Sacred Time

As I headed to Divine Liturgy yesterday morning, I was glad to be able to participate in sacred time. The ability to set aside time for worship and repentant reflection has clear benefits for the soul. Elizabeth Oldfield writes about Keeping Sacred Time for Comment Magazine.

Rowan Williams says that undifferentiated time” is one of the hallmarks of secular societies, and we are all dancing to its catchy, repetitive tune. Largely detached from the seasons, time feels like a headlong linear rush of news cycles punctuated by the commercial breaks of Black Friday and Starbucks Red Cup Day. Williams believes that one of the hidden gifts of communal religious practice is the way it helps us locate ourselves in, and stay in fruitful relationship with, time.

I wonder about undifferentiated time” and its relationship to boredom, and the lengths to which we go to keep boredom at bay. When we consume too much of the cultural waste products because we feel like we have nothing better to do, it feels like we are doing a disservice to the soul. I know that I have a problem sometimes becoming too entrenched in online culture, much of which is, at best, unhealthy filler. I have to step outside that pattern and into a new relationship to time and transcendence. It seems even those with more secular inclinations recognize this need. Oldfield cites Oliver Burkeman, author of Four Thousand Weeks, who is widely read for his commentary on time.

Burkeman argues powerfully for the importance of collective time, the sharing of regular rhythms and practices with other people. For his audience, it sounds surprisingly radical. In language that could easily be heard in a sermon, he expounds the way collective committed rhythms actually liberate us, in contrast to the individualized, flexible, autonomous schedules we mainly keep, which Burkeman calls the freedom to never see your friends.”

Communal activities centered around sacred traditions can, in the right circumstances, build connections. Of course, the time spent on these activities takes away from time for other things, at a time when it feels like there are endless ways to spend our most precious resource. Not all the ways we spend our time are equal, for sure, so it’s up to us to be judicious in this area. This calls for a kind of discernment that is unfamiliar in its sheer scope. Jeremy Abel writes about our inability to process the overload of information at our fingertips.

As we face a time of uncertainty and increasing demands on our attention, we need to decide now: will we pretend to be God, who can see and know all with perfect love and equanimity? Will we sell ourselves short by imagining our minds to be made of silicon, capable of handling the endless flow of data? Or will we accept ourselves as organic life: limited, frail, and worthy of peace and compassion, come what may?

The commentary from Abel fits in well with how Burkeman describes our relationship to the glut of information out there. We have to resist succumbing to FOMO in an environment where that is a constant nagging feeling. It seems to me that this takes a very deliberate decision to turn away from that path. To reorient ourselves to the world around us, both material and spiritual.

Some people share the fact that going to the gym is the only way they can keep themselves to an exercise routine. They don’t get the same motivation from having exercise equipment at home. I feel much the same way about worship. I use my prayer books and pray at home, but there is something to be said for traveling to a destination for corporate worship that forces focus and attention. There are no distractions. Everything around you points to toward a particular focal point. The presence of others forces you into a rhythm.

Though I fear I might have quoted too liberally from her piece (seriously, go read it), I’ll give the last word to Oldfield.

I’m more and more convinced that the way we structure our time—collectively, not only individually—is the key factor in our discipleship. The only way we can be formed to stay loyal to the logic of a different kingdom is to focus as much repeated, intentional attention on its stories and rituals and songs as we do on our phones, our televisions, and our shopping centres.

That sums it up nicely.