In this virtual computer-tech world we live in, the word ‘downtime’ often elicits groans of frustration. When our email or some other web server has an outage for maintenance or technical problems, we feel annoyed and stressed because we are losing time. How dare this technology waste our time!
This thought reminds me of something C.S. Lewis wrote in his brilliant Screwtape Letters, that the idea of “My time is my own” is a curious assumption. “Nothing throws him into a passion so easily as to find a tract of time which he reckoned on having at his own disposal unexpectedly taken from him.” Does that sound familiar? I know how often I feel this way, and not just in respect to IT difficulties.
C.S. Lewis goes on to say: “The man can neither make, nor retain, one moment of time; it all comes to him by pure gift; he might as well regard the sun and moon as his chattels.”
Thinking about this, I realize that downtime is a gift, and that there is more than one kind of downtime. From one perspective, a few minutes or hours of lack of access to websites gives us a chance to break our reliance on IT for a little while and remember what we used to do before computers. (And for those too young to remember this, they can imagine!) But it is also essential for us to schedule our own ‘downtime’ for personal maintenance of our emotional and spiritual selves. I’ve just spent a few days on a self-catering holiday on a farm in Yorkshire, with no computer, no television, no telephone – just books to read, my notebooks for writing, and the sound of sheep, goats and chickens. I went for long walks, found rural tearooms for a cuppa and cake, and spent time in lovely places without feeling that I should be doing something else. I found an ancient Saxon church, a haven of peace which reminded me of the depth of time before I was even born. I stopped to touch the budding leaves of trees and listen to the birdsong, which reminded me of all the new life growing into the future. I made the farm dog the happiest creature in the world by finding a stick to throw for him to retrieve, which reminded me that the present moment is the only moment we have to enjoy.
In stepping out of the current of demands, in abandoning the technology for a few days, I found that TIME is a much bigger thing than I had been perceiving it to be when caught up in my own daily occupations. It encompasses every living thing and time passes without any help from me. But time includes me as well, and it is a fine thing to take a few moments of that time to rejoice in this gift that is freely given to us each and every day.