Slow Time - Reservoir Church
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Earth- Lent: A Spring Season

Slow Time

Cate Nelson

Mar 26, 2023

Thank you for the good and holy word, Rose J. Percy. May slowness be treasured here. We’ll continue exploring this invitation, “May slowness be treasured here” in the sermon today. 

I’m Cate Nelson (she/her) and so glad to be with you today. Greetings from Philadelphia! Reservoir Church is such a special place to me – thank you for having me, and thanks to Pastor Ivy and the team for inviting me!

I’m grateful to be joining you all in this season of Lent at Reservoir Church. The focus of this year’s season is “Earth,” and exploring what we call ecotheology—a way to understand the interdependence of all things on earth, and to look at Jesus’ words and teaching through his value and love of the earth. 

Let’s begin today with two scripture readings from the “Seeds” chapter in this year’s Lent Guide, Earth. 

From MARK 4:26-29

Then Jesus said, “This is what God’s kingdom is like. It’s as though someone scatters seed on the ground, then sleeps and wakes night and day. The seed sprouts and grows, but the farmer doesn’t know how. The earth produces crops all by itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full head of grain. Whenever the crop is ready, the farmer goes out to cut the grain because it’s harvest time.”

The kin-dom of God that Jesus talks about is one that connects the slowness of the earth to bringing forth fruit.

“This is what God’s kin-dom is like,”

Jesus says. Seeds are scattered to the ground. The earth moves through the slow time of days, nights, a stalk, a head, the full head of grain. Jesus treasures the time it takes between the labor of planting and harvesting, the work of dirt and water and sun to bring forth a stalk and a full head of grain. Jesus naming this treasured slowness of the earth and time as central to his understanding of the goodness of God made visible in and with the world. 

We go on to read MATTHEW 13:24-30

Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like someone who planted good seed in his field. While people were sleeping, an enemy came and planted weeds among the wheat and went away. When the stalks sprouted and bore grain, then the weeds also appeared.”

The folks who work in the field are concerned about this, and ask if they should pull up the small weeds that are sprouting alongside the grain sprouts.

“But the landowner said, ‘No, because if you gather the weeds, you’ll pull up the wheat along with them. Let both grow side by side until the harvest…’”

Jesus is pointing towards the slow work of the earth to make clear what is fruit and what is weed, and the time and the patience to let roots take hold. Seeds take time to become strong enough to become fruit to harvest – and to separate from the weeds that grow up alongside them. Sometimes slowness needs to be treasured to let things grow up to what they need to be, to be mature enough for harvest, or to discern (divide) the good fruit from the weeds. Jesus treasures that this is how the earth bears fruit – slowly, with time and discernment. 

The thing about treasuring slowness, though, is that it sits in a tension – that we actually often despise slowness, and we despise the earth for being slow.

This week, the UN put out yet another alarming report about our earth and climate change. Unless industrialized nations cut emissions of greenhouse gasses in half over the next decade, and eliminate the release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by 2050, the earth’s temperature will increase to a critical degree such that climate disasters, crop failures, and species extinction will become increasingly the norm.   


We have seven years folks, seven years, to slow down our collective reliance on fossil fuels. We humans have despised slowness, and dishonored the rhythm of regeneration of the earth’s natural resources. We have enacted this fast, frenetic extraction and consumption that allows our lives to continue moving fast. (examples: fast food, packaging, amazon, heat, etc.) It will take a willingness to embrace a slow earth – rather than demand the earth keep pace with our frantic pace of extraction – to push against the capitalist and supremacy structures that teach us to despise the earth and its luscious slowness. 

How can we treasure slow earth? I love what Rose says in her poem:

We can choose the journey of gestation, to witness the miracle of being whole that only seeds, dirt, and water know. -Rose Percy

We can choose the journey of gestation.

We can consume less. We can move at the pace of the earth, putting our feet along an outdoor path or using our hands to grow food. But really, there is a collective world we need to enact together. For our local, national, and global policies and social practices to reduce our use and dependence on fossil fuels. No amount of individual practice or commitment can respond to climate change.

We need to be a Beloved Community, and find ourselves in communities that share resources such that we don’t need to irresponsibly pull them from the earth. To treasure the earth is to treasure slowness – and we see how Jesus treasured slowness in his love, care for, and understanding of the earth. May a slow earth of seeds and grain be treasured here, that we might witness the miracle of being whole.

Jesus’ words about seeds also relate to time. The slow time it takes for seeds to grow and bear fruit. So let’s talk about treasuring slow time. 

To treasure slowness is to practice treasuring slow time. Time itself is neutral – in the sense the sun rises and the sun sets, giving cadence to the rhythms of the earth and all living things. Time is also political, as it has been given days and weeks and hours and seconds to govern our sense of living. While time as a baseline is neutral, our experience of time and how we use it is not – it is marked and it is measured.

I share a sense of many of us here in the modern and postmodern age that time moves really fast. The default is that there are a lot of demands on our time, there is a lot of activity in our lives, to move quickly from one thing to the next – and part of this that we experience here in the US is the demands of a capitalist system that requires production and productivity. I call this fast time. Living in the frantic, urgent, rapid pace of everything that needs to be done. 

And yet the invitation from Jesus, from Rose’s poem, from the wise sages of our world is to treasure slow time. And by slow time, I mean when we can live with room, and space, and cease from our frantic and rushed relationship with time. 

One way slow time has been practiced over the centuries is through Sabbath. Sabbath, or what our Jewish siblings call Shabbat, is perhaps the most time-honored “time” practice in our faith tradition. In the Hebrew Bible, YWHW commands and commands to us a practice of keeping Sabbath – six days to labor, and a seventh day for all humans to cease from labor, to rest, to connect with others, to worship God together and to celebrate the goodness of life. 

We read in EXODUS 20:8-11 

Remember the Sabbath day and treat it as holy. 

Six days you may work and do all your tasks, 

10 but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. Do not do any work on it—not you, your children, your servants, your animals, or the immigrant who is living with you. 

11 Because the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and everything that is in them in six days, but rested on the seventh day. That is why the God blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.

The entire community is called to Sabbath. This practice of marking a slower time is an interdependent practice. If someone is still working, it’s hard for everyone to rest. If everyone’s pace is fast, we feel pressure to keep up. 

Writer Judith Shulevitz* reminds us that Sabbath was never meant to be experienced alone. It has always been understood as a communal, collective practice. She says that’s why any of our efforts to practice Sabbath—or really any form of slow time—by ourselves can be a very lonely effort. The call is to rest together, to worship together, to celebrate together. Shulevitz points out that Sabbath keeping would be a whole lot easier if the larger communities of our towns and cities practiced it too – if the options of activity were limited so that we might choose each other and choose rest. 

*Judith Shulevitz’s wonderful book, “The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time.”

Slow time can happen beyond a practice of Sabbath. We can do it throughout our days and weeks. I find that playing with kids is a tender way to treasure slow time, as is time for prayer or meditation, a long meal shared with friends, or a gentle walk just for the sake of walking. Rose Percy says:

Lay slowly, you are treasured here: Take up compassion for your withering, you who make haste and cut corners, fold into rest for a day or two breaths…. -Rose J Percy 

So even now, for two breaths, we can fold into slow time and rest. 

I wonder where in your world – whether in your home with housemates or family, in your community group, or even here at Reservoir, there can be shared experiences of slow time—that center rest and joy. Matt Henderson is leading the final Pause Service of Lent not this Wednesday but next – Wednesday, April 5. That might be a place to enter into slow time with others.

It is the interdependence of a community and what it treasures that makes experiences of slow time sustainable over the long haul. 

One place where I see Cambridge treasuring slow time is in the longstanding tradition of closing car traffic along Memorial Drive on Sunday mornings and afternoons (and in some recent years, Saturdays too!). This has been happening for 40 years! Cars are diverted to Storrow Drive, and from Gerry’s Landing to Western Ave., the slow, joyful movement of pedestrians, roller bladers, folks in wheelchairs, and kids in strollers and on bikes, and dogs on leash are given right of way.

It is a place where Cambridge celebrates slow time together, transforming a space marked by the fast time of commuting and running errands and hustling kids to activities and allows it to take a deep breath and become a place that honors slow time, valuing connection and play. Slow time is treasured here.

*Sara Hendren, a Cambridge based designer and academic, has a great article about this in the New York Times. What she called ‘designing for time’

Our bodies can also be a way to experience slow time. Particularly when we come into sickness or disability, pain or aging, and our bodies become a prophetic testament to slow time – and an invitation to those around us to enter a slower experience of time than the default culture of fast time. One of my sibling’s disabilities means their body moves at a slower pace – and so my relationship to time is altered when I am with them. To treasure his body is to treasure slow time. When I attempt for us to move too quickly, or do too much, the treasuring of slow bodies and slow time is forfeited and needs to be reclaimed. 

Like these little seeds – our slow bodies are to be treasured. Like the grains of wheat – the earth needs time to bear fruit. Like the seeds – our lives need slow time to nurture and care for one another, and to celebrate the goodness of life. 

Let’s rest a day or two, even now. 

Here in our breath is the holiness and the earthiness of slow time,

“settling scattered parts of us into a rooted remembrance” (Rose J. Percy). 

May you treasure slowness in the days ahead, dear friends.