04 February 2009

On the Sanctification of Time

I occasionally get e-mails from a little Roman Catholic publisher called 'Paraclete Press'. This is an excerpt from an e-mail I received some time ago. I thought it a nice succinct statement about the whole concept of a 'liturgical year', something foreign to many in our day and age:

An Invitation to Live the Church Year—by Beth Bevis

What does it mean to ‘Live the Church Year?’ Our goal is to recover a more ancient way of looking at time and the mysterious relationship between the material and spiritual realms.

The early Christians believed that the rhythm of the year gave us a perfect opportunity to re-enact the story of our salvation. In the holy days and seasons of the church year, the life of Christ and the entirety of human history are recapitulated. The eternal is aligned with the here and now.

Liturgy is incarnational, involving our bodily and sensory participation in worship. Each season in the liturgical year, then, comes with its own set of traditions—sights, smells, and sounds that involve our senses; and readings, prayers, and practices that call us to undertake certain activities. Each of the seasons and holy days of the church year is marked by practices that reflect the meaning of that season or day. There are
times for feasting and for fasting, preparation, and celebration.

I thought this was a good way to capture it. The phenomenon of the liturgical year—which is of course an enormous part of the spiritual tradition of the Orthodox Church—is of great interest to me, not only aesthetically, but also philosophically or theologically. Certainly, it seems to me that as our technologies and the sophistication of our social systems have developed beyond all possible imagining, man has become enclosed in an artificial bubble, and the very idea of the seasons has become increasingly abstract. As Michael Judge has pointed out, even time 'gradually stopped being a reflection of the natural world, and became a mechanism' (The Dance of Time: The Origins of the Calendar—A Miscellany of History and Myth, Religion and Astronomy, Festivals and Feast Days [NY: MJF, 2004], p. 10). Observing the rhythms of the liturgical year is a way of reconnecting spiritually with time itself. The calendar, even in its debased, secularised form, is a link with the daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly cycles and the bridge they form between the spiritual and the natural worlds. In Judge's words:

Embedded in our technological age, there remains an ancient artifact, a reminder of the days before mechanical time, when the rhythms of the earth and sky matched those of man and woman. This strange survivor still recalls an ancient way of seeing, still celebrates the seasons and their different moods: the sun in his azure sky, the eerie moon wrapped in her mantle of stars, and the habits, sacred and profane, of mortal beings. It has, over many centuries, woven the festivals, observances, and customs of humanity into a tapestry on which the lineaments of human life may still be traced. It is called the calendar. (ibid., p. 10)

But of course, this 'strange survivor' will recall nothing for us if it remains wholly devoid of the sacred significance it once bore, if time remains unsanctified. It's a particularly apropos idea as we begin the second month of a new year.


Anonymous said...

I don't believe Paraclete Press is Roman Catholic?

Aaron Taylor said...

Well, I don't know the personal affiliation of the owners or managers, and I realise that they sell a couple of Orthodox books. But the preponderance of books seems to be RC. A quick look-through of new releases shows one called 'Catholic Heart Day by Day' and books about Mother Teresa, Francis of Assisi, M. Basil Pennington, and Therese of Lisieux. I don't know too many Protestant publishers that publish on these people, and no Orthodox publishers do.

Randy said...

From Paraclete's description of themselves:"Paraclete Press is a publisher of books, recordings and DVDs on Christian spirituality. Our publishing represents a full expression of Christian belief and practice--from Catholic to Evangelical, from Protestant to Orthodox. We are the publishing arm of the Community of Jesus, an ecumenical monastic community in the Benedictine tradition..."