From the earliest ages, time has been an important thing, regulating daylight activities from nighttime in-home tasks and entertainment. The moon served as another way of telling time, this time with its phases. The phases often told seamen when the tides would be high and low, and also the farmer when it might be an auspicious time to plant new crops or to take them in.
The seasons marked the time when certain weathers and temperatures could be expected. No one would plant during the winter when there was a chance of snow and freezing weather, just like no one would skip planting in the spring and early summer preparatory to harvesting in the fall. If the times were not right for whatever activity was next, there might not be enough food and materials to keep the family and even the community in safety and plenty until it was time to plant and harvest again. Even without clocks, people learn to tell time by looking at the position of the sun, and later using a stick on the ground with numbers in specific places to tell them what time of day it was.
With the growth of civilization, technology grew. People learn to make clocks that would tell them when it was time for the sun to come out, and they could have their breakfasts, get ready, and be set to work as soon as the sun started to creep over the horizon.
Monastics had a particular way of doing things, even without clocks. Hourglasses kept track of the hours one by one, even if someone had to stay awake all night to make sure that they turned the hourglass at the proper time. The office of Matins/Laud were held in the middle of the night, so the community had to be roused to go to chapel and participate in prayer and worship. This service was either announced by a bell within the cloister or by a monk or nun going from door to door, knocking and announcing that it was time for prayer. The bell continued to ring through the day at what we call the canonical hours, the periods during the monastic day and evening.
Matins and Lauds in the middle of the night, Prime at sunrise, Terce at 9 AM, Sext at 3 PM, Vespers at sunset, and Compline at bedtime echoed ancient Jewish times of prayers throughout the day. The Matins (Morning Prayer) and Vespers (Evensong) became part of Thomas Cranmer’s 1549 prayer book. Other canonical liturgies were added, including noonday, often said at city churches where office workers can come and pray during their lunch hour, and Compline. Evensong (Vespers) has become a very popular liturgy, especially among young people, whether churchgoers or not, who come for an hour of peace, serenity, prayer, and music not heard in their ordinary daily lives. It may be the only church they attend, but they still come, looking for something that they can only find then and there.
I have numerous clocks and timekeeping devices like my phone, appliance clocks, and my computer around the house to let me know basically what time it is. This is important if I have to be ready for an appointment at some point during the particular day, and is something of a non-starter if it’s just an ordinary day for I have nothing pressing to do except maybe feed the cats, clean the litter box, and occasional domestic chores like laundry and dishes. I don’t have to be awake at a specific time, although my cats will usually tell me when they think it’s time for me to get up.
I love getting up and going outside early in the morning around sunrise or just a bit after, especially in the summer when it’s cool. It’s always a pleasure to do that in the spring and particularly at the end of summer, to feel the earliest hint of cooler weather coming, after the scorching hot summers we have here. I like midmorning because I’ve usually gotten myself in somewhat a shape to do something constructive. The sun is not as hot as it will be, so it’s a good time to do outside things if I need to. Afternoons in the summer I hide in my house and do as little as possible. If I didn’t get it done in the morning, it could wait till tomorrow, as my dear friend Mouse tells me.
Then there’s the evening when the sun is going down. There are rays of light turning the leaves translucent, and hitting the west windows that have prisms in them. My ceiling is streaked with different colors, like miniature stained glass windows. When it starts to get dark, I close my blinds and snuggle down in my house to read or knit or even go to bed early. I think my favorite time of day is really bedtime. I can go to sleep, leaving God in charge and undisturbed by my taking things back that I’ve given to God to fix. I may take them back in the morning, but for the night, they’re all God’s.
Throughout the day, though, each part of it has some blessing to it, like the light through the windows, or the fresh air, or the colors of the sky at dawn and dusk. All of them remind me that God is around and is in control. We have these signs and times during the day to give us pleasure and even joy, to remind us that we need to work on whatever God has set for us to do, and in the evening we can rest from those labors.
We have times of day when God reminds us to stop, breathe, look for the blessings, and enjoy what God is given us at that time. The whole thing was God’s plan from the beginning, so shouldn’t we be kind enough and observant enough to stop, take advantage of it, and add a little thank you from time to time during the day? It’s so easy to take a deep breath and send up a mental “Thank you,” all at the same time.