My unexpected sabbatical: A look back at Cambridge

Cmglee_Cambridge_Corpus_Clock_night There is a clock in the center of Cambridge, England. Actually there are as many clocks in Cambridge as there are churches in Birmingham, Alabama (where I am from). But the clock I am referring to is a special and unusual clock.

The Corpus Clock draws the attention of visitors and residents alike. For one, there are no hands on this clock. In fact, at first glance, one might not know that it is a clock at all! What draws people to it is its unusual appearance. Amongst a sea of brown and grey bricks and stones sits an encased 3-dimensional circle, almost 5 feet across in diameter, plated in 24-carat gold, and worth at least 1 million pounds if not more.

What is even more unusual about this clock is that the time is accurate only once every five minutes. Sometimes the clock slows down and at other times it races forward. Not to mention that what sits on top of the clock is a strange creature that looks like a cross between a grasshopper and a locust. This creature, also known as the Chronophage or “Time Eater,” opens its mouth as if he is eating time and occasionally blinks to show his satisfaction.

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Although the clock isn’t always accurate it truthfully represents our perception of time. For often time feels as if it has slowed down: when school or a work day feels like it will never end; when waiting for an appointment; or when waiting for test results. At other times in life time feels as if it is moving too fast, especially as a parent when you watch your children grow. Yet, no matter whether time has “slowed down” or “sped up,” it nonetheless passes and what is in the past will never be present again. This is why the Time Eater makes such an impression. For it illustrates this reality in a haunting way: time is eaten until it is eventually all gone, evidenced by the Latin inscription that marks the top of the clock: mundus transit et concupiscentia eius (“the world passes away and the lust thereof”) from 1 John 2:17.

One year ago my family packed up what we could fit in six suitcases and moved to Cambridge, England, for six months for my husband’s sabbatical. I’m crying now as I write this. Those were some of the best months of my life!

My husband teaches New Testament at Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, and was up for his first sabbatical since being at Beeson Divinity. He was under contract for a new book, The Acts of the Apostles: Essays in Interpretation, History and Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, forthcoming), which meant he wanted to spend his sabbatical at a good, theological library. Cambridge is home to the world’s largest (and best!) evangelical library, Tyndale House, not to mention that by being at Tyndale House he also had access to the Cambridge University libraries.

When our family of three moved to Cambridge, we did so for my husband’s sabbatical. Sabbatical comes from the Latin sabbaticus, which means to cease or take leave from work. You might also recognize the connection with the word Sabbath.

While Osvaldo was taking a paid leave of absence from his work as a theological educator, he wasn’t ceasing from work entirely. Yet, his reprieve from teaching allowed him to do something else that he loved – research and writing.

Then there was me. At that time I was a stay-at-home mom. Moving to England didn’t mean that I was ceasing from my work. I just carried it with me. His name is Philip, and at the time he was three. This won’t be a sabbatical for me, I thought.

What I soon discovered, about a month after being in Cambridge, was that indeed God was gifting me with a sabbatical of my own. But not in the way that you or I would think.

What moving to Cambridge did for me was that it took me out of my comfort zone and gave me a reprieve from expectations, commitments, temptations, cultural priorities, and even idols that came with where I was living. In this way, I was gifted a sabbatical.

The power of contrast allowed me to see those areas in my life and heart that had been controlled by culture or worldly things rather than by God.

Our way of living drastically changed. We were now living in a place without a car, TV, or 4G Internet access away from Wifi hot spots. Our home had no air conditioner, which surprisingly was a problem during the summer months, and no electronic clothes dryer. Part of my daily routine was to hang all of our clothes, towels and sheets! To get anywhere in town we would mostly walk or cycle and occasionally take the bus. This meant spending more time getting around town, which, consequently, meant more time in communication with my son, reflection, and prayer.

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This contrast brought clarity. The Holy Spirit opened my eyes to see those things in my life back home that were superfluous, that created unrest in my life (the opposite of Sabbath), and that were unpleasing to Him. Like looking at my reflection in the glass window of the Corpus Clock, by living in Cambridge the Holy Spirit allowed me to see myself more clearly. In many ways I had been living like that person for whom the Corpus clock is true – as if time was a limited commodity that I had to utilize before the Time Eater ate it up.

I've heard it said, "That’s the thing with idols: when you think you have a control on them that is when they really have control of you." For me, one of those idols was time.

The ironic twist in my sabbatical was that as life became more difficult (no car, TV, clothes dryer, etc) and thereby in many ways more time consuming, as I spent more time in communion with Him, and as time became less of an idol for me, the more time I had. My days felt longer. I had time for tea. For relationships. For conversations. For adventures. As a result, I experienced more freedom.

Within a month, I noticed a change in my spirit. Burdens that were once there, often placed by me, were gone. Life was simpler. Less time was spent caring what others thought, what others were doing and saying on social media, and trying to keep up with Pinterest, while more time was spent visiting parks. (We visited a total of eight while in Cambridge.)

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We took adventures. My first month in Cambridge, I was invited to a tearoom with other moms and children, whose husbands and fathers were studying at Tyndale. Going would mean cycling with Philip almost four miles one way without having a GPS. I screenshot some maps, packed a backpack and our basket on the front of the cycle, and we were off. With the help of several, kind English people, who gave me directions along the way, that little adventure took us down ivy-grown paths, along a river, past open, green fields, into an apple orchard where I eventually sat down for tea and scones with other women while the children played under apple trees.

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Whereas time before Cambridge was rushed and there never seemed to be enough of it, in Cambridge I was finding more time with the cessation of expectations (i.e., making a wreath for my front door or planning parties), material things, and the need to work and be productive all the time. Whereas my time in prayer and Scripture were rushed and not always made a priority before Cambridge, in Cambridge there seemed to be ample time for me to hear from God through His Word, prayer and Christian friendships.

As I reflect on our six months in Cambridge now that I sit back in our home in Alabama, where we have two cars, a TV, 4G Internet, air conditioner (hallelujah!) and an electronic clothes dryer, I am not the same person. Despite my longing to be back in Cambridge to have that way of life once more, God’s unexpected gift to me (and really to my entire family) of a sabbatical has stayed with me. Although I find myself back in a busier culture with different values and temptations than that of England (which has its own temptations and negative values), God reoriented my mind and heart so that I could discern better and easier between what was important and unimportant, what was good and what was stealing my rest and joy, and what was necessary for life and salvation and what was cultural.

As I think back to the Corpus Clock, it strikes me that the inventor of the clock only put the first part of 1 John 2:17. Either he didn’t know the rest of the verse or didn’t believe it. “The world is passing away along with its desires” would leave anyone depressed. Life is frivolous. Life is just a breath. You’ve heard it said, “Drink, eat and be merry for we may only have the night.” I feel that as Americans we often live in this kind of reality. Live this life to the fullest because we all have just “one life to live.” Perform, do, work. Hurry up! Time is passing, and you only have a short amount of time to accomplish so much before you die. In this way, even for the Christian living in the States, life can be hard, restless and pressed from every side.

Yet this is not how the story ends. In Jesus we have a “salvific but” in this verse. The “but” tells us there is an alternative to the prior reality. For some, there is a period after “the world passes away and the lusts thereof,” but in Christ there is a comma. “But whoever does the will of God abides forever.” What is the will of God? Jesus answers this question for us in John 6:29, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.” The world may pass away, but those who do his will – believe – will live forever and will never die.

You see, by Jesus Christ destroying sin on the cross and overcoming death in the resurrection, he destroyed the Time Eater. Those who die with Christ – by faith – will be raised to everlasting life. We won’t need a clock that tells us that time is passing by because time will never end. Instead of a Time Eater, we will have a Time Giver: Jesus Christ.

Before I went to Cambridge, I lived by a clock. Now that I am working outside the home full-time, in some ways, I live by the clock even more! But by the grace and mercy of God, the gift of my sabbatical continues. The reality that Jesus gives us is not one that has to wait until we pass from this life to the next; rather, it is one that begins here and now if we allow Him to be first in our life. You don’t need to go to Cambridge, England, to have this kind of sabbatical. As Jesus continues to reorient our hearts so that it is no longer bent inward toward self, time, and the things of this world, but arched outward to Him, He gifts us with rest, freedom and, ironically, more time.

 

 

 

 

 

Forever and Ever and Ever: Reflections on eternity

Lake Today is a day that we mark the passing of time and the hope of time to come. It is precisely because we are thinking about time in the form of a new year today that I want to offer some reflections on when time will be no more. We call this eternity.

 

Humans are obsessed with time. One recent example can be seen in the movie Interstellar. We are bound by time. And, we have a love-hate relationship with it. Time moves us toward the end of our days on earth. We hate it. Time moves us past hurtful and painful pasts. We love it. With time comes aging bodies. With time comes new birth. We know no other reality than that which is time-bound.

 

So when we think of a place where time is nonexistent, it can be difficult to grasp. At least this has been my experience.

 

From the time I was a little girl the concept of eternity, living forever and ever and ever, made me upset. I could not wrap my mind around this other reality and it scared me. If you ask my parents they will tell you that many nights I would come into their bedroom crying and afraid because I had been pondering on the idea of eternity.

 

As I grew I taught myself not to think about it and to reign in my thoughts so that I wouldn’t upset myself. Although I was a Christian and looked forward to the day when I would be united with my God who loves me, I still struggled with the idea of living in a world where time did not exist.

 

At some point in our dating or engagement period, the conversation came up with my now husband. He said to me, “Kristen, here is how I think about it. Imagine a moment or moments in your life when you were enjoying something so much you lost all track of time. Perhaps there is a moment in which you said to yourself, ‘I don’t want this moment to ever end.’ I believe eternity with God will be like that but better. It will be a place where you lose all track of time (so to speak because time won’t exist) and where you will enjoy it so much that you wouldn’t want it to end.”

 

What he said was immensely helpful to me. For I realized that even in a time-bound-world I had already experienced many glimpses of eternity, glimpses of what it is like to enjoy something or someone so much that even for a moment time could seemingly stand still or stop.

 

These glimpses were there in the perfect sunrise in the mountains. In the beautiful sunset at the beach. In the first holding of my son. In the embrace of my spouse. In the arms of my mother. In the hands of my father. In the laughter with close friends. In the California weather. In the Spring. In the saying of my wedding vows. In my first kiss with my spouse. In the singing of worship songs to Christ. In these moments where time was forgotten, where I was thoroughly enjoying myself, and where I didn’t want it to ever end, I was given glimpses into what eternity will be like with the Triune God.

 

I say these things by way of analogy to help us reflect on a concept that is in some ways completely foreign to us.

 

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Rev. 21:1-4 (cf. Isaiah 65:17-19)

 

For those in Christ, those who have believed upon Jesus and have found forgiveness of sins, eternity with him is our greatest reward. For Christians, eternity is nothing to fear. We will have never experienced so much enjoyment as we will when we are with him. And oh what joy to know that time will not be able to steal that moment away from us — ever.

 

A few days ago I was sitting on the front porch of my mother-in-law’s home in south Florida at that golden hour leading up to the sunset where the sky has turned to hues of purples, pinks and golds. The weather was perfect, with the temperature sitting at somewhere in the mid-70s, humidity low, and a steady breeze. Her front porch overlooks a small lake surrounded by typical foliage you’d expect to see in south Florida: palm trees, bougainvilleas, bright pinks and oranges. Ducks were paddling in the lake leaving little ripples behind as they swam from one side to the other. I sat there for a long time enjoying the tranquility of the moment including the feast that had been rolled out for my five senses. I worshipped God in that moment and didn’t want it to end. Another glimpse into eternity.

 

I'm no longer afraid of eternity, a world without time. Rather, these moments I've mentioned have helped me to look forward to that glorious day “when Christ Jesus I shall see, and I shall look upon his face, the One who saved me by his grace. … What a day, what a glorious day it shall be!” And that day, my friends, will never end.

 

“There is coming a day, When no heart aches shall come, No more clouds in the sky, No more tears to dim the eye, All is peace forever more, On that happy golden shore, What a day, glorious day that will be.

What a day that will be, When my Jesus I shall see, And I look upon His face, The One who saved me by His grace; When He takes me by the hand, And leads me through the Promised Land, What a day, glorious day that will be.

There'll be no sorrow there, No more burdens to bear, No more sickness, no pain, No more parting over there; And forever I will be, With the One who died for me, What a day, glorious day that will be.

What a day that will be, When my Jesus I shall see, And I look upon His face, The One who saved me by His grace; When He takes me by the hand, And leads me through the Promised Land, What a day, glorious day that will be."

(Song: What A Day That Will Be; Written by: Jim Hill)