The discovery that it is September again has challenged my sense of time. The year to date has been so odd that the rhythm of the weeks and months, the passing of the seasons, doesn’t seem to have worked in quite the same way as I generally experience. The pandemic crisis began as winter was giving way to spring. Now, the crisis is far from over and we are already at the threshold of autumn. Throughout this period, many of the normal markers that divide up the time of our lives have been absent. Each day has been very similar to the last and to the next.
The same has been true in our church life. We went into lockdown during Lent, and spent the entire season of Easter unable to attend public worship. Ascension and Pentecost were also spent at home, and now we’re into our third month of ‘Ordinary Time’ with Advent not too far away.
The different ways we have of marking out the passage of time are just as important as the ways we mark out spaces, but they can be harder to maintain. Most of us put things in a diary to make sure we remember where we’re supposed to be and at what times, and we’ll generally keep our appointments if we’d be letting other people down by not doing so. Yet we are often much less disciplined when other people aren’t involved. I can write in my diary that I need to go out for a run, or take a day’s silent retreat, but if someone rings to ask me to attend a meeting at one of those times I find it difficult to say no.
Setting aside both time and space for prayer is an essential discipline of the life of faith. But it’s all too easy to see this commitment, the promises we make to ourselves and to God about where we will be and when, as less binding than the appointments we make with other people. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Without being overly pious, shouldn’t we be in the habit of turning down invitations that clash with our spiritual commitments, rather than giving up our prayer time to meet a friend for a drink?
Developing a habit of regular daily prayer is, if my experience is anything to go by, as challenging as it is essential. Without it, the life of faith quickly becomes dry and stale. Keeping the discipline may be hard, but it is by far the best way of marking out the time of our lives.
May God bless you all,