The fullness of time

Mic Altena

Published 10 March 2017

The first book I read by Henri Nouwen was one that I found after encountering his books at a Korean bookstore where his were the only few English titles on the shelves. At the time I was living and volunteering in an orphanage for people with physical and intellectual disabilities in a small village on the outskirts of Seoul, South Korea.

I had arrived at Ilsan Orphanage in the late fall months during my last years in college. The grounds were a lovely patchwork of reds, greens, and yellows spread over the fifty acres of rolling hills that the orphanage was nestled on. My room led out to a balcony that sat atop a large hill that overlooked the tops of the homes, gardens, and winding paths of Ilsan. It was the perfect place to take time to reflect on what I was living.

Nouwen’s books guided me well in that season. I’d spend nights reading on my balcony with the crisp fall air and vivid stars around me.

Korea and Ilsan was a sort of in-between time for me. I hadn’t planned to spend my semester in Korea and in fact hadn’t made plans beyond each day in that season. I was being led–reluctantly at first. The people I met at Ilsan helped me enter into Nouwen’s description of the fullness of time:

We often experience our time as empty. We hope that tomorrow, next week, next month, or next year the real things will happen. But sometimes we experience the fullness of time. That is when it seems that time stands still; that past, present, and future become one; that everything is present where we are; and that God, we, and all that is have come together in total unity. This is the experience of God’s time.

Henri Nouwen, Bread for the Journey

That sense of things standing still can be sacred time. Walking along the paths of Ilsan with the residents who lived there gave me glimpses into the fullness of time–of time standing still. It’s the gift of being in the presence of another sacred human being. A gift that has paradoxically been revealed most powerfully to me by those that society often pushes to the bottom–that those pushed to the outskirts of town and left by their birth families are leading us best. Leading us to the fullness of time.

Lent too leads us to the fullness of time–to find new ways (or shed old ways) to orient our lives toward Christ as we journey toward his death and resurrection on Good Friday and Easter Sunday. May you be led this Lent through the unexpected gift of weakness.

Jesus came in the fullness of time. He will come again in the fullness of time. Whereever Jesus, the Christ is, time is brought to its fullness.