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To Number Our Days 

Last night I had one of those Rip Van Winkle moments when you suddenly realize a lifetime has passed while you were otherwise engaged. The young woman I married is now silver-haired. That old codger in the mirror is me. The wiggly little boys who used to scamper about the house are middle-aged, and even my granddaughter fancies herself too old to scamper about the house. To steal a line from Dr. Seuss, how did it get so late so soon?

“Teach us to number our days that we may get a heart of wisdom,” the Psalmist prayed. That’s good advice for anyone, not just oldsters like me whose days may be numbered. But what exactly does it mean to number our days? In the most literal sense, it means to count them. Anthropologists report that some hunter-gatherer tribes have no language at all to mark the passage of time. Early agricultural societies had to find ways to track the passing days so they would know when to plant and when to harvest. The earliest calendars go back to the Bronze Age, when civilizations first developed writing and record-keeping. The ancient Hebrews numbered their days with a calendar based on the waxing and waning of the moon, with an additional month thrown in every two or three years so the seasons would remain aligned with the solar year.

One of the most important early uses of calendars was to keep track of religious observances. The addition of an occasional leap month in the Hebrew calendar assured that seasonal festivals like Passover and Sukkoth would always fall at the same time of year, if not the same day on the Gregorian (solar) calendar. The Roman Catholic liturgical calendar was divided into seasons, starting with Advent in the period leading up to Christmas, then cycling through Epiphany, Lent, Easter and Pentecost. Some observances, like Christmas, are held on the same date each year, while others, like Easter, are variable. Easter is a “movable feast” celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon after the vernal equinox.

Most of the church year not given over to major observances like Christmas and Easter is called “ordinary time.” In this case, “ordinary” does not mean commonplace but rather refers to times that are numbered, from the Latin ordinalis, denoting a numbered series. The word derives from the Latin root ordo, from which we get the English word “order.” Ordinary time can be thought of as ordered time.

When we are called upon to number our days, we would do well to think of them the way the church regards ordinary time — not as commonplace but as ordered time. By ordered, I mean it is ordained. The time of our life does not unfold by mere happenstance. It unfolds with a definite purpose, with a beginning and an end — the latter of which looms larger as your days count down. Jesus of Nazareth once told his disciples that even the hairs on their heads were numbered. This was go assure them they were valued. If the hairs on our heads our worth counting, how much more our days on this earth? This is how one acquires a heart of wisdom, to make our days count for something

Psalm 90:12
Matthew 10:30

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