My wife recently baptized our computer keyboard with a glass of water. Though this sacrament was unintended, unrequested, and generally unappreciated by all parties involved, there is a deeper meaning that can be found by those with ‘ears to hear’.
As with any baptism, there were some concrete realities that changed in the life of our keyboard. The number pad, for example, is all but worthless…and the apostrophe key has ceased to function. Those aren’t exactly deal-breakers.
In our house, if something breaks we’ll try to fix it. If it can’t be fixed, we’ll make do with it if at all possible.
We’ve been known to hobble along with less-than-perfect goods for quite some time before taking action (in other words, until the problem gets annoying or dangerous enough that we can no longer avoid either fixing or replacing the item in question).
In this case, the numbers along the top still worked fine, and the apostrophe doesn’t make or break the majority of what we write. The space bar, on the other hand, is a lot more difficult to do without.
Every word you type requires at least one space to be intelligible. Most require two if they’re to be understood at all easily. It’s easy to take the space for granted. I tried composing one email by using the “Enter” key instead of the space bar between words. It worked as far as composing distinct words…but the effect wasn’t as much a readable sentence as I’d hoped for.
It was more like a list.
And therein lies at least one lesson to take from this experience.
The spaces are just as important as the letters we use when we seek to create (or interpret) meaning. Without space, words are much more difficult to decipher. The simple task of reading becomes a chore. It’s possible to get the message, but it’s just not fun.
I write a lot. I preach more Sundays than not, I rely heavily on email as a means of communication, and I use the internet to search for all manner of inspiration when I want it. I put a lot of time and effort into crafting my words so that my intended meaning is as clear (or as ambiguous) as I want it to be. I’ve thought about my word choices a lot over the past 5 years.
But I can honestly say I never thought twice about the spaces until I no longer had the ability to create them.
See, words are like bricks in a house. Each word, like each brick, plays an important role in constructing something meaningful. Everyone has access to the same materials…bricks and mortar aren’t expensive, and the English language hasn’t changed much in a very long time.
But there’s a big difference between masters and amateurs, both in writing and masonry.
It’s all about the spacing.
We (Christine and I) recently returned from a three-month sabbatical. In our work as pastors, we often give lip-service to the idea of space…and then all but omit it from our routine. The effect of such an omission over time is that our actions end up becoming unintelligible. We begin to react rather than respond to the needs presented to us, and slowly but surely we begin to equate the ‘pile’ for progress. As long as we’re busy, we’re productive (or so the thinking goes).
And so we skip the space, because we see it as an impediment to our work rather than the mortar that holds it all together.
With no spaces to give meaning to the work that we do, we spend more of our time trying to interpret the string of gibberish for ourselves…we lose patience with people who can’t see the meaningful statements we’re trying to make…and start to consider pizza-delivery as a viable occupational alternative.
In other words, the house we’re trying to build becomes something like a pile of bricks that lack mortar rather than a masterful, well-crafted project.
So, what have we done to incorporate more Space into our routine?
I’ll be the first to admit that creating space isn’t as easy in life as it is on a keyboard. While on Sabbatical, we seized the opportunity to make some concrete changes in our routine. We began most days with a formalized prayer from a prayer book…and ended it that way too. I also started paying more attention to my physical health; I started running more regularly and started paying more attention to my diet (it helped that I signed up for a mud-run scheduled for the last day of our Sabbatical).
These changes were surprisingly easy to make on sabbatical, when work responsibilities were lifted for a time and we could re-focus on our own humanity.
And not surprisingly, it’s been a challenge to re-adjust to a more spacious life now that we’re back at work. It’s been a challenge, but not impossible.
We’re trying to maintain the intentional (and formalized) prayers. We’re trying to spend the first half hour of every work-day (at the office) with these prayers. Yes, it’s important to pray at home. Yes, I’ve heard the same people you have talk about the importance of praying right after you get up in the morning, to begin your whole day in prayer.
But we’ve found that praying after we get to the office sets a rhythm to the work-day. It’s helpful to create the meaning that otherwise too easily gets lost amid the cacophony of email, voicemail, deadlines, and visits.
I’ve kept at my running. I really miss the freedom to run at my leisure on my own relaxed schedule like I did on Sabbatical, but I’ve also found that I feel better and more focused when I carve the time to do it, even if it’s not for as long as I’d like these days (I never in a million years thought I’d ever write a sentence like that and mean it).
Every day there is a pressure to forget the space. It doesn’t matter how often I tell myself otherwise, I’ll always believe on some level that I can actually finish my work on a given day and go home free from responsibility…and so I’ll always face the temptation to try to actually do everything that needs done.
But ministry, like faith in general, is a marathon. It’s constructed of bricks, scratched out on paper, lived out on purpose. We are defined more by the spaces in our lives than the drive for production.
Embrace the space.
(this post will soon be published on another blog that’s worth checking out. Head over to anabaptistmissionalproject.org to read what some other Anabaptists are thinking these days.)