The Table of Hours: Recovering the Sacredness of Time

Been so deeply drawn to recovering time lately..... not as in cramming more into the day, not as in finding "quality time", but something different.

Take for instance how we even merely look at time. Take today, right now. We'd say its "August 22nd, 8:30 pm". In the middle ages they would instead say something like "
Feastday of the Queenship of Mary (image above), compline". What an amazing difference! The former is cold calculating numbers, the later is rich and alive. They would name the feastday, or say it was __days before/after a certain feastday, and what time of day is based on which prayers are being this case it was night prayers or compline; if the time was say an hour earlier/later than compline they might say then: "the hour before compline" or the hour after compline", and the like. And compline etc itself varies with when the sun rises and sets, so one is forced to (egads) actually be aware and attuned to the rythyms of nature. Yes, its less precise than when one lives by their watch. But its far more appropriate when one is aiming to live a peaceful and rich and alive sacred life.

And so the thing is, there really ~is~ more than one way to even look at time, not just the way we tend to assume is the only way becuase its all we are around. I'm sure there are other ways too... the Inuit for instance don't even have a word for time in their language, hows that for a different understanding of time? I get drawn there too. And this Medieval understanding of time mentioned, it happens to be one i am very drawn to, one with such roots and beauty behind it. Below btw, here are the hours of the day (the liturgy of hours) rhythm that was used then, a rythym still used by many religious etc around the world today, but before it was used by everyone in looking at the day... complete often with church bells in the background in one's village anouncing these hours as the norm for one's day. Whether one said the prayers or not, there was still an awareness of them, they were what marked one's time. I think about that image a lot. I remember when i visited Europe years ago, i was in a small medieval village in Germany and cried my eyes out when i saw that the tallest building was not a bank but a church, it was the first time i had seen the church being the highest building in real life and not just in a novel or movie. I had no idea it would affect me so strongly, seeing the church truly as the center like that, and it's what we have lost in so many ways. Anyway, the hours, from here:

During the Night-- Matins --Readings
Sunrise --Lauds-- Morning Prayer
Morning Prayer-- First Hour of the Day-- Prime (suppressed)
Third Hour of the Day-- Terce-- Mid-morning Prayer
Sixth Hour of the Day-- Sext --Midday Prayer
Ninth Hour of the Day-- None-- Mid-afternoon Prayer
As evening approaches --Vespers-- Evening Prayer
Nightfall-- Compline-- Night Prayer

A passage also comes to mind from a medieval type novel i read recently (The Wounded Hawk by Sara Douglass). In this scene a man named Bolingbroke is very keen on the new advances of the day, most of which fascinate his friend Neville. But even Neville has to draw the line at Bolingbrokes wanting to switch to the new arabic sytem of talking about time with the coldness of numbers. You see, at first these new arabic numbers were just used by his friend in their household accounting. The arabic numbers incorporated zero which was new, and using it made numbers mere symbols now vs the more tangible and visual roman numeral style of the time. That new switch was uncomfortable for Neville but livable, but he drew the line when his friend wants to start this numbering in their way of dating and timing too. From the book:

"Calculating time around the constantly shifting feastdays of the annual Christian religious cycle was cumbersome, yes, but it was a familiar and beautiful routine that he wasnt sure should be replaced by cold, heartless numerals." (added later, this book series is not recommended, it gets starnge....but i still love that qoute)

When we switched to how we say the year (___ years after Christ's resurrection) this feels healing (before that it was __ year in the reign of whatever secular king instead, blech). But when it comes to the changes we made to the rest of how we express time, well we lost something, we really did. What does "5 o clock" mean for instance? To us its just a number on the clock. But in real life what 5 o clock really IS depends on the time of the one time of year it would be dark at that time, bright at another, so as mentioned the prayers said then would vary as they were set to the rhythms of nature...sunrise, midday, sunset, it would be called something different at each time of year. It would be called what it really was, what was really happening then, something touchable and tangible. Yes i know in some ways its less practical, but i cant help but notice that one of the things that happens to me when i read things about or from the Middle Ages (one of my favorite periods if you havent already guessed, smile) is that my heart just stills and aches when i hear time talked about in such a living, touchable beautiful and real way rather than the mere sterile numbers we use instead.

The thing is, i think how we even talk about our time is frankly an expression of our priorities. And i dont think our shift there has been for the better. I long so much for a recovering of the sacredness of time.

So this is a piece of things, a piece of seeing how there are actually such different ways of seeing time really, not simply only what we take for granted as the norm. Seeing that, i think it really changes things...

Blessed Feastday Everyone : )

(Image is the Coronation of the Virgin by Duccio di Buoninsegna
, from here)

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