I want to dedicate today’s column centimetres to a charming old man called Denis.
Last weekend I volunteered at Launceston’s Harvest Market, standing at one of the gates to proffer a friendly welcome, hand out brochures and give directions to the loos.
It was a two-hour shift on a sweltering day, but my gate had the most shade and the least numbers, so I had a wealth of time to sip coffee and people-watch. I’m always strangely thankful for these pockets of idle time when washing, children and inbox aren’t vying for my headspace.
Then you walked through the gate, Denis, leaning heavily on your walking stick but so free with your smile.
We chatted about the wonderful atmosphere of the market, the best way to cook fish and the smaller details of life, and you ended up standing beside me for at least 40 minutes.
Much of that time was spent in what I can only describe as companionable silence.
You were comfortable in the hush, in my presence, which was infectious. I was comfortable too.
Then you turned to me and said, in your gentle wavering voice, “It has been a pleasure, Claire, to talk with you.” You smiled, “Thank you,” and shuffled off into the crowd where purposeful people were filling baskets with artisan bread, goat cheese, berries and radishes.
You stopped every so often to look around you, to take in the full picture of the place you were in. Slowly. Completely.
You ruminated in the space and time, drinking everything in and allowing every detail to soak into your very pores. Oblivious to time, your hessian Harvest bag was empty but you consumed more, in a sense, than those who left laden with fresh produce.
I don’t think there’s a gift quite so generous as time.
Perhaps that’s why, as Denis thanked me that Saturday at the market, I knew myself to be the recipient.
It’s a trait that reminds me of Jesus, actually.
Jesus always had time for people. He traversed the Gospels with a crowd trailing after him – sometimes in the thousands, other times just one or two. And always, he was generous with his time.
In Luke 10:38-42 you will read of one such time when Jesus and his disciples accepted the hospitality of two sisters, Martha and Mary.
Martha started banging around in the kitchen, quickly working herself into a tizz over whether the fellas would prefer lasagne or beef stroganoff. Meanwhile, Mary “sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said.”
You can almost hear Martha’s blood rising to boiling point.
Finally she came bursting into the room, all red-faced and wild-eyed, interrupting Mary and Jesus’ little tête-à-tête with a seething, “Don’t you care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?”
I feel your pain Martha!
But then Jesus replied calmly, “You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”
It’s a message that extends to the din of our 21st century lifestyles where the word “busy” is the scapegoat for all excuses.
But when we don’t have time to stand beside someone and enjoy that quiet companionship of another human being (as Denis did), or to sit at the feet of an admired friend (as Mary did), we only rob ourselves (as Martha did).
Relationship is better.
And, as Jesus hinted, relationship with Him is something that will serve us to eternity.
First published in The Examiner Newspaper for Keeping the Faith column on Monday March 2, 2015.