Coffee Spoons and the Creation Mandate

There’s a line about time that sticks in my memory from senior school English lessons :

“I have measured out my life with coffee spoons.”

It’s from the TS Eliot’s famous poem, The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock, though I confess that I had to Google the phrase to discover that.  And that in my memory it was sugar spoons. But the point remains – it is a memorable image.

The passing of time is such an intangible thing in so many ways – and the idea of measuring it in a concrete unit of daily action brings solidity to an otherwise elusive concept.

Which brings me to reflect on one of the things I have observed in lockdown.  Many people have commented on the strange effects that lockdown has been having on our perception of time.

For those isolated at home, or for whom all their normal routines have been changed, our grip on time has loosened.  How do you know a day has passed if you haven’t done your daily commute? How is Monday different from Saturday, if you have no classes to attend?

I worked from home more often than not before lockdown and many, though not all, of my regular weekly tasks have been able to continue – albeit in a different way.  But many of the routines have changed incalculably.  For me this is most noticeable on a Sunday which has gone from one of my busiest days to a much more family-centred leisurely affair.

Some of the change has been good.  I have made some more time to read. I have slowed down.  I have been reminded that God works at a different speed and in a completely different way from me.  And as so much of the ‘busyness’ with which I filled my week before has reduced, I am reminded that the real work is done by God, and my part is prayer and prayerful preparation.

And I’ve noticed that I quite unselfconsciously started adding new routines to mark the passing of time.  So I have started taking daily – often multiple times a day – leisurely walks around the garden. I carefully observe the different plants and the way they are changing and growing.

Although I often do this when my tea is brewing, I’m not measuring my time in tea-bags, rather I’m marking the slow and steady growth that my Heavenly Father is bringing about whether I wake or sleep.

There’s something wonderfully tangible about the horticultural change which can be seen – such a stark contrast to so much of pastoral ministry where change is often (though not always) even more imperceptibly slow than the growth of new plants.

Perhaps there’s an echo of Christian mindfulness – in the taking time deliberately to be in the moment and to observe the world around me.

And I’ve been convinced for some years that there is something wonderfully Genesis-1-and-2-esque about ‘tending the earth’ which at some deep level fulfills a creation mandate and so brings satisfaction as we cut with the God-given grain of the universe.  Although it could simply be impending middle age.

But either way, it has increased my thankfulness in the midst of a strange time. Every day is a grace-gift from God to be enjoyed as such in the light of His goodness and grace. As the garden grows – largely outside of my control – I am reminded of my Heavenly Father who loves me and who is actively at work even in these times where I am at a loss to know what He is doing.

He has measured out my life and knows the number of my days.  And like me, He doesn’t do it with coffee spoons.

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