and tears. My point is that Jean and many within the L’Arche communities might be best conceived as champions of time. People who desire to pay a different kind of attention to time and in so doing help all of us to live into a mode of friendship with time which is peaceful, transformative and faithful.
Robert C. Roberts, “Downward Mobility: Jean Vanier and the Humility of the L’Arche Community Movement,” The Table, November 1, 2016, https://cct.biola.edu/downward-mobility-jean-vanier-humility↩
Cristina Gangemi, I Belong Special: Leader’s and Parent’s Guide (Hampshire: Redemptorist, 2012). Gangemi et al., Everybody Has a Story (published research report, University of Aberdeen, 2010), 18.↩
Roberts, “Downward Mobility.”↩