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Abbot Richard Wallingford pointing to the clock at St. Alban’s Abbey: time for prayer.

The Rhythms of Life

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build,
a time to weep and a time to laugh,
a time to mourn and a time to dance,
a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them,
a time to embrace and a time to refrain from embracing,
a time to search and a time to give up,
a time to keep and a time to throw away,
a time to tear and a time to mend,
a time to be silent and a time to speak,
a time to love and a time to hate,
a time for war and a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3

Time for Prayer

In this first post of 2018, I point you to an interview with Japanese Artist Makoto Fujimara, who said his art work was always “concerned with issues of time”:

I was impressed  by the way in which Medieval monks approached time. For example, the mechanical clock was invented so that monks would remember to pray. It was originally an object in service of or in aid to prayer, but today we are enslaved by time.

I want to capture a different sense of time, that is a ‘time fulness,’ in my work that each moment is given by and for God’s grace.

Enslaved by the mechanical tyranny of the Clock?

“In no characteristic is existing society in the West so sharply distinguished from the earlier societies than in its conception of time. To the ancient Chinese or Greek, to the Arab herdsman or Mexican peon of today, time is represented by the cyclic processes of nature, the alternation of day and night, the passage from season to season.

Modern, western man, however, lives in a world that runs according to the mechanical and mathematical symbols of clock time. The clock dictates his movements and inhibits his actions. The clock turns time from a process of nature into a commodity that can be measured and bought and sold like soap or sultanas. And because, without some means of exact time keeping, industrial capitalism could never have developed and could not continue to exploit the workers, the clock represents an element of mechanical tyranny in the lives of modern men more potent than any individual exploiter or than any other machine.” (From “Modern Man has become Enslaved by Time“).

(Note discussion below: “More on the Invention of the Clock”).

Thus an innovation meant to be in aid of prayer has turned into further exacerbating our inclination to be ridden by the inventions we create. Something that may have started off with noble intentions has turned on itself as modernity’s enslavement.

Fulness of Time

In contrast, Fujimara reminds us about time fulness in which “each moment is given by and for God’s grace.” In an ancient text, the Apostle Paul writes:

In the fulness of time, when the time was right, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,  to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as His children. And because you are His children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”  So through God you are no longer a slave but a child of God, and if an adopted child then an heir.  Galatians 4:4-7

In time or timelessness, we are created to be in relation with the One who made us for Himself. No wonder there is this sense of the eternal when we find ourselves in His presence for “He has set eternity in our hearts, and we have not fathomed it from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

This is more Enigma than dogma.


More on the Invention of the Clock:

The earliest medieval European clockmakers were Christian monks. Medieval religious institutions required clocks because they regulated daily prayer- and work-schedules strictly, using various types of time-telling and recording devices, such as water clocks, sundials and marked candles, probably in combination. When mechanical clocks came into use, they were often wound at least twice a day to ensure accuracy. Monasteries broadcast important times and durations with bells, rung either by hand or by a mechanical device, such as by a falling weight or by rotating beater.

The religious necessities and technical skill of the medieval monks were crucial factors in the development of clocks, as the historian Thomas Woods writes:

The monks also counted skillful clock-makers among them. The first recorded clock was built by the future Pope Sylvester II for the German town of Magdeburg, around the year 996. Much more sophisticated clocks were built by later monks.

The appearance of clocks in writings of the 11th century implies that they were well known in Europe in that period. In the early 14th-century, the Florentine poet Dante Alighieri referred to a clock in his Paradiso; the first known literary reference to a clock that struck the hours. Giovanni da Dondi, Professor of Astronomy at Padua, presented the earliest detailed description of clockwork in his 1364 treatise Il Tractatus Astrarii.

One clock that has not survived is that of the Abbey of St Albans, built by the 14th-century abbot Richard of Wallingford. As well as keeping time, the astronomical clock could accurately predict lunar eclipses. According to Thomas Woods, “a clock that equaled it in technological sophistication did not appear for at least two centuries”. 

From “History of Timekeeping Devices“, Wikipedia.org

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