(I am starting to run up against the wall of self-doubt. How in the world can I keep this up? It’s taking a lot of time. )
Anne Lamott’s voice in my head, like the monitor in study hall, says: do your work.
(Why would I have some deep inner expectation that it would be easy to write coherent sentences in this little rectangle of space within a limited amount of time . . .) . . . and *poof*, like magic, the topic for today manifests itself: time.
I have obligations today that require my attendance to the clock. Attending to clock time adds a stress – puts context around, requires completion by, etc. I have appointments, people I’ve agreed to see, tasks to do. My time is scored by the hands on the clock.
The clock, a rather brilliant invention of the middle ages – meant to make it easier to gather people together at a certain, specific, reliably similar moments in life. By placing the clock in the church tower, everyone in the town could not only see the clock’s same time-keeping information as everyone else, they could also hear the church bells that accompanied the hour and quarter hour occurrences. One might also know who was late for the meeting. Presumably once the clock began to strike noon, one could run from the end of town and still make the meeting before the gimlet eye of the ‘early arrivers’ cast judgment on your lack of planning.
One might wonder how the church agreed to this presumably municipal request to place the clock high in the tower and to lend the church bells to the endeavor. Before clocks, the church had run quite successfully on it’s own time-keeping method. The bells were rung at specific parts of the day to call the monks, priests, and nuns to prayer, to work, to eat, to sleep: Matins, Sext, Compline, etc. A bellringer had to use daylight and other natural means to determine when to ring the bells. This could be a bit problematic on gray and rainy days as well as in the extremes of light limitations in mid-winter. Once the clock and the bells were connected together by pulleys and other mechanisms, the job of the bell ringer was downsized. The marriage of the municipal clock and the church bells meant time keeping was no longer dependent on people (except to wind the mechanisms) and people became dependent on the clock. It meant there was little excuse for not being on time.
I had the opportunity to spend a prayer day at the St John’s Abbey several years ago. Because St John’s is a working abbey, the bells ring out not only the Divine Hours, but the regular hours and quarter hours. One is able to tell the difference by the varying bell tunes – which are managed by computers, of course.
It was lovely to be able to suspend the self-conscious watch-checking and wait for the bells to call me back to chapel, to alert me to lunch, tell me when the time for walking was at an end, call me back for the final blessing at the end of the day. In truth, bell time is not different in function from the clock, it is just less intrusive, less compulsive, less in my face.
There is nothing quite so anxiety-producing for me as being late. And I am ceaselessly reminded of my impending lateness by my car clock, the radio announcer, my iPhone, and the helpful bank and gym marquees I pass – not to mention the churches whose bells are electronic and set to the World Clock by computer in order to be accurate within split seconds.
And that reminds me – I have to go. I am out of time.