Valuing Time

Recently I was asked how much of my time a £20 note would represent and surprised my questioner by saying it wouldn’t have any value at all. I don’t measure the value of time in that way. For some people, £20 will barely register, but for different reasons. They are rich enough to see £20 as representing a second or two of their time, if that. For others, £20 is more than they can expect for a month’s hard labour. But to see time in terms of money or work strikes me as being essentially untrue to our nature as human beings. We are born, we live, we die, and what stretches between comprises so much more than money. If we are anxious to set a value on our time, for whatever reason, perhaps we should think again about its meaning. Benedict talks about our life being extended, so that we may amend our faults (RB Prol. 36). There is an urgency about the Rule that is deeply disturbing: we run, do battle, ‘while there is still time’ (RB Prol. 42). Time is not to be taken lightly: it is a preparation for what is beyond time, eternity.

Having acknowledged that, I must admit that like most people, I’m conscious of the way time seems lengthen or shorten according to what one is doing or experiencing. In a monastic context observance of the horarium or timetable makes an important contribution to the smooth running of the house and peace among its members. Punctuality is more than the politeness of kings: it is a practical expression of our monastic commitment. When the bell rings or another signal is given for a change of occupation, we are meant to lay aside whatever we have on hand, no matter how pleasant or engrossing it may be. That isn’t just a discipline, or at least, not in the way that word is often used. It is meant to be a freedom, a way of asserting that we are not bound by our own preferences or preoccupations.

Today many of us will probably feel we have either too little time to accomplish all that we think we need to do, or we will experience the longueurs of lockdown and isolation, illness or old age. Perhaps we could simplify things for ourselves and just rejoice that time is given us. It may be little or long, but it is a gift — a priceless gift. To state the obvious, shouldn’t we be thanking God for the gift of time?

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Facing Both Ways

1 January, Octave Day of Christmas and Solemnity of Mary, the Mother of God (the oldest Marian feast in the calendar), the day when we make (and break) our New Year resolutions, is, as its name proclaims, the doorway of the year, facing both ways like the old pagan god Janus* from which it takes its name. It wasn’t always the beginning of the year, of course: that used to be Lady Day, 25 March, feast of the Annunciation. But calendar reforms and changes in public perception (‘in the year of Our Lord’ and ‘in the year of grace’ being seen as rather quaint, if not unacceptably exclusive) mean that we now end one year and begin another with barely a nod in the direction of religion.

That facing both ways, however, is valid whether we are religious or not. We look back on the old year and assess its triumphs and failures and look forward to the new, assessing its potential. We are not altogether there, not altogether here. The religious might say we are at the interface of time and eternity.

Today’s feast is so rich in allusion, so deep in theology that we can forget that it too faces both ways: back into time, forward into eternity (which is outside time). The Word which was from the beginning took flesh and dwelt among us, full of grace and truth. That is what we celebrate throughout the Christmas season. We start our secular year with a reminder that God’s love for us is infinite, Incarnate Love, which wills that all should be saved. Just as the circumcision of Christ on the eighth day foreshadows the shedding of his blood on the cross, so the symbolism of the eighth day expresses perfection, salvation.

We face both ways, into the abyss of our nothingness and the abyss of God’s love, but with this assurance: ‘The eternal God is your dwelling-place, and underneath are the everlasting arms.’ That must give us confidence as we begin 2012.

A happy and blessed New Year to you all.

* I originally wrote Januarius: my old Latin mistress would have boxed my ears for such a mistake and many thanks to John for pointing out the error.Facebooktwitterredditpinterestlinkedintumblrmail