Ordinary Time

To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. (Ecclesiastes 3:1)

If you have ever been to Amish country around Lancaster, Pennsylvania, you have probably encountered horse-drawn buggies trotting down the highway. The buggies have large red reflective triangles on the back to identify them as slow-moving vehicles. “The horse is our pacer,” explained one Amish man. “We can’t speed up like you can in a car.” The Amish live almost wholly outside the frenetic pace of modern life. According to Dr. Donald B. Kraybill, a leading scholar of the Old Order Amish, their buggies, in effect, bear a large sign reading PATIENCE. Their hymns are as leisurely as their conveyances. In most respects, they dance only to the slow rhythms of the sun and the seasons. Many do not even set their clocks ahead for daylight savings time during the summer. They live by God’s time alone.

Certain Christian denominations have a term for parts of the liturgical calendar that do not include special celebrations, such as Christmas or Easter. It is called “ordinary time.” “Ordinary” in this case 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. The biblical account of creation describes how God brought order out of chaos, dividing light from darkness; set lights in the sky to separate the day from the night, the sun to rule by day and the moon by night. The Lord then planted a garden and put the man there he had made from the dust of the ground to till it and to keep it. The Amish way of life continues today as they believe God first ordained it.

Motorists who find themselves stuck behind an Amish buggy on a narrow country lane may find it difficult to summon the patience needed in this situation. It would seem at first glance that the Amish are profoundly out of sync with the times. But in a deeper sense it may be that the civilization that has crowded in upon them is profoundly out of sync with the slow turning of the planet upon its axis, the leisurely progress of the sun across the sky and the gradual advance of the seasons, to say nothing of the circadian rhythms governing all plant and animal life down to the cellular level. Our lives are much more bound up with ordinary time than we might care to acknowledge, affecting everything from body temperature and cardiovascular function to metabolism and sleep patterns.

Time as we have come to understand it – that is to say, clock time -- did not exist when the biblical narratives were written. There was no real way to measure time -- or even to think about it -- apart from the movement of the sun across the sky. We have medieval monks to thank for the first mechanical clocks, which were invented so they could rouse themselves in the middle of the night to pray. Clocks were soon installed in bell towers to regulate the commercial life in the towns, then shop foremen began carrying pocket watches to move things along on factory floors. The effect was to divorce time from the natural order. Factories operated night and day. Assembly lines were speeded up to gain productivity. Since there was never any more time, you had to do more in the time you had to get more. Eventually, everyone is run ragged trying to keep up – but with what exactly? The world isn’t turning any faster than it used to, and there are no fewer hours in the day.

The American physician Larry Dossey has coined the term “time sickness” to describe this phenomenon. While its symptoms can affect the body, time sickness is primarily a mental disorder springing from the delusion that time is speeding up. And because we think time is accelerating, we must speed up ourselves in order to keep from falling behind. Of course, we know that time isn’t actually going any faster, but that is how we experience it, both mentally and physically. We live life as if we are always running late – until perhaps the day we find ourselves backed up behind a horse-drawn buggy with a large red reflective triangle on the back. And then we face a choice. We can give vent to our momentary frustration, or we can take a deep breath and remind ourselves that we are really living in ordinary time.

Dr. Donald B. Kraybill, “Slow Time Is God’s Time,” Vestoj (June 20, 2017)
Genesis 1-2

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