Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Time

Time can be a fascinating subject; so much so that it easily turns into an obsession. There is no time, I have no time, how do I make time for... It can easily be a vast emptiness, with no guideposts, an expanse into which getting lost is much easier than staying the course. From the earliest times man has tried to find markers and guideposts for time. Obviously the celestial bodies were the most clear choices to mark time - the sun marks the day and the moon and the stars the night. Lunar calendars have existed for thousands of years. But right now my thoughts keep coming back to the day.

Genesis tells us that there was evening and there was morning, day one. Leaving aside that this was before the creation of the stars, to the Judaic and Christian traditions, this has always meant that the day starts in the evening. The two events (evening and morning) became some of the Church's main markers in the sea of time: Vespers, the first and last service of the day, marks the evening, while Orthros/Matins marks the morning. I tend to see this as the Church saying "begin and end the day with prayer" and "begin and end your work with prayer." Being at the seminary has afforded me the opportunity to enter into this cycle of services, to daily draw strength and hope from the morning light and from the evening light. It is a wonderful privilege.

Another line of thinking that I have been trying to pursue refers to what seems to me to be a strange dichotomy in the time of the Church. From early times, two ways of keeping time were used in paralled: the Semitic (sunset to sunset) and Roman (midnight to midnight). Today, the liturgical time of the Church follows the Semitic way of counting days. For most, however, the fasting calendar follows the Roman way. There are other examples where the two calendars mix in strange ways (Holy Week being perhaps the most striking).

I cannot help wondering how this dichotomy came about. My thought I had goes back to the old issue of church attendance. If one attends services on a daily basis, the markers in the ocean of time are firmly set: the prokeimenon comes and brings with it a new day. If one is not present, there is no marker; no reminder that, by the Church's reckoning a new day is born. In this case, it would make sense that a new day would start - for all practical purposes - in the morning. This all makes for a strange tension between Church time and 'regular' time. It really struck me at Forgiveness Vespers, at the start of Great Lent. Half-way through the service the lights were turned out, the covers were changed, it *was* Lent. Having been at the service, having experienced the change, it was impossible to go home and say "Oh, I think I'll have one last hotdog." At that point, for me, Lent had started, with all that it implied.

Of course, there are many other, more important issues to discuss. This just happens to be the venue of my thoughts for the day.

5 Comments:

Blogger magda said...

Avoiding the idea of more important ideas to discuss, thank you for packing me lunch (again) today. I noticed the dichotomy* in terms of health: bagel with hummus and the pear on one side, and the box of junior mints on the other.

*Ha-ha. You used this word in your entry.

But when I am eating the bagel with hummus, I think, "Glory be to God!"

Thank you for helping keep my markers in place, love.

--your ravenous wife

2:16 PM  
Anonymous T of R said...

I don’t think time is something to think of at all. So many philosophers wrecked their minds – and their lives, and their after-lives, too – in so doing… Time is rather something to be in. Like being home or in a prison cell. Like being in a word or in somebody’s heart. You can multiply the examples yourself. But no matter if you are in a good or in a bad place, the important thing is you are in. Being out and looking at and thinking of seems to me to be a bit worse: it’s hopeless. In any case, if it is unavoidable to think about time, and sometimes it realy is,then it is better to think of it not in terms of Hebrew time and Roman time, but in terms of two Greek concepts of time: kairos and chronos. With the only condition to avoid, at any cost, equating kairos with the American “quality time” The two concepts are hundred per cent antagonic.

12:17 PM  
Blogger olympiada said...

Wow a discussion about time. This has been on my mind too in terms of the poetry of T.S. Eliot. I am more familiar with poetry then I am with theology, which is a fairly new graft. I think about time in terms of existential philosophy and poetry.

2:38 PM  
Blogger Virgil Petrisor said...

Somehow, when I think of kairos in the context of the Church the expression that comes to mind is 'sanctified time' - time in which God is present. And when I look at it that way, chronos seems, if I may express myself this way, a poor excuse for time. In my experience, being in the kairos of the Church seems to fill time, making it overflow with grace.

This is why I found the contrast between the two commonly used variants of time rather striking. One has its focus firmly on God - everything begins and ends with Him, in praise of Him. The second seems rather at odds with the first, rather out of place. It was this perception that my original post referred to. So, in a way, I think we see things similarly.

Olympiada: I'm afraid your fields of expertise are rather outside of mine, but if this proves interesting or beneficial in any way, glory to God.

7:48 PM  
Anonymous T of R said...

That’s right. I mean, I agree we are very similar in our understanding of the termes involved. It’s true the liturgical time is the best example of kairos. Only, kairos is a more comprehensive concept. It is any time of grace, including the real prayer.

As about existential philosophy, I don’t want to hurt anybody, but it is a bankrupt philosophy: a gang of people gone astray who are stubbornly insisting to believe they have a right to guide the others on the right path.

I know that because I was there some thirty years ago. Some of its classical authors were still alive: Sartre, Camus, Merleau-Ponty, Simone de Beauvoir a.s.o. I was, of course, enthusiast. Just like Petre Tutea about Kant, when he was 20. But God rescued me quickly enough. Thanks Him, I had not to reach 80, like Tutea, in order to discover that the emperor is naked. Completely naked…

3:50 PM  

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