by Rev. Scott Dickison
How you tell your time says a lot about how you tell your story. And I don’t mean whether or not you like to wear a watch or how often you check what time it is on your cell phone, as is growing to be more the case (for me, at least). Keeping track of the seconds, minutes and hours is part of it, but by “telling time” I really mean keeping track of the bigger picture, and there are many ways to do this.
Our culture generally thinks of time in a “linear” way. We number our days and years, always progressing in our numbering. We know that last year was 2012, this year is 2013, next year will be 2014 and so on. We speak metaphorically about “history repeating itself,” but in practice we have a sense that we are always moving forward.
But not every culture tells time this way. Some cultures tell time in a more “cyclical” way, taking cues from the natural world: the changing of seasons and natural life cycles of all life. Instead of thinking of time in terms of a forward progression, this approach values the way the world moves in predictable patterns; summer leading to fall, fall to winter, winter to spring, spring back to summer, and so forth.
And the truth is that we have a cyclical sense of time as well. Our calendar starts over every January 1 and we repeat the same holidays as the year before. In the nursery area where our children go during worship, you’ll see that we teach them about the liturgical calendar with a big, felt wheel that marks every Sunday in the year. Even as we’re moving forward, there’s also a sense of returning along our way, like that subtle sense of familiarity that undergirds each “first day of school.”
If we combine these two senses of time—the linear and the cyclical—it might be more accurate to describe time as a kind of spiral, at the same time moving forward and round and round in a particular direction. And determining which direction in particular is where faith comes in.
The cynics among us will say that the world is moving forward, but in a downward spiral. Agnostics might say that we’re moving in no direction in particular. But the overwhelming Biblical message is that creation is moving forward and spiraling upward—toward goodness, toward wholeness, toward God.
As we transition out of summer and return from our various coming and goings to begin a new school and church year together, let’s keep our momentum moving forward. There are great things happening in our church, many of which you’ll read about in this edition of the High-Lites and hear about in the Fresh Start Sunday school hour. But let’s ever and always keep moving upward: in our relationships with each other, our community and our creator. The Christian story is one of ascension; may it also be the way we tell our time.