Culture At Large

How should we mark our time?

Bill VanGroningen

Time is a slippery thing, and how we mark it is no less so. Time slips away when we’re having fun, but seems to expand in awkward or fretful moments. We gladly count down the days to our next vacation, but most prefer not to count up the years of work left before retirement. The way we mark our days and years and lives matters to us.

It doesn’t help that we mark time in so many different ways. President Obama obviously marks time according to presidential campaigns. Looking ahead to the 2012 election, he realized that now was the time to open up his campaign headquarters. Other potential candidates look at the calendar and aren’t so sure it’s time for that yet. Sarah Palin, enjoying the attention of people who wonder but do not know what her intentions are, may well decide that it’s still too early to mark this moment in time in the same way.

Sports enthusiasts are all over the map (of time). The hockey calendar is heading toward its climax; the playoffs have begun, though they last so long that it’s hard to maintain excitement for the duration. The baseball calendar has begun, though the hallowed days at the ballpark during the dog days of summer seem endlessly distant right now. A schedule for a season of football has been released, though it’s too early to tell if a season will actually arrive.

Most of us are caught up in this maelstrom of time and competing calendars. We celebrate a New Year on Jan. 1. Or, if we are more religiously observant, as Advent begins. Or, if we or any of our family are involved in schooling, then in late August or September. Or, if we have Asian or other cultural connections, we celebrate New Year’s yet some other time.

Most of us are caught up in a maelstrom of time and competing calendars.

Having lived in Australia, Canada and the United States for significant periods, adjusting each time to the rhythm of their calendars, I realize that time and the way we mark it is anything but absolute, though it is not entirely arbitrary nor completely relative either. Not only light, but also time, bends as we journey in and around the galaxies of our universe - both personal and cosmic.

So on whose time and by which calendar ought we to live? Given all this general relativity and individual difference, does it not really matter that much after all? Perhaps these questions were also in the mind of the psalmist when he wrote: “Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."

When I consider the calendars that mark and order my life, what I usually notice is how thoroughly busy I am. Wisdom is not immediately apparent in the way I mark my time. Perhaps that should change. And what better time for a new beginning than the after-glow of Easter? Might it be wiser to make resolutions in the light of Easter (and continually recalibrate our lives and times accordingly as we worship each successive Sunday) rather than the light of Times Square?

What other changes to our calendar would help us mark time wisely? No doubt that will vary somewhat from person to person, across cultures and geography. But surely we can find more significant ways to mark our time than political campaigns, sports seasons, lunar cycles and the like.

Topics: Culture At Large, Theology & The Church, Faith, News & Politics, Social Trends