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The Sacredness of Time

As 2020 draws to a close and a new year opens before us, I’d like to offer some words that invite us to reflect on the sacredness of time. This year has been so hard, in ways unimaginable to us at the start of it: deepening climate crisis with both drenching rains and severe drought across the planet, hurricanes piling on top of each other, a novel coronavirus that continues to rage across the planet, which, in its ravages, revealed darker truths of who we are as a nation, as a society, particularly around racial inequity and injustice. Some ask where God is in all this. We might ask, “How is the Holy revealed in such devastation, such grief, loss and lament?” What will the new year bring?

Recently I learned something wonderful about time, and how the Bible, particularly the Hebrew Bible, regards the events of time. In his book, The Sabbath, scholar, activist, and rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, writes, “The Redeemer from slavery, the Revealer of the Torah, manifests in events of history rather than things or places.”

The Holy One manifests in the events of history, the events of a year, even a year that has been as horrible in many ways as 2020.

In the Genesis story of creation, we learn about the sacredness and holiness of time itself. Heschel writes that the first time the word “holy,” the Hebrew word, qadash, is used in the Bible it is applied to time. Not to a mountain, not to an altar, but to time. In the biblical record of creation, God finds all of God’s creation to be good (the Hebrew word is tov) but on the seventh day “God blessed the day and made it holy (qadash),” (Gen. 2:3). In all the story of creation, where everything is good, only time is imbued with the quality of holiness.

And where there is holiness there is hope. What brought us hope in 2020? How can we bring hope to our suffering, scarred, yet ever-sacred world?

The holiness of time is beautifully depicted in Howard Thurman’s prose poem, “Against the background of the year,” which begins with this line: “Our Father, another Christmas has moved within our ken and our minds linger over many moments that stand stark against the background of the year. . . ” And without flinching he recounts those moments. Moments, he writes, “that filled our cup of fear to the brim, spilling over into the byways of our mind ..Moments of decision, when all that we were seemed to hang in the balance, waiting for a gentle nudging of God’s spirit… Moments of awareness, when our whole landscape was invaded by the glow of God’s spirit… Moments of renewal, without which life would have been utterly impossible and for us this day there would be no Christmas and no day. . . ” Thurman finds and mines the holiness, the sacred – pregnant and waiting to be born, in each of the moments of the year. Qadash – the holiness of time.

This holy time of year affirms that God is with us; that God’s very name is “God-with-us,” Emmanuel. Against the background of this year, and in the near birth of the year to come, we join our hearts together in prayer for our world.

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