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The lost art of lingering

First slide

“Guys, we’ve lost the ability to linger.”

Father Anthony Killian’s words to my parish men’s group one recent Saturday morning immediately stung. He pointed to how Jesus’ powerful encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well would not have occurred had He not lingered. Father cut to the chase: unless you learn to linger, he said, your Christian witness will be undermined.      

His assessment hurt because I don’t “do” lingering. Lingering is laziness. To linger is to procrastinate, to dawdle, and I have chosen the purpose-driven life. The opportunity cost for me to linger for 10 minutes is too steep. I’m one of those people in line at the grocery store, head tilted down, firing off another email or text before it’s time to check out. 

But later that day, in the pew with my family at the anticipatory Mass, it seemed that God had me cornered. There was Father Killian, again, preaching on the woman at the well, again. This time, though, he threw a different punch: he pressed on our need to linger daily over the Word of God.   

I squirmed in the pew, convicted twice in 10 hours by the same priest.

The fact is that I actively resist lingering over Scripture. The Bible for me has somehow become a natural resource to be strip-mined for “takeaways” and “applications”— not a vista before which I tarry in awestruck wonder. Sometimes I even cook up goals for getting the most out of Scripture in a given week, intent on seizing ever more “practical tools.”  

Days later, Father Killian’s words unfortunately refused to fade. They echoed like an accusatory refrain, challenging the status quo of my need for efficiency, speed, and effectiveness. 

I began to realize that I was rushing past people (including my family), moving so quickly to the next thing that others had to dodge me to avoid collision. Jesus’ brazen act of lingering at the well seemed increasingly at odds with my haste: speeding to pick up the boys from baseball practice, texting at the stoplight, or jamming in one more errand. Even in the elevator at work, I found myself reaching for the phone. 

I finally met with one of my mentors to lay out the problem. He listened, nodded, and then said, “Fruit cannot be demanded of a tree when it is not in season.” Fruit takes time to grow, to ripen, he explained. Then he just smiled at me.  

Perhaps lingering is the basis of culture. Perhaps today’s crisis of belief is minor compared with the crisis of our inability to linger —  with one another, over the Word of God, before His Blessed Sacrament, or even before what the Church Fathers called the “Book of Nature,” all around us.   

I am catching glimpses of it now: an entire dimension of time and encounter, at the well with Jesus Christ, available to us beyond the tyranny of our daily need to do.  On a recent jog, I pulled out the earbuds and turned off the podcast — only to spot a Pileated Woodpecker for the first time in many months. The other day I pulled over to greet a neighbor who was out walking (sans earbuds), rather than driving by with my perfunctory wave.  

The resplendent givenness of this dimension of time, at the well, is available to us all. But like the disciples, we tend to criticize Jesus for the delay and push Him on to the next appointment.   

Jesus turns to us — His impatient pragmatists — there at the well, in the elevator, in the checkout line, at the dinner table, at the stoplight. I am not sure what He is saying to me, or to you. Perhaps He smiles understandingly. Perhaps He laughs, or says something enigmatic about fruit and harvests. Or perhaps He is becoming downright exasperated at our refusal to get it: to linger in His presence.     

Johnson, a husband and father of five, is the bishop’s Delegate for Evangelization and Media.


© Arlington Catholic Herald 2017