Friday, October 30, 2009

B&W, W&O: Chapter 5 - The Sanctification of Time

"A man was sent to prison for seventy years. He spent his days standing on tiptoe, trying to look out the window of his cell, through which he could just catch a glimpse of the sky.

"Looking at the sky, he thought about what it would be like to be free. In his imagination he used to go on long journeys. Sometimes he went into the future and thought about what life would be like after he had finished his time in jail. Some of these thoughts were pleasant. After all, freedom looks wonderful to anyone who does not have it. But sometimes his imagination would take him to places that terrified him. Life in prison certainly has it's drawbacks, but at least you do not have to worry about feeding yourself or how to organize your day.

"Looking into the future, the prisoner was obsessed with 'what ifs.' He worried about growing old and being lonely, about getting sick and having no one to care for him, about being scorned or rejected. Often he feared he might not get all the benefits of life that so many other people seemed to have. Feelings of failure, fears or not living up to his potential - whether in his own eyes or in the eyes of people whose approval mattered - formed a major part of his outlook.

"Looking into the past was not much more promising. There the predominant thought tended to be 'if only' - if only he had not pursued the course of action that had led to his imprisonment. He experienced a certain amount of nostalgia, which gave him feelings of warmth and happiness, but most of the time he felt only regret.

"Thus, he spent his days dreaming and remembering, fantasizing and worrying. He felt alienated when he was wither others, and completely alone when he was not.

"It happened that the day the man was due to leave prison, he had a heart attack and died. In due course, he arrived at the throne of God.

"'Where were you when I needed you?' he demanded of God.

"'I longed to see you,' replied God, 'but every day when I came to visit you in your cell, you were not there.'"

This parable is how the fifth chapter starts. I absolutely love it. It (to my mind) brings in what the author has been saying, in one form or another, throughout the book thus far - we must exist in the present moment, because that's all that really exists. It's only when we can quiet our minds and get down to the moment by moment existence of our hearts that we can encounter God. And He's been there they whole time, waiting for us. The past is gone - it cannot be taken back or changed. The future is always just over the horizon. Forever coming, and never here. The present is the only moment that we can effect. In the present, we can choose, we can move, we can love or hate, forgive, laugh, cry. We *choose* how we spend the moment.

The mind blocks the present moment because it cannot control it. It doesn't trust it, because it's not quantifiable like the past, and it's not fantasy like the future. So, as far as our mind is concerned, it would rather the present moment not exist. The minds refusal to acknowledge the present forces us to act on an unconscious level, so that by the time the present moment is registered, it has already passed, and is now a part of the 'past', where the mind feels comfortable dealing with it.

The 'sanctification of time' that the author refers to in the title is the offering of the present moment to God. *Every* moment. God exists outside of time, so our time, our days and nights, weeks, months, years, decades, etc. mean nothing to God. While He did choose to enter time, He is still not held by it, like we, as humans, are.

The rest of the chapter is devoted to a brief explanation of time cycles within the church.

1. The liturgical day does not begin at sunrise, but rather at sundown the previous day. And each day has a cycle of prayers. So the days first prayer is said the evening of the previous calendar day.

2. The week - Sunday is the eighth day of the week, as well as the first. Don't ask me...the author says it 'exists within time and outside it.' Sunday, of course, being the Lord's Day, is the most distinctive, with Saturday following, and Wednesday and Friday following that - they each have their own patterns and particular prayers.

3. An eight-week cycle called the Ochtoechos or Parakletiki, which is the series of hymns that govern the tenor of services of each week - one for each of the eight tones of Byzantine music.

4. An eleven-week cycle of the Gospel at Matins, the author says that this is a cycle only reflected on the Lord's Day, and only to those who attend this service. It is a series of readings (eleven) 'that bring us back, time and time again to the central even of our faith, Christ's Resurrection, regarded in eleven different ways.' Hymns accompany these readings, bringing depth and clarity to that significance.

5. A cycle based on the 365 day year is almost entirely devoted to the memory of the saints. Each day commemorates multiple saints, and there's apparently a special book in the Orthodox church called the Menaion for each month which governs the hymns and prayers for that particular month.

6. Pascha - 'This great day, this Feast of Feasts, like a huge comet traveling through the solar system, bends and distorts time like nothing else. Its presence in the year, weaving in and out of ordinary time based on factors which include not only the movement of the moon, but also the religious observance of the kinsmen of our Lord, attracts a number of other important days to its wake. Dominating the year, yet in many ways independent of it, Pascha stands as a fanfare of God's majestic entrance into the realm of humanity, sealing and enlivening the Incarnation of Christ in order to transform and transfigure the lives of men and women with the intensity of His Love.' For those who don't know, Pascha is Easter.

The author, to help illustrate a point that while we may think time is constant, it doesn't actually act the same all over the planet, tells a couple cute stories about how time is perceived in different cultures or parts of the world.

For instance, he tells of how he was serving at a parish in London. Most of the parishioners were from Cyprus. At the small parish, there were often three to four baptisms, and two or three weddings on a single Sunday afternoon. So, of course, timing was critical. Apparently, the Greek Cypriots 'tell time' differently from the English friends. Invitations to the weddings were often printed out with a time about an hour before the wedding was actually supposed to start, to get the Greek's there on time. However, the issue arose when English friends were given these invitations. They would show up at the time on the invitation, often early, because that's the way time was understood in their culture. Meaning that, more often than not, they showed up at the wrong wedding! :)


  1. that about the cultural differences re: time and the wedding! They should have had two invitations: one for the Cypriots and one for the locals. :) I very much enjoy reading cultural differences like that so thanks for the great example. :)

    Great post. I especially enjoyed the challenge to live in the present and to quiet our minds and *choose* our actions. I guess this part that you wrote sums up what was my favorite:

    "The present is the only moment that we can effect. In the present, we can choose, we can move, we can love or hate, forgive, laugh, cry. We *choose* how we spend the moment."

    Glad to see you back from your painting. Missed you!

  2. Susanne,

    It was a cute story. I guess no one really thinks about the cultural differences with time until they run into a problem, so no one thought about the wedding invitation issue... :)

    I think living in the moment is possibly the hardest thing I've ever been told to do. Oddly enough, I'm sitting here thinking, I do that in class. I'm so focused on the kids and what we're doing, I don't think about the time, or what we're going to be doing next, or comparing it to anything in the past. Hmm....


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