“What time is it?” someone asked when I was recently with a group of friends who speak English as their second (or in some cases third) language. One person answered, referring to his 24hr format watch, “It’s 22:40.” More than one person in the group had a confused look on their face because they had heard “It’s 20 to 40″… a time format they had no idea how to interpret.
Before you can answer the question of what time it is, you need to know how you are counting.
Right now, for most of us reading this, I presume it is 2018. But in the Armenian calendar, we are in 1468; Ethiopian calendar 2009; Iranian calendar 1395, and the Korean calendar 4350. To properly tell the time, you need to know how you are counting.
More significantly, the way we are counting tells us some of our biggest cultural stories. We are in 2018 A.D., which are the acronyms for the Latin “Anno Domini”, meaning ‘the year of our Lord’. It’s called the ‘year of our Lord’, because we are counting from the birth of Jesus – the moment the second person of the trinity entered fully into our human condition and forever joined Godself to humanity.
In this way, we can see that time is not just a meaningless utility, a purposeless form, but rather the marker which positions us within a particular story or context. Time is not just passive or neutral, it is affective, it carries us along with a storied momentum. Time follows along all the days of our lives whispering to us about where, when, and who we are.
Every time we tell the time we (most likely unconsciously) memorialise that we live 2000+ years from the event of the incarnation. In telling time by counting from this event, we are affirming the radical significance of it – the hinge of history – the moment when the Word took on flesh, as John tells us. This is the story that is intended to be remembered when we tell the time… not just remembered, we are reminded to live in light of it! To live in light of the future to which those historical events gesture.
But of course, not many of us experience this story impacting our lives through the telling of time. Even though our culture may have a vague memory of this inherited way of telling time, we are usually moving through time with much more pressing and immediate time markers. As you think of the year, what helps you divide it into meaningful time? What events matter to you? Maybe it’s the academic year – September (or January) onwards? Maybe the financial year, from tax form submission to tax form submission? For many, in our Youth With a Mission training locations, life can run from 3 month quarter to 3 month quarter. However you naturally divide your year tells you what is important to you and what is important to the culture and community you are surrounded by.
The Greeks had a myth about time that, as they so often did, turned the seemingly invisible forces they experienced in their lives into divine persons with stories that unpacked how it impacted their lives. For time, they told the story of a God called “Chronos”. Chronos is the Greek root word you sometimes see on more expensive watches, “Chronograph”, but, the myth of Chronos is far from a fine symbol for an elegant time piece! Chronos, in Greek mythology, is the God of time who consumes his children to symbolise the way in which time moves unfeelingly forward, consuming everything in its path. This is the experience of time we have when we use phrases like “we are running out of time” or “there is not enough time in the day”.
Time is not just a passive marker. Time wants to tell us a story, to root us in a context. Unless we pay attention to our relationship to time, and our movement within it, we will be unknowingly formed into the rhythms and priorities of our cultures which so often leave us adrift without the deep roots that can anchor us in the storms of hurry and anxiety.
In the next post in this series, we will explore how the early Christians used the Christian Calendar to ‘tell’ time in way that was transformative for their community and themselves. We will explore how we can relate to time in a manner that grounds us in the Story of God, further shaping us into Christ-likeness.
Time to Reflect:
Is your current experience of time a one-off, ticking each day off the calendar? Consider how you are thinking of the upcoming year. What events organise, divide, and frame your year? What does that tell you about what is important to you? How could you adjust your approach to time in ways that prioritised your transformation into the likeness of Christ?
Maybe you are thinking pay check to pay check. Try changing those patterns by setting aside two days in your month specifically for financial generosity. This helps counter the ‘scarcity dynamic’ that trusts in financial provision instead of God’s care for you. Make a meal for someone and take it to them. Donate money to a charity. Give your time by volunteering somewhere or visiting the elderly.
Maybe you are organising your year around tests, exams or a large event. In what ways does that reveal that you may have intermingled your self-worth with your performance in that environment? What could you do to create rhythms that allow you to reflect on your worth to God which exists outside of your achievements? Set aside one day per quarter in your 2019 calendar for this. Think through what you could do and who you might include.