The National Catholic Review
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I live at odds with the clock. With youth and energy, a type-A personality and multiple responsibilities, I often find myself in a rush, trying to cram a gallon’s worth of activity into a quart’s worth of chronos. My neighbor, Jack Schriefer, however, has shown me a more excellent way of relating to time.

Jack and his wife, Marianne, live down the road from our farm in an old white farmhouse with crooked doors and slanting floors. With their own children grown and gone, they have become another set of grandparents for our young children and trusted friends and neighbors to us. Alongside his day jobs, all his life Jack has farmed about 160 acres of corn, soybeans, wheat and hay. At 75, he has far more plans and projects for his farm than he will have enough lifetime to finish. He works hard, but he is unflappable and unhurried; and in fact he is famous around here for being “slow as a mole.” Even when things fall apart around him, I have never seen Jack become frustrated or angry. Somehow he has learned to accept whatever is happening with an almost otherworldly serenity.

While doing some fieldwork recently, Jack accidentally stalled out his rusty, faded-orange Allis-Chalmers 180 tractor. The starter button had broken long ago, so he climbed down carefully on creaky knees and employed his usual hot-wire method of firing up the tractor: shorting out the starter solenoid with a screwdriver.

A blue spark of current arced at the terminals, the starter cranked, and the tired diesel engine roared back to life with a belch of black smoke. Jack had inadvertently left the tractor in gear, however, so it lurched forward and took off on its own, almost running him over. Jack leaped out of the way and galloped after it, but he could not catch up. So he gave it up for lost and stood watching with Zen-like attentiveness as it bumped its driverless way across a hayfield toward the nearby woods. By his figuring, he told me later, it would eventually hit a tree and stop with, he hoped, just minor damage.

Suddenly, however, the 180 hit some uneven ground in the field and, true to its name, curved around in a wide arc, away from the woods and back the way it had come. With unerring aim, it headed directly for a nearby farm pond. Jack gazed helplessly as it chugged down the bank.

Fortunately, the pond had just been rebuilt and had little water in it.

Jack’s old tractor, which would never run when he wanted it to, now simply would not stop. It churned its way around the muddy bottom of the pond and motored right back up the bank very near to where Jack was standing, taking the whole scene in.

This gave Jack a second chance to catch it, and so on this one splendid occasion, he actually hurried.

Waiting for the right moment, he let the tractor pass by him as it labored over the bank of the pond; then he sprinted just in front of the heavy field roller it was pulling, took a wild, dangerous leap of faith onto the tractor’s rear hitch and clambered up into the seat.

Nonplussed, with no harm done to man or machine, Jack calmly finished his fieldwork and (wisely) shared not a word about the incident with Marianne until days later, as a casual aside.

The story, which Jack now recounts between belly laughs to any willing listener, has quickly become a local legend.

As someone who is usually in a hurry, I often feel that time runs away from me, just as Jack’s tractor did, or besieges me with the many (over)commitments of my life and its various vocations.

I do believe that to befriend time and recognize its sacramental quality means slowing down and “just being.” For this, Jack has long been my model.

But in wrangling with his tractor, Jack has also shown me that the true contemplative does more than just sit still and wait for revelation, as necessary as such a spiritual practice may be. Sometimes, attending to the transcendent moment demands not relaxation and deep, slow breathing, but a mad rush and great risk. Jack has diabetes and heart problems, and Marianne is battling cancer. I do not know how much more time they have in this world. What I hope is to be fully present to the moments we have been given with them, whether many or few, whether leisurely or at light speed.

With contemplative attention in such moments—or in any moment, really—chronos can give way to kairos: when God flings open the door to the divine realm and shouts, “Jump!”

Kyle T. Kramer is the director of lay degree programs at Saint Meinrad School of Theology in Saint Meinrad, Ind., and an organic farmer. chronoschronoskairos

Comments

6466379 | 8/31/2009 - 7:27pm

It's my experience that God is always shouting "Jump!" As with Jack and his wife Marianne life is like "an old white farmhouse with crooked doors and slanting floors" making jumping, that is, trying to respond to life's bouncing challenges in a Christian way, a daily experience. Life's circumstances, the "old 180" will run where you don't want it to go. But somehow in most ordinary ways God shouts affirmatively sometimes in whispers, "Jump!" and he does so at the right time - I mean in his right time!

God does love the jumping game - isn't that how creation happened, one evolutionary jump after the other? And isn't that the way human creativity happens, one intuitive jump one after the other? Interestingly that's also the way children play, jumping rope for example, or just plain jumping. I remember when our kids were little about 40 years ago, I'd hear them jumping for glee inside as they heard the key unlocking  the door as I returned from a day on the job, crying out as they jumped, "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!"Yes, as with children, jumping is one of God's favorite ways to communicate, an attribute noted by his son, Jesus, who said, "Unless you become as little children you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven!"

As Kyle T. Kramer said in "When God Shouts, Jump" "The true contemplative does more than just sit and wait for revelation" - he discovers it, no, he creates it! He listens as God speaks in ordinary words and acts in ordinary ways, then jumps and can sometimes get hurt but that's O.K. It's all part of the learning process. Christianity practiced makes all this happen, makes it understandable!

6466379 | 8/29/2009 - 4:12pm
It's my experience that God is always shouting "Jump!" As with Jack and Marianne my life (everybody's life to some degree I dare say) is like "an old white farmhouse with crooked doors and slanting floors" making jumping (I mean trying to respond to the bouncing of life's daily challenges in a Christian way) a moment by moment daily experience. The old "180" namely life's circumstances, will run where you don't want it to go. But somehow in most ordinary ways God shouts "Jump!" at the right time - I mean His right time, which Faith assures is the best time. And He keeps saying "Jump!" until it sinks in!
In a nutshell, so to speak, God loves the jumping game. Come to think of it isn't that how creation happened, one evolutionary jump after another? And isn't that the way human creativity also happens, one jump after the other? Interestingly that's  the way children play, jumping rope for example, or just plain jumping. I remember when our kids were little some forty years ago, I'd hear them jumping for glee inside our apartment when they heard the key turn the lock as I returned from a day on the job, crying out, "Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!" Yes, just as it is for children so too for God, one of his favorite ways to communicate is by saying "Jump!" That's an attribute noted by God's Son, Jesus, when he said, "Unless you become as little children, you shall not enter the kingdomof heaven!"
As Kyle T. Kramer said in "When God Shouts 'Jump'" "The true contemplative does more than just sit around and wait for revelation" - he discovers it, no,he creates it. He listens when God speaks in ordinary ways using ordinary language, then like a little kid jumps, maybe sometimes getting hurt but that O.K. It's all part of the learning process. Christianity when practiced makes is happen!
 
JOANNE MACPEEK | 8/24/2009 - 10:18pm

Your story sparked my interest...as I wait for God's call and wonder when to "jump"...your story of Jack gave witness to the myriad varieties of ways God speaks.

I retired from active ministry as a DRE and now await the next "call"...Thanks for your story...I will try to be as calm about life as Jack and  yet ready to jump up and on the tractor when it comes my way!

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