Changed Times

I never studied Latin. Other than responses learned by rote for use in the traditional Catholic Latin mass; I know only two Latin phrases. These are Tempis Fugit and Carpe Diem. Tempis Fugit time Flies and Carpe Diem Seize the moment. I learned from Google that both phrases originated with the ancient Roman Poets Virgil and Horace. Both of these poets were dead before the birth of Jesus. Obviously the phrases were not intended to be used together however together they do make a useful catch phrase. Time does fly and we should make the most of the present moment. The importance of the present moment is a keystone of Eastern religions.
          For the purposes of this talk about time I am excluding Einstein’s discovery of how time changes at speed; I am only going to consider an unscientific everyday concept of time.
          Early humans depended on the bounty of the earth so they were very conscious of the cycle of the seasons. Their extensive knowledge of the night sky and the movements of planets enabled them to build astronomical centres like Newgrange and the Pyramids. Ancient religious festivals were celebrations of the changing seasons. Many of these festivals have been Christianised and incorporated into modern religions.
          Humans created markers of time. The earliest is the sundial which was in use before the Common Era. The enlightenment saw the development of clocks and timepieces. Today we measure time in thousandths of a second. Autonomic clocks are so accurate that we know that to keep marked time in tune with astronomical time we need to make an adjustment of a second every couple of years.
          In the world of science time is measured with precise accuracy every millisecond is the same length yet in our minds how quickly time is passing is very elastic! Time can appear endless yet on other occasions time flies past. There are occasions when it is both long drawn out and short at the same time. In a documentary about the Birmingham Six, one of the men remarked on the tedium of day after endless day yet the years flew past in the blink of an eye.
          We have an individual body clock. Even without a timepiece we usually keep a fairly accurate track of time passing; we tend to wake up at about the same time each day. Our stomachs tell us its lunch time. But sometimes if we are totally focussed on a task we can lose track of time. When we lose track of time we are surprised.
          Our body has its rhythms and these play an essential part in our wellness. Just think of how jet lag upsets us. The rhythms of our body clock are essential to our wellbeing. In the gospels we are told that Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness praying and fasting. We take this for granted because Jesus did that sort of thing. We have no appreciation of the danger and mental strength needed to achieve this. Today if someone wants to spend forty days fasting in the wilderness of Israel they must first sign in with health officials who will make regular checks on them. Isolation and lack of markers like preparing and eating food causes people to lose their mind.
          Covid 19 lockdown has interrupted the rhythms of our life; it has removed the markers of routine. We can’t walk up the steps of our church on Stephen’s Green just before 11.00 on Sundays. There is no work commute. No visits to the hairdressers. Now it is difficult to know the day of the week; lockdown has changed our conception of time passing. Some of my days can seem long and featureless yet last week I had a sudden realisation of how the year is flying past. Like everyone else I am wishing for the end of “lockdown” yet I want to stop the days that I feel are passing far too quickly.
          In February I gave an address called “the wheel of the year”. The address was an exploration of an ancient way of marking the passage of time. In this ancient way the year is portrayed as a circle that is divided into eight parts.
          The major divisions are the Summer and Winter Solstice, the spring and vernal equinox. In between these four divisions are what are called “cross quarter” days. These cross quarter days resonate with Celtic communities. Imbolc, Beltane, Lughnasa and Samhain are still celebrated in Ireland. Three of them – Bealtaine, Luchnasa and Samhain - are the Gaelic names for months of the year. That address was given at Imbolc. In February the light was becoming stronger, the snowdrops were breaking through, we looked forward to the earth reawakening. It is the time when I plan holidays.
          Just six weeks later the church was closed and since March we have passed the spring equinox and Easter and during this week the festival of Beltaine or Mayday. Two markers of time have slipped past without a celebration. It is months since Irish people gathered to mark or celebrate any event. As we hear the daily statistics of deaths from Covid 19 there seems little to celebrate.
          We know that we are living through difficult days. We miss the company of other people; we miss the physical closeness of family and friends we miss hugs and handshakes and fresh adventures. In the list of things people miss, it is surprising how very few people are missing buying things.
          This virus is teaching us the fragility of human life. Humans have the skill to set foot on the moon and return safely to earth we who are exploring the vastness of deep space; are now experiencing our powerlessness and our incredible vulnerability. It has highlighted our dependence on one another for our emotional wellbeing. This pandemic has demonstrated our mistreatment of animals and nature; and how forgiving nature is of our mistreatment.
          As I write this it seems unlikely that lockdown will finish on the 5th May. But we will survive; and we will survive better if we remember every day to do something to care for ourselves.
          The good news is that despite all the changes time has remained constant; there are still 168 hours in the week. We must create new structures for our day. For the duration of Covid 19 we have to build a new life. This will not be our ideal life but we can make it the best life possible. As a card I received lately said “Every day may not be good but there is some good in every day.” Make a note to find the good in every day.
          Remember all the things we couldn’t do because “ we don’t have the time”? Make a list and do some of those things. Make a routine for your day; make it in pencil so it can be changed if necessary. Use your diary to list daily tasks for yourself. Get as much fresh air and sunshine as you possibly can. Do some physical exercises daily. Don’t gorge on Covid 19 news and slow yourself into getting ready to sleep.
          Most importantly use your phone/computer to make contact with other people. We are making this journey together and we will get through it. Humanity may even be kinder from the experience. Nature will certainly benefit from this different lifestyle. We are fortunate that technology is allowing us weather this time together. Be grateful, savour the gift of living now in this moment and even thought we are separated we will hold hands and stick together.

Rev.Bridget Spain                             Dublin 3rd May 2020
Minister Dublin Unitarian Church

Broadcast on WRUU 107.5fm. Savannah 17th May 2020