I am reminded slowing down isn’t always terrible. The quiet silence in that slow moment can be quite beautiful.
Earlier this past summer, Ralph and I had a chance to visit Switzerland and Holland. In addition to visiting with family, we climbed the Alps, explored Amsterdam and biked along the North Sea. It was a surreal experience; stepping away from the familiar – and from our children – was unsettling and exciting at the same time.
Our first (albeit jet-lagged) hours in Basel, Switzerland included a bike tour led by our brother-in-law. One thing we noticed immediately was the change of pace; we saw people lingering over their meals and sitting for coffee. As we cycled through different parts of the city, we did not see anyone with takeout food bags or disposable coffee cups. The only mobile meals were picnics taken from indoors to the grass in the park or the steps in the city square. I thought that only existed on postcards, yet everywhere we toured, we glimpsed a picturesque sense of slow.
What’s in a word?
Playground chatter often includes the word slow as an insult to the child who can’t run as fast, and adults at the water cooler might refer to the colleague who is slow to catch on to the office humour. Healing from illness or injury often moves at a slower pace than preferred, and we complain when our internet service is slow to display our screen. Summer months bring incredibly slow traffic in the Niagara area. We are often trying to (im)patiently weave our way through the endless stream of cars and construction. In short, the word slow isn’t often a compliment.
This summer, I’ve been sifting through John Swinton’s latest book, Becoming Friends of Time: Disability, Timefullness and Gentle Discipleship. Swinton opens with explaining the history of time as we have come to understand it. Though the organization of our days within the parameters of time was initially created by the monks to instill a rhythm of faithfulness, merchants quickly adopted the system to instill an efficient pace of progress. Progress can positively influence and help a developing world, but it also creates a false sense of what fits and what doesn’t – what is normal and what is delayed, abnormal and inefficient.
In fact, when we move at a slower pace, we come to understand that being isn’t based on intellect and ability – but on simply belonging. Becoming a slow disciple means understanding the greater sense of belonging. Swinton writes that if we truly understand God’s timing, we learn to see disability not as an abnormality or a tragedy but as part of our understanding of the beauty of human diversity and the incredible beyond-linear-time spectrum from which God reveals himself.
“If slow is potentially good, godly, loving and beautiful,” John Swinton says, “the negative power of the term is significantly reframed. If slowness is in fact the speed of love, then there may well be a deeply revealing beauty in the slowness of disability and a profound challenge to the whole idea of stigmatizing slowing down.”
In a faster paced world, we can easily tuck away the demons and the flaws. We can fill our time and conversations with quick responses and busy schedules. Instead, Scripture reminds us to be deliberate and extra patient in our interactions. In doing so, we glimpse what we might otherwise miss.
I’ve had to adjust to a different pace as I care for my severely disabled daughters. People will ask if my girls understand me. The girls do, but it happens at their own speed. I can’t simply say, “Hi, Rachel” and expect her immediate response. I have to say her name and wait until she makes eye contact – and then treat her eye contact as a verbal response.
What I’d miss
If I didn’t make time to capture Rachel’s response, I’d miss a beautiful smile.
There are times when Rachel or Janneke are most content to have us quietly lay alongside them. Rather than wanting to be entertained, they have moments when they prefer us to simply sit with them. And in that slower moment of just being, I am reminded slowing down isn’t always terrible. The quiet silence in that slow moment can be quite beautiful.