Circles, lines and time….Christmas Day 7
Yes, I did not write while I was travelling. Daily writing did serve its purpose — I was able to get my work done and submitted; so as this year and this time of rest draw to a close, I am picking up the digital pen again, because I have a lot of writing ahead of me these next days and months.
To prepare for the work and the new year ahead, I spent my vacation reading a book recommended to me over a year ago — Receiving the Day by Dorothy C. Bass. I could not have chosen a more wonderful book to read as I try to wrap my brain about my post-surgery life and the opportunities that lay before me.
The book is a wonderful reminder about the gift of time and, to put it bluntly, the many ways in which we misunderstand that gift and squander it. Oh yes, and some ways we might be able to change that, at least in our own lives. If you are interested in these questions, you should read it yourself…much of the text is beautifully written, inspirational prose that just can’t be accessed any other way.
Two perspectives offered by Bass seem particularly appropriate for all of us on this day leading up to New Year’s Eve — two perspectives that have been rummaging around in my psyche ever since I read them. The first is the statement that the time unit we call “the day” is the unit dictated by nature as well as by Scripture (Gen. 1:4-5):
And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.
Taken simply, the text acknowledges the simple rotation of the Earth between darkness and light that we call a day. And as Bass points out, it is the one unit of time that is not really up for debate. Minutes, hours, weeks — these are human constructs. But a day, that’s real. We do not schedule the sun’s motion (and even when we try, with ideas like Daylight Savings Time, we can only alter the shape of the day a little). Yes, we can choose when to start counting that day — for example, an Old Testament day began at sunset not at some constructed time called “midnight” — but ultimately the shape of a day belongs to creation.
Another unit of time (the one we are focusing on today and tomorrow), the year, is also natural in its own way — a year is made up of seasons of days, and its progression follows the tilts and turns of the earth through the seasons and changes of the passage of days…until it comes right back to the place where we as human beings decided it started. Bass suggests that the year is a circle, not a line, the Earth and its motion returning us to the same place over and over again in a kind of completeness. If you take these circles, each with their slight differences, and lay one year on top of another, you begin to form a line, a line that “runs from long ago toward a distant future.” I can’t help but think of the lyrics “The Windmills of Your Mind” — like a circle in a spiral, like a wheel within a wheel.
There is much more in Receiving the Day to help you consider your use of the gift of time in 2014 and beyond, and in particular the ways in which we can all make a little more space to receive the holiness of the gift of time that comes when you can step away from the secular clock that runs this world and embrace the time that God created for us.
For me, after a year in which my concept of time has been totally up-ended, the reminder that the only “unit if time” that isn’t some human creation is comforting. The day ahead of me is the day that I have…I cannot afford to waste any portion of it by lack of intentionality; to do so is to waste the divine gift in my hands and to ignore the rhythm of life as it was created. Likewise, in the view that the collection of days we call a year, has its own pattern — that if I just let it, it will return me to this new place that is also old, so that I may pick up the next day and use it wisely, at least as long as I have that opportunity.
At the very beginning of her book, Bass reminds us that “we live not outside and above time but within it (pg. 2).” And she also reminds us that “living truthfully, and making the best of the time we have, means acknowledging that both the outcome of our efforts and the length of our lives are beyond our control (pg. 10).”
“Time is not our enemy, nor is it a hostile place from which we must flee. It is a meeting place, a point of rendezvous with God (pg. 11),” says Bass, and I believe it…I know it to be true as I read these words. “And to know time as a gift is to recognize time as the setting within which we also receive God’s other gifts, including the fruits of nature and the companionship of one another (pg. 11)”, she continues. Time speaks to the mystery of the incarnation, and to the reality of living in community.
As we come to the end of our calendar year 2013, I have to work to keep myself from saying good bye and good riddance to what has been a complicated, frightening, and ultimately rewarding year in my life. It is very hard to embrace all of the events and moments of this year as important parts of my living out the journey of faith that I call my life. But Receiving the Day helps me with that task. And I know that these words and this remembrance will help me as I move into the next circle in that line of many circles.
May 2014 bring you much joy and much aliveness as you walk through the dark and the light of your days. And here’s hoping that we meet back here next “year” at the beginning of yet another circle together.