How the Liturgical Calendar Corrects Our Sense of Time
“I’ve been in summer for a whole year” my wife looks away as she says this. We're on our weekly walk at Lumphini Park.
It’s been almost a year since we’ve decided to move back to Thailand where my family is, and one of Carrie’s least favorite things about Bangkok is the unrelenting heat wave that prevents us from being outside for most of the day. But her complaint is not simply about the temperature, of course. The changing temperatures often mark the changing of seasonal holidays: Christmas in the snow, Halloween amidst fallen leaves, and Easter among blooming flowers. Being stuck in summer means the holidays float past one another unnoticed. This is not to say that Thailand is without its celebrations, but with the pandemic around us, every day seems mundane, bereft of the sacred.
The days’ sameness reminds me of my time in college, when I realized how important “my time” was. Instead of enjoying the changing seasons throughout the year, I became acquainted with the American mantra of how “time is money.” I learned to “spend” my time wisely in college; I “managed” my time well, as I was told. I was proud of the fact that I never pulled an all-nighter to finish up an assignment. I even had a “time block,” a schedule that allowed me to block off 30-minute slots in my day dedicated to specific tasks. Every action was clock-bound. And yet, every day was exhaustingly similar— I spent all my time catching up (with who or what, I couldn’t tell) or getting ahead.
When I first learned about the liturgical calendar, the idea was like a breath of fresh air. What the church offered me was a calendar without a list of tasks set in mechanical time. Instead of seeing time in economic terms, I learned that time was a gift. I learned that time was not mine to spend but was given to me so I could inhabit the narrative of Christ’s story. I rejoice that He is born in Christmas, I suffer with Him during Lent, I await the hope of His resurrection in Easter, and I am led by the Holy Spirit to new harvests in Pentecost.
Of course, it may not seem like time is a gift right now, as we seem to be inhabiting a sort of COVID-19 limbo. As Josiah Swinton tells us in Becoming Friends of Time, this is because “Time has fallen. The abusive and oppressive nature of time is indicative of its status as fallen creature.” The “tyranny of the clock,” as Swinton calls it, may oppress us by demanding more of what we should be doing, what we’re already doing, or what we cannot get ourselves to do. Instead of allowing us to inhabit God’s story, it puts us at the center and deceives us into an illusory state of control. What results is exhaustion all the same, for who can really control time?
In its original state, Swinton argues, “Time is intended for love and indeed is an aspect of God’s love for God’s creation.” The liturgical calendar can provide us a glimpse of what redeemed time looks like. It doesn’t demand us to create something worthwhile to “fill” the time. It doesn’t oppress us with the mechanical clock-hand that waits for no one. By delving deeper into the liturgical calendar, we are reminded that time is sacred. We are reminded that seasons come and go, but “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever (Heb. 13:8 NIV).