The Good Life

Time, the Grand School of Love

by Abbey von Gohren

Time is the school of exuberance, the school of magnanimity. It is the grand school of love.

Hans Urs von Balthasar, Heart of the World

Love is most nearly itself / When here and now cease to matter.

T.S. Eliot, “East Coker,” Four Quartets

Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good part, which will not be taken away from her.

The Gospel of Luke

Some months ago, I was invited to the kitchen table by my 3-year-old son. He flagged me down as I was zooming around the house, sweeping up Legos, doing laundry, hanging a new shelf, trying to think about a book I was reading, starting dinner, and texting someone. He said: “Let’s sit down and talk about our day mama. Can we drink tea with milk in it?”

Fortunately, I had the presence of mind to recognize how special this invitation was. I brewed some tea and we sat down, and he kicked his legs casually and said, “So. Mama. Where is it that you get all the stuff you had to do today?”

Where had I gotten ‘all the stuff’ I had to do that day? I had no idea how to answer. The tasks didn’t actually appear out of nowhere, but it kind of felt like they did, and now they were beginning to overwhelm. I felt immediately like Jesus’ friend Martha, whom we meet in the gospel of Luke:

Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good part, which will not be taken away from her.”

So I got curious about this word “anxious.” The English phrase “to be anxious” traces back to a root word meaning “division” or “many parts,” which makes Jesus’ contrasting responses to the sisters make even more sense. One was divided by many things, the other had chosen one thing. And it was the right one, evidently. But how to discern which one of the many is the “good” part? And assuming we can figure out what it is we ought to choose, how do we remain fixed upon only that in daily life? These are particularly challenging questions in a world where time itself is divided into ever smaller and varied increments – days, months, years, hours, minutes, seconds, weeks, quarters, semesters, school years, calendar years … all plotted out in our day-planners, google calendars, and bullet-journals. Time moves forward and divides and disperses with a speed that only seems to grow faster the older we get.

Surprisingly, perhaps it is linear time itself, with all of its irresistible forward force, that will teach us how to choose the good part. Hans von Balthasar, the poet-theologian, calls Time “the grand school of Love.” “If Time is the ground of our existence,” he writes, “then the ground of our existence is love. Time is existence flowing on: love is life that pours itself forth…it dispossesses itself and willingly allows itself to be disarmed, by its flowing it demonstrates love…” The fact that time keeps moving means that one second must let go of the one that came before. A day does not hoard up minutes for itself; And notice! Love is exactly the same way. The Way of Love is a moment-by-moment accepting of this now, and a letting-go of the last now. That may mean giving grace to the person in traffic tailgating me, calling a friend who needs me, looking the beggar on the corner in the eye, telling the truth to a student across the table. That person is a reflection, or to put it more boldly, an incarnation of the Lord Himself. The good part is to be present with him, with them.

Why does this matter? Because, as Balthasar writes, “You cannot grasp invisibly in the unity of the spirit what you have not sensibly experienced in the manifoldness of the senses. And so the eternal is above time and is its harvest, and yet it comes to be and is realized only through the change of time.”

Perhaps this “harvest” relationship between the sensible world and the reality of the eternal is part of what another poet, T.S. Eliot, was trying to express through his Four Quartets. In this cycle, he repeatedly reflects on our perception of time and how it alters through our lives.

Home is where one starts from. As we grow older
The world becomes stranger, the pattern more complicated
Not the intense moment
Isolated, with no before and after,
But a lifetime burning in every moment
And not the lifetime of one man only
But of old stones that cannot be deciphered.
Love is most nearly itself
When here and now cease to matter.
Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion

The longer we live, he claims, the less we experience moments as unconnected, singular memories. Rather, the whole of life radiates in each moment, and not only that, but all of human existence as well. In von Balthasar’s language, the harvest of the eternal is ripening in the fields of tangible, daily life. And, according to Eliot, in order to have access to the eternal, we must “be still and still moving” through our days. The harvest is ripening and the feast is already being spread out for us, the feast of rich food and well-aged wine, the feast Isaiah saw and said was “for all peoples.”

There is no need to be anxious or divided, but only to sit elbow to elbow with our brothers and sisters and enjoy. Each moment in time is an invitation.

So, say yes. Brew a cup, sit down, and let’s “talk about our day.”


Abbey von Gohren is from Minneapolis, MN. She teaches French and leads high-school seminars on philosophy, history and literature. Otherwise, she spends her time playing with legos, assembling words into poems, exploring the great wilds of Minnesota, and listening to music made by loved ones.

2 Comments

  • Jen B.

    Abbey,
    This is a beautiful reflection on the nature of time and love. I was especially captured by this line:

    The Way of Love is a moment-by-moment accepting of this now, and a letting-go of the last now.

    I’m so thankful you took the time to have tea with your little one. I know it can be hard to stop and listen in the midst of the massive to-do list. Well done!

  • Lucia

    Abbey-
    Thank you for sharing this wisdom. While I try, often, to reflect on how fleeting time is and remind myself to “live in the moment” when sharing time with someone, and, to savor moments that I wish to remember, what strikes me, after pondering your article, is the idea of allowing love to identify the greater value (the “good”) in each moment, and to shape the way I spend and think of time, moment by moment.
    Thank you!

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