Jury Duty and Time Lived
I spent most of the day yesterday doing something that I pray will not turn into an Advent ritual: jury duty.
This was actually my first time getting called in for jury duty (Audrey and I haven’t lived in one place long enough to be called in since we’ve been married) and to be honest, I was pretty excited.
About 50 of us were assigned to the group from which a jury would be selected that day and we spent most of the day together in the jury assembly room down at the courthouse. There seemed to be a general sentiment that we had other places we’d rather be, but moments of levity helped us settle in a bit more.
One older gentleman began calling his wife every few hours to give her updates on the day—speaking more as if he were waiting in a noisy bus terminal than a quiet room full of people. A few of us couldn’t help but chuckle. Later, when we were in the courtroom being asked questions by the lawyers, the woman next me and I got so tickled by the absurdity of some of the questions that we just started laughing uncontrollably. I felt like Audrey and her mother in church (they're not allowed to sit next to each other).
After arriving at 8:30 in the morning, at around 4:45 in the afternoon, we were finally allowed to go on our way. A long day, to say the least.
In Advent we wait. We wait for Christmas, we wait for the coming of Christ, we wait for presents, we wait for candle light and Silent Night. In worship we read from the prophets and their longing for justice and peace—for the reign of God to come and overwhelm the reign of kings and princes.
Advent is about waiting, and true waiting is hard. Most of the time we do our best to avoid it whenever possible, by killing time. But killing time is not waiting, at least not in the Advent sense. Advent waiting challenges us to make the most of the time we’re given; to prepare our hearts and minds and spirits for what God has in store. Killing time tries to make that time go away, and there’s a big difference.
So in this spirit I tried to see my time in the jury assembly room as time given, not time taken away. An entry in the Advent devotional I’m using this year suggested to try not to “fill” empty space throughout the day by checking your phone or Facebook or however we take our minds away from the people, things and places in front of us. But instead, to enter more deeply into that time. Pay attention. Interact. Live. Don’t kill time, live it.
So I kept my phone in my pocket for most of the day. I read a bit, I talked with the people around me—mostly commiserating together, but still. And others seemed to be doing the same thing; there were very smart phones out that day (perhaps due to the clerk warning us that the judge would take them if they went off in the courtroom). And lo and behold, despite sitting most of the day in a cramped room, only breaking from time to time to be shuttled like cattle down a few flights of stairs to the courtroom, as we all left that day there was the subtle sense that we had shared something more than a tight space.
I heard of a scientific study recently that measured people’s happiness during train commutes. They asked one group to do what they normally do during that time which was keep to themselves: read, listen to music, take a nap, whatever it was so long as they didn’t pay attention to the people around you. They asked the other group to actively engage the people around them in conversation. They found that the people who engaged the folks around them on average had better experiences and were happier when they reached their destination than the folks who keep to themselves—who killed that time instead of living it. I wonder what wisdom that might have for Advent? For all the time we spend in our lives waiting? Do we always have to wait alone, or is that something we choose? What would change if we chose not to?
I wasn’t selected to serve on the jury (apparently defense attorneys are hesitant to include the pastor to the DA). But the day was not lost. And to be honest, I wouldn’t mind if this did become an Advent tradition. I can't think of a better way to force myself into "Advent time."
But only every few year would be enough.