Last week I attended a conference sponsored by the Diocese of Delaware: it was given by the Church Pension Fund to a group of clergy and its subject was what happens to us when we retire. However, there was another element to the conference which had to do with remaining healthy until retirement. Were we looking after ourselves properly? This came under the heading of keeping a work/life balance.
One colleague spoke about her decision to use a “flip” phone exclusively – you know the kind, where the phone rings and you open it up, like Captain Kirk, to answer a call. Until a few years ago, I had one myself – a Motorola Razr, which was made of metal, not plastic, and had a screen the size of a postage stamp. It was once the height of cool but now, alas, possession of such an object means being equated with the dinosaurs.
I now use a smartphone, but when I heard my colleague explain her reason for using the flip phone, I found myself agreeing with her and wishing I still used my Razr. She said that she wasn’t interested in having the phone for emails or texts and that if someone needed to contact her urgently then all they had to do was dial the number and she would answer the phone. It all sounded perfectly sensible, and even refreshing, to hear someone pushing back against the trend of technology and its tendency to determine our human behavior.
I recalled another pushing back against technology from last year, from Pope Tawadros II, the head of the Coptic Orthodox Church in Egypt, who explained why he shut down his official Facebook page: “Time is the most precious gift God gives us daily, and we must use it in a good way. The Christian must sanctify his time, and the monk leaves everything behind so that all of life becomes sanctified for God.”
The Sanctification of Time is an ancient idea. To sanctify means to make holy. Time was part of God’s creation, along with the sea and the earth and all living things. Since God has intervened in human history, the key events of God’s intervention, such as the Exodus or the resurrection, become occasions for continual celebration. That means our worship is not some pious re-enactment of a past event, but a dynamic ordering of time through the faithful remembrance of God’s intervention in human history.
Christians believe that when God became man in Jesus Christ, God entered into “time” and sanctified it. Perhaps the most significant way that God sanctifies time is through the Eucharist, the Last Supper Jesus shared with his disciples. As the theologian Gerard Loughlin puts it,
“The Christian Eucharist remains…as the site where time continues to arrive from past and future, constituting the present moment through the church’s recollection and anticipation of what is promised: the ever-renewed arrival of God’s eternity in Christ…The eucharistic celebration teaches the church how to wait upon the arrival of God.”
The Eucharist, and all celebrations of the Christian Calendar, are encounters with the mystery of God. In the encounter we are entering into eternal moments within time through which Christ can grow in us and in the Church. But how do we sanctify time outside of regular attendance at Church?
For a more holistic approach we can learn from the Celtic tradition, as Esther de Waal describes:
“A people who farmed and knew the patterns of the seasons, who lived close to the sea and watched the ebb and flow of tides, above all who watched the daily cycle of the sun and the changing path of the moon, brought all of this into their prayer…I am reminded that as a human being living on this earth I am part of the pattern of the day and night, darkness and light, the waxing and waning of the moon, the rising and setting of the sun. The whole of myself is inserted into the rhythm of the elements and I can here learn something, if I am prepared to, of the ebb and flow of time and of life itself.”
There should first be an identification with the natural world including the changing of seasons. Then consider how we are made – as sensory, emotional and intelligent beings who are created for relationship with God and with one another. In the natural world we see the unity of creation and the hand of God at work: we are not separate from the natural world, but are creatures like every other, but with a fundamental difference, which is a capacity for reflection and to be creators ourselves. We share with our creator a likeness which also confers on us a responsibility, to use our time in such a way that honors and blesses God, which means stepping away from those things which distract or divert us from God in order that we can best make use of God’s gift of time.
Pope Tawadros II saw a danger in the use of Facebook for his monks and he was responding to a particular situation. Ask yourself if there is a website which you spend too much time on – what steals time from you? I have always thought that, in the modern world, the internet may be the greatest thief of time. While it has brought many advantages, it also draws us into avoiding the world that is in front of us, by which I mean, the world you see when the screen is shut. Could you reduce the time you spend each day, watching the lit screen, and instead stop to say a prayer? Think about other ways you could sanctify time in your own life. I’m not necessarily advocating a return to the flip phone, but maybe we can start by questioning the value of each technological change, rather than assuming it’s what we really want.
With joy and blessings