Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Everyday Grace:
Got three minutes?

by Mary Cronk Farrell

(From the Oct. 4, 2007 edition of the Inland Register)

Mary Cronk Farrell Have you heard the one about the bishop and the egg-timer? One Monday morning the bishop went out and handed miniature egg-timers to people rushing for work. He hoped to challenge those scurrying past to “take three minutes of silence a day to transform their lives.”

True story. I meant to write about it when it happened in June, but I didn’t have time.

Apparently, I wasn’t the only one.

When the Anglican bishop of Reading, England, Stephen Cottrell, urged commuters to use the timers to keep track of three minutes to slow down and sit still, more than a few declined.

One said, “I don’t have time.”

Summer passed. The kids started school and the family schedule has become a routine (more or less). I’m finally making time for three minutes a day of total idleness. I’m setting off, as the bishop says, on an adventure of self-discovery and creativity and an improved relationship with God.

For years I’ve spent quiet time during the day, praying and reading Scripture or other spiritual books. But I must confess much of my quiet time is spent thinking about all the things I have to do, or worrying, or daydreaming. Often I’m distracted from my prayer, or it becomes rote. While spiritual reading is good, it’s not stillness.

I find it near to impossible to sit without moving, in total silence and do nothing. Nothing as in: no stressing, no planning, no mental conversation whatsoever. But even if I don’t succeed in this, the attempt remains crucial.

Bishop Cottrell says if you make stillness part of your daily routine, you learn to travel through life differently. You discover “a new delight and purpose in the mundane and the ordinary things of life.”

I was surprised to read that back in 1933 a U.S. Senate report predicted by the year 2000 Americans would work only 20 hours a week, and enjoy 7-10 weeks of vacation. People thought technological advances would create a problem of too much leisure time for Americans.

Instead, we decided to go shopping.

With 50 percent larger houses than in 1973, we have room for a lot more stuff. Bigger garages house two or three times more vehicles. Our number two pastime, right behind watching TV – is buying stuff.

To pay for it, Americans work longer hours than medieval peasants did.

We may be the richest country in the world, but we are poor in terms of time spent with family, friends, and on our spiritual life. Bishop Cottrell suggested families institute a daily “happy hour” by turning off all electronics, and gathering the family to relax and enjoy each other’s company. If this seems impossible for us, what does that say about our lives and what we value?

To step out of the norm requires intentional commitment. Our culture places high value on production and accomplishment, as well as on material things. Only a strong person can bear to become a “back-slider,” a “have-not,” or a “nobody” in the eyes of the world.

The rewards of working long hours, getting ahead, and buying a new car are tangible. The rewards of closer relationships and a deeper spiritual life are not only intangible, but impossible to know, until you’ve experienced them. Choosing to let go of the work and the money, and grab for the ring of intangible rewards requires us to take a huge risk.

Beginning with three minutes of quiet idleness is not much of a gamble. In my experience, the hardest part is making the first small change and sticking with it. After a month or two, increasing to five minutes will be a snap.

Did you hear the one about the monk who advised his students to rise early for one hour of silent contemplation? If you think you don’t have time for that, he said, you need two hours.

© 2007, Mary Cronk Farrell

(Mary Cronk Farrell is a Spokane free-lance and children’s writer. Her latest book, Celebrating Faith: Year-Round Activities for Catholic Families, has been published by St. Anthony Messenger Press. Contact her at

Inland Register archives

Home | Bishop | Communications | Parishes | Catholic Charities

© The Catholic Diocese of Spokane. All Rights Reserved