Tuesday, February 21, 2017

who knows her subtleties

And with him it remains forever, and is before all time
The sand of the seashore, the drops of rain,
the days of eternity: who can number these?
--Book of Sirach

We went on a detour in class to try to understand what time the day started: sunrise? sunset? midnight? For Greco-Romans and we pagans, the day begins at midnight, but, really, our day doesn't begin until sunrise. In Judaic thought, the sunset is the start of the new day. The more you discuss time the more like a Lewis Carroll novel it means. The more you try to identify what "time of day" "3AM" counts for, the more you realize how arbitrary and capricious such a time as "3AM" is.

Time, you realize, is a particularly human construct. We set up time to perhaps fill our lives with an order that has no claim on us, but it is reflective of a time that already exists in the pattern of the day. No matter how we count time, the sun always rises and sets in an order. Time is our attempt to order and understand the inbred patterns of nature. We put the rising and setting of the sun into measured rhythms we understand. They allow us to dwell in the utter mystery of creation on autopilot. Someone has calculated the times and seasons for us, thus, we can wander through the world without wondering at it.

Our week is divided into days, our days are divided into hours, our hours into minutes, and our minutes into breathable seconds. We can grasp a second each moment and understand time only in the passing of these seconds streaming through and past us.

Our weeks build up into months, we repeat the same months each year, but we number the years differently. The years build up on each other. Our months repeat each other each year: March, May, June, they all march along, unvarying and constant (February the odd outlier who form fluctuates every four years). But we have this sense that time builds up. That we are two thousand and seventeen years older than Mariam of Nazareth was when she knelt to read her book one sunny day in a warm Galilean March. Our time cycles repeat themselves, as we see natures time continue without fail. Yet, time seems to be building up, and we call this accrued temporal weight "age."

But there isn't a goalpost or ending point. Age builds up, but to what end? We feel our lives lead towards a climax, but whatever dramatic tension builds to a breaking point is generally followed by extensive and dull anti-climax. The climax of time has its footprints in the past, but we celebrate it each Sunday, as the climax of time has washed over the endless accretion of years. Time itself has been altered by the event of Christ. Although we no longer call the years "Anno Domini" the Common Era's years still tick of the years since Incarnation. Time has been transformed.

Accordingly, we must transform time. And the liturgy of the church--the Liturgy of the Hours: matins, nones, vespers, all of them, make an instinctual, visceral sense. Each hour of the day becomes an hour to sanctify. We are living in time transformed by Resurrection, the dreary succession of moments that the world marks away in calendars and schedules and strictly ticking atomic clocks are not the time in which we are forced to live. Time, touched by the Christ event, has become a new mode of union with God. We live to turn time into a ceaseless liturgy of praise.

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