“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
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.