National Catholic Reporter
The Independent Newsweekly

Archives  | 

Send This Page to a Friend

 Today's Take:  NCR's daily Web column
Each weekday over the course of a week, a member of the NCR staff offers a commentary on one or more topics in the news.  It's our way of introducing you to some of the people carrying out the NCR mission of faith and justice based journalism.

January 7, 2004
Vol. 1, No. 178




global perspective The preciousness of time

by Arthur Jones, NCR editor at large

Editor's note: Arthur Jones is musing on Celtic Invocations from Vineyard Books. The book, now out of print, by Alexander Carmichael captures the prayers and invocations of the elderly Catholics of Scotland. Jones began this reflection in yesterday's Today's Take: More thoughts at the dawn of a new year.

When the Scottish version of the Reformation swept over the islands and highlands, the bagpipes were ordered destroyed, the fiddles were broken, the new joylessness became paramount. In Alexander Carmichael's words, "the old ways (of Catholic Christianity) were abjured."

So the elderly people from whom Carmichael took down the words of the prayers, who went to the edge of the sea to pray, alone, or to the sheltered cove, were a last link. These are prayers that the oral tradition may have passed down for a thousand years and more.

Other Today's Takes by Arthur Jones
Jan. 6, 04 More thoughts at the dawn of a new year
Jan. 5, 04 The Gospel according to Fred Astaire
Nov. 6, 03 Don't expect anything
Nov. 4, 03 Church ain't wot it used to be
Nov. 3, 03 6.30 a.m. Mass
Aug. 21, 03 The fire in her belly isnít curry, itís Christ
Aug. 20, 03 Books, I love
Their prayers were in unison with their days and their seasons.

God in everything, everything for God.

Prayers as the fire was laid, prayers for the lambing season, and always, prayers that included the sun and moon, the water and hills, the work. So simple, so direct are the prayers -- and Carmichael's sentiments -- that to open the pages and read is to step into the time.

And, more inviting still, into the place and mood. At least, it works for me, for Celtic Invocations is part of my reading each morning.

This is not New Age-y sentimentality.

There is nothing New Age-y about "God With Me Lying Down," that Carmichael learned from Mary Macrae on the island of Harris in 1866. Mary Macrae did not abjure the old ways. She found places to dance and, in Carmichael's words:

... went on in her own way, singing her songs and ballads ... and chanting to her own mouth music, and dancing with her own shadow when nothing better was available.

God with me lying down,
God with me rising up,
God with me in each ray of light,
Nor I a ray of joy without Him,
Nor one ray without Him."

What we've lost is the intimate God-each-moment-of-the-day connection. And the preciousness of time. Not the sense that every minute has to be used, but in the sense that every minute doesn't have to be used up in purpose-filled tasks.

The value of time is in cherishing the fact we are to spend as much of it as we can freely, and gaining nothing material in return. That's touching God in time.

Work is when we touch the world in time.

Time to sit and be.

Just be.

Time with God in contemplation is so precious that like the ointment used on Jesus, it's there simply to be used up. Gone. The satisfaction is that it was well used. Not in the world's measure of well used - but in a measure that would make sense to the islanders and highlanders.

We've lost awe, though we glimpse it.

There are people so numb that they don't notice the leaves changing, or a beautiful scene unexpectedly thrust on them by a bend in the road or the rise over the hill. But they're not in the majority.

We can still identify quiet majesty. But we don't always take the next leap -- into seeing we are a part of that majesty and it is part of us. And that God is that majesty and through it another part of us: part of us simply because it is there, in the physical world.

To be seen.

To be drawn to.

To teach.

Each day and night,

Each shade and light,

Each time in kindness

Give Thou us, Thy Spirit.

Arthur's Daily Ditty

Island Memory
The Mist, for the Mystery
The Music: gravel crunching under the boat beaching on the shore
The Baptism: wading from the beached boat to the sand of the strand
The Confirmation: looking forward and around from the high spot
The Confession: communing with the visual beauty till it scours clean the heart and soul Ö
The Eucharist: Öand filled the fresh emptiness with the virtual body and blood of eucharists recalled, creating life-world-soul-peace as a continual eucharist. Until the world again must penetrate. The boat pushed out, the return to the world.

Arthur Jones' e-mail address is

Top of Page   | Home
Copyright © 2003 The National Catholic Reporter Publishing  Company, 115 E. Armour Blvd., Kansas City, MO 64111 
TEL:  1-816-531-0538   FAX:  1-816-968-2280