I am an old man now so it’s important that I do not try to cross the road while talking on my mobile phone. Multi-tasking is no longer a safe option for me as my senses become duller with age. In any case, doing one thing at a time is, according to Zen Buddhism, the way to enlightenment. For older people it’s also a good way to avoid accidents.
Verses 22-35. Then one of the leaders of the synagogue named Jairus came and, when he saw [Jesus] fell at his feet and begged him repeatedly, ‘My little daughter is at the point of death. Come and lay your hands on her, so that she may be made well and live. So he went with him. And a large crowd followed him and pressed in on him. Now there was a woman who….. had heard about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, for she said, ‘If I but touch his clothes, I will be made well .…..Immediately aware that power had gone forth from him, Jesus turned about in the crowd and said, ‘Who touched my clothes?’…….He said to her, ‘Daughter, your faith has made you well; go in peace and be healed of your disease’.
In this section of Mark’s gospel Jesus is responding to an urgent plea for help from a father whose daughter is seriously ill. He’s on his way to their house, surrounded by a pressing crowd. Among them is a chronically ill woman who reaches out to touch him. In spite of the commotion around him, Jesus notices and feels her touch. I think he’s doing one thing at a time, don’t you? He is not feeling rushed by Jairus’s urgent concern for his daughter. He is on his way to help but he is still aware of the present moment. As the saying goes, ‘wherever you go, there you are’.
Here in central London they have recently started broadcasting a safety notice on the Underground, (the ‘Tube’) reminding travellers that trains run every few minutes so there’s no need to risk an accident by hurrying on the escalators or the platforms. Just the other day a young woman slipped and fell on the platform in front of me as she rushed to beat the closing doors of the train about to leave. Especially in a busy city the sense of not wanting to be ‘here’ because I am desperate to get ‘there’ becomes an ingrained habit.
“It’s all right for him,” do I hear you say? “He’s retired. He’s got plenty of time. He’s got nothing to worry about.” True (apart, perhaps, from the last of those statements) but just consider the widespread popularity of techniques to help people relax, to learn ‘mindfulness’, meditation, yoga and so on. Younger people are clearly not happy with rushing everywhere. They are willing to pay good money to learn techniques that ought to be freely available in any Christian community (though sadly they often are not). Doing one thing at a time requires a basic sense of trust; hard to cultivate if your job is threatened, or you are late to collect the children from school, or money is so short that you have to use a Food Bank.
Right at the beginning of this gospel, Mark summarises the message of Jesus like this:
The time is fulfilled and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news’. (See the first post of this blog).
It is good that human beings can multi-task with such skill, but when this skill blinds us to the fact that the time (that is each present moment) is fulfilled – filled full of promise – then we are losing sight of what it means to be truly human. There’s a nice touch in a 1960s science fiction novel (Stranger In A Strange Land, by Robert Heinlein) about a human being who has been raised by Martians. Apparently Martians, who live for centuries, know how to wait. When Valentine Michael Smith arrives back on earth he discovers that his fellow humans lack this skill of waiting. To cover up any embarrassment for them he learns to wait faster. He does this so well that there are times when he appears to be waiting at breakneck speed. There’s a difference between hurrying and waiting at speed!