Editor: please enjoy this latest post from Brazos Fellow Savannah Anne Carman.
Rhythms and baking have been on my mind and a new part of my routine as of late. A part-time bagel baking job will do this, you know, when one is scheduling sleep and all else according to the demands of the dough. Bill Buford, journalist and chef in training, concisely described the process of bread-making he learned during time spent with a French baker. Buford explains how, “everything in time, everything good [comes] in time. Rhythm is time and bread-making is nothing if not a respect for rhythm—yeast, fermentation, heat.” The same holds true for life. Life’s rhythms are the heartbeat. Like the heart, which pumps blood and sustains breath, our daily activities move along according to the rhythms we hold, either giving or keeping what’s vital from us. Such routines form everything from callouses on our hands to grooves in our souls; they shape who we are and what we become. If the rote is so transformative, then what routines are proper to what we are made for, what we intrinsically desire?
Alexander Schmemann illuminates these questions about rhythm and time in his book For the Life of the World. In this book, the Orthodox priest considers the Christian rhythms of feasting and fasting, both in good times and hard. We do this because of a different understanding of time. Schmemann suggests that we order our lives to the reality of Christ, in Kairos, instead of the world, in Kronos. Kronos is about the temporal—it is one side of our three-dimension as finite creatures in time, space, and matter. The liturgy invites us into the reality beyond our finitude that harmonizes with Kairos, “the time of liturgical celebration.”
Schmemann illustrates the adoption of liturgical celebration with the image of a child who “[rediscovered] childhood, that free, unconditioned, and disinterested joy which alone is capable of transforming the world.” We are to assume the position of a child who is utterly dependent. Of all stages in life, it is the beginning years of childhood that reminds us of our dependence. Thus, like a child, we should seek the hand of those who have gone before and have insight about the path ahead, which we find in the liturgy.
In addition to dependence, children also remind us that we need reminding. We are forgetful creatures, and forgetting is an act of omission which may very well be a sin in itself. We need to remember, to recollect ourselves to Truth. Our director, Paul, suggested that “how we deliberately remember or not is a question of moral consideration.” Thanks be to God, we learn what and how to remember through the sacraments we practice and celebrate in the liturgical calendar. As Schmemann writes, what makes Easter unique is that it “is not a commemoration of an event, but—every year—the fulfillment of time itself, or our real time,” which is why “Easter is [called] the ‘sacrament of time.’”
But we are impatient and desire control and power over everything that we (think) we can manage—especially time. At the root, we attempt to live beyond our finitude. We construct “time-saving” devices to order things as we see fit, according to our order. We methodically manicure our bodies to live “better,” longer lives, seeking to overcome matter’s decay and death’s inevitability. We travel at high-speeds across the continent, globe, and out of our solar system forgetting that space is otherwise limiting. All these are vain attempts to deny Ash Wednesday’s refrain that we are dust, and to dust we shall return.
But if our finitude indeed does limit us, how is it even possible to participate in Kairos, a reality beyond ourselves? It is precisely the humiliation of Jesus—becoming man and taking on the finitude and frailty of humanity. Part of Easter’s redemption is that it is “one of the ordinary days, and yet [reveals] itself through the Eucharist as the eighth and first day, [giving] all days their true meaning.” This is the doorway into Kairos that specifically occurs around the table, partaking of Christ’s body and blood. Thus, “Christianity [breaks] beyond repair the cycle of the eternal return,” what Schmemann describes as the pagan accounts of time, a “cyclical notion of time and the cosmos.” Christianity denies this redundant reincarnation of living and dying closed off from any hope of renewal or resurrection, availed only by repetition. Instead, what we find in Easter is Christianity “[announcing] the fullness of time.” No doubt there is, in a sense, a return to our origin, but not in a cyclical way that ultimately collapses into oblivion or spirals into hopelessness. Our “return” is forward to the source of all life and being, “further up and further in” as the party in C.S. Lewis’s story proclaim. We can trust that this redemptive unfolding of time will be further participation into the mystery of God’s since the source of Being is Infinite. In other words, since God is infinite, his Being is inexhaustible, rendering a cycle a redundancy of any sort impossible.
Easter Sunday, the Eighth Day, we remember that despite time, we are invited to receive the promise that redeems all time. We do this by keeping Sabbath, the liturgy, and the sacraments—the rhythms that keep us in tempo with Kairos. In so doing we remember what we are made from and what we are made for. We should always accompany this remembrance with gratitude. If for nothing else but the gratuity of life should we pray with the Psalmist, “what is man that you are mindful of him, the son of man that you care for him?” (Psalm 8:4).