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?