“What then is time? If no one asks me, I know: if I wish to explain it to one that asks, I know not.” — St Augustine
Between now and Christmas, I am writing about different kinds of gifts. For today, it is the gift of time. In today’s world that is driven by the atomic clock and by the mathematization of time, we do not often view as a gift. It is at most a resource to be spent either wisely or foolishly, or it can be seen as a predator, stalking its prey — akin to death. I want to pull the rug out from under these interpretations. We cannot spend time, because we have not earned it. And time cannot be a predator against us, because it is the water in which we swim and live and move. We ourselves are little upsurges in time that give the world its meaning. Time, our time, is a gift.
On the sixth of December, I was privilege to witness two friends get married. I was able to reflection with them the strange phenomenon that they are giving something to each other that cannot be taken back or returned: they are giving their time. Time is not a resource; it does not fit into an economy (there is an epic critique of wage-labour here, but I will bypass this for now). Time moves in a singular direction, ever pouring itself forward, and we ride on its wake. But this is not meant to sound impending or threatening. On the wave of time do we get to experience love, laughter, joy, sorrow, success, failure, and all the vicissitudes of life. My friends were committing to riding this life, their time, together. It is a gift that cannot give back.
Time allows us to experience the rhythm of life that is also a gift. Seasons, times, and days make up our experience of this world. The freshness of spring, the quiet of winter, the inaugurating of autumn, and the festivity of summer. But there are also the days and seasons that have been marked on time, according to different calendars — holidays and festivals, genres of time. We are in one currently, the season of Advent, which is devoted to expectation and waiting. There is also Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost, each with its own meaning and effect on time. All these lens are gifts, gifts to us to experience the fullness of time.
Without time, there would be no world. Imagine if all of a sudden time stopped. All we would have is the instant we stopped in, a personal heaven or hell. Time girds the world with the ability to have meaning. It is a blanket of possibilities. We experience these whenever we name or create or remember or destroy. We are the rare creature that understands time and can potentially see it as a gift. In being to stand alongside time, we shape it, give meaning to our experience of the world, continue to help the gift be given.
This all starts with our acknowledgement of time as a gift. We did not demand time; it was given to us. Let us not be the type of creature that is ungrateful for the gift, but let us celebrate and pass well the time we’ve been given. This Advent and this Christmas may we be thankful for the time that we have with our family, our friends, and our communities. And as time carries us along into another new year, may we be mindful of the gratuitousness of our time. Every day, every hour is another to be thankful, to celebrate and enjoy the gift of time.