The 1830s. Trains are picking up speed. New technology is leading to new limits. But how fast is too fast? It becomes clear that the new trains can go an astounding 35 miles per hour! The opponents are quite alarmed. It was highly likely that a train traveling that fast would literally crush the bones of the passengers and so must be avoided at all costs. As historian Stephen Kern puts it, “New speeds have always brought out alarmists.” Kern goes further. He says concern about the effects of our speeded-up lives is also hysteria. “Technologies that promote speed are essentially good,” he said, adding that “the historical record is that humans have never, ever opted for slowness.”
But many of us disagree. Danny Hillis is the man who pioneered the conceptual design behind high-speed super-computers. He has no phobia about speed. But he warns that our obsession with speed does in fact hurt us. We become consumed with what’s happening right now and lose sight of what’s happening in the long run. He recommends cultivating what he calls “a new aesthetic of slowness.” To illustrate what that might look like he tells a story about how Oxford University replaced the gigantic oak beams in the ceiling of one of its dining halls. When the beams began to show signs of rotting, university officials were concerned that they wouldn’t be able to find lumber large and strong enough to replace them. But the university’s forester explained to them that, when the dining hall was built 500 years ago, their predecessors had planted a grove of oak tress so that the university could replace the beams when the time came. The trees needed were ready and waiting.
I like the idea of a “new aesthetic of slowness.”
We need one to build a wonderful, full life and have a relationship with our God. Psalm 46:10 says “Be still, and know that I am God.” In our increasingly fast lives our schedules become more and more full, with less time to simply sit and be with God. In fact, we increasingly feel guilty when we “indulge” in such a pleasure. We have lost sight of planting saplings that will one day grow, limb by limb, to a great forest.
One author tells of writing “prayer” in his calendar for the mornings but constantly rushing past it into the day. He finally gained a new aesthetic of slowness. In his calendar he replaced the word prayer with “meet with God.” This wasn’t merely another item. He slowed down and started keeping his appointment to talk with his Father.
It is just such a man who continues every day to build a fuller life. When he reaches his final days, the wonderful tree he has grown to become will be a testimony to the value of slowing down.
So by all means take a fast train or even faster plane. But start the day by going slow. Meet with your God. Grow.
Rick Cupp is Minister at the Kenai Fellowship; Wednesday meal at 6:16 p.m., worship at 7 p.m.; Sunday Bible classes for all ages 10:00 a.m.; Sunday coffee at 10:45 a.m.; worship at 11:15 a.m.