A time to...

Assistant Rector's House, November 1998

I am writing this letter on October 21St This morning I walked up through The Park to visit someone, and revelled in the beauty of Autumn. The air was mellow, the colours of the trees magnificently varied in oranges and greens and browns and pinks, the wind whirled the leaves in intricate patterns all over the roads and gardens. My only complaint was that night-time rain had made the fallen leaves too soggy to really ‘crunch’ through! It was a real time of awareness of the changing nature of the seasons – a time to enjoy the distinctiveness of Autumn.

This afternoon I walked into church via a chainstore which shall be nameless. As I opened the door the seasons changed, and suddenly it was Christmas! A large area of floor-space had been cleared of ladies’ clothes and replaced by Christmas trees and decorations and ‘gifts’ and cards, and the muzak was ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’.

What are we doing with time? We seem to be losing any sense of its patterns. And a sense of time matters. Time is one of God’s gifts to us. Of course it’s nice to be able (courtesy of the freezer) to dismiss the seasons and enjoy favourite fruits and vegetables at any time of the year. Of course it’s very welcome (courtesy of central-heating systems) to be protected from the cold of winter, and (courtesy of clever horticulturists) to have the pleasurable option of bright gardens all the year round. But there are some aspects of this trend, to ignore the patterns of time, which are not good. Two aspects almost contradict each other.


In one way there is an increasing sameness to our days. Seven days a week we are able to do the same things - we can shop during all 24 hours, play or watch sport or go to the cinema, go to all-day pubs, be made to work in paid employment etc. "On the seventh day God rested". After all his activity in creation, God took a break. And he made us in his image. We need rest and passivity, above all we need ‘difference’, we need what one writer has called ‘blessed idleness’. Traditional Jewish religion has retained this sense of the blessings of Sabbath far better than we Christians have. The Sabbath is a ‘space’ – for play and eating and drinking, a time to celebrate relationships with families and friends. It is a time given to ‘balance’ all of our activity, a time to relax and be refreshed. And we are all in danger of being caught up in a quite different culture and losing the meaning.

(Just an aside from one who has her ‘day of rest’ on a Monday. You may not know it but on Mondays many pubs and restaurants are closed - so are museums, stately homes, and shops in rural villages. It’s as though a real human need is being acknowledged – the rhythm of life is being maintained in some places – usually just where we want to stop for lunch!)


But paradoxically, side by side with this ‘levelling’ of time, there is a huge concentration on the ‘highlights’ – so that we jump from one high point to another with no sense of expectancy in between. Christmas leads into holiday brochures, Easter eggs and hot-cross buns are on sale in February, fireworks are exploded in September, birthdays are planned months ahead, and we are back to Christmas in October! The whole concept of waiting is being lost.

We are at risk of losing so much. God intends us to be aware of time. He has given us the gift of time with its many facets. Time is ours to remember, to enjoy, to prepare, to use, to laze away, to experience waiting, to provoke longing – and we mustn’t let it sink into a bland sameness.

At the end of this month Advent begins – a time when the church, at odds with the shops, becomes quiet and waits and watches for the coming of Christ. Try to observe Advent in this sense, as a time of grace. With a month’s notice, decide what you might do - to help you tune into the expectancy and find meaning in the waiting.

Eileen McLean

St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 1st November 1998