Thursday, June 18, 2015

Marking time

Summer solstice is coming up.  I don't have any traditions for the solstice, but I think maybe I should start one.  Perhaps summer solstice could be the day I take the kids out for ice cream, as I always want to do but responsibly never do.  Holidays are great, because they're a time to do things that you shouldn't always do.  They're special enough that you know it's not going to start a trend -- they come but once a year.

Rituals that mark time, as opposed to socially binding rituals, don't have to be done in large groups.  Sometimes you want to do it that way -- what better time than a holiday for a peak group experience, like carol singing or shooting off fireworks?  But some of my favorite rituals are solitary: reflecting on the past year and writing resolutions on New Year's Eve, or counting my blessings on my birthday.  There are daily ones too -- a quiet cup of tea in the morning and an indulgent bowl of ice cream in the evening.  Each week I try to do a really good job of cleaning on Mondays, and for awhile Friday was my no-internet day.

What is the point of this sort of thing?

For me, it's just nice to mark time.  Unchanging expanses of time are hard to keep track of; I like time in discrete chunks.  That way you notice it passing.  Sometimes I am struck by how close something is if I can measure it in the right chunks -- "Wow, I only will go to the grocery store three more times before this baby is born!" or, "It's the Feast of Christ the King -- it'll be Christmas before we know it."

The Catholic Church is good with marking time.  There is the liturgical year, with its funny rhythms --the fixed dates and the movable feasts, colliding in different ways each year.  Will the solemnity be on a Friday?  Will it be transferred?  Will it land in Holy Week?  Does Annunciation trump a Sunday of Lent?  Who knows?  And then there is the weekly rhythm (Mass on Sunday, fast on Friday) and daily rhythm (Matins, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, Compline).  Just like secular time, ecclesiastical time is divided and subdivided into useful chunks.

Anyway, the rhythm of the Church's time has been described to me as a spiral staircase.  Every time you pass the window, you know you're one level higher than you were before.  And each time you go through, say, the Easter season, you're a year older.  It's a good time to notice if you're a year wiser, a year kinder, a year stronger. 

In a way, holiday time, ritual time, is outside of regular time altogether.  It's sacred time.  It's a moment that coexists, not with the moments before or after it, but with all the other times you've done that ritual.  Easter is all Easters at once; Sunday Mass is all Masses.

All my life I've coasted along with the Church's rituals, but I think that I should add more of my own.  I'd like to start making personal traditions, like I did this year with Pi Day.  Maybe I should always plant something on the spring equinox, or always write in my journal on the first day of school.  It would help give shape to my time -- shape no longer given by school years or work schedules.

And yes, I seriously should go back to internet-free Fridays.  That was a great tradition which I never should have let go.

Do you have any special rituals, traditions, or holidays that are meaningful to you?


Enbrethiliel said...


Advent is my favourite liturgical season. I haven't been able to light the Advent wreath at dinner with my family for the past two years, because my job requires me to work in the evenings, but I'll be able to this year!

But something I've noticed about keeping such rituals to mark time is that there must always be someone feeding energy into them. And people being susceptible to burnout, we who live in community must take turns. I can provide a lot of fuel for Advent, but by the time Christmas rolls around, I find my tank empty. And I'm afraid no one in my family cares as much about Christmas as I do about Advent. We don't even buy presents any longer!

Sheila said...

So true! I was always the ritual-driver when I was a kid -- insisting that my parents buy a Christmas tree, making Advent calendars for the kids, dragging my family to the Stations of the Cross, but since the kids were born, I haven't had the energy. Suddenly I understand why my mom used to say, "Why don't we just stick the presents under a potted plant and call it good?"

It is very hard to explain the whys of ritual. It sounds silly when you try, and rational people look at you cross-eyed and say "but there's nothing essential about sticking a tree in your living room." All I can say is, "Every time we do it, it always ends up being worth the trouble!"

And yet .... it's hard to do it all on my own these days. I suppose all I really need to do is push hard for a year or two ... after that, the kids will be so attached to their rituals that they will DEMAND we do them every year, just as I did!

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