Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? A Consideration of the Western Notion of Time, and How It is Different from Most of the World.

I assisted at a wedding this past weekend that encompassed both space and time. The groom was a White American, the Bride was Ethiopian. Now you will surely understand that space is involved, for Ethiopia is far from the USA. But time is also involved here, for the African notion of “Saturday at 10:00 AM” is not the same as the American one, at all.

Be on time. Not! – Yes, the wedding was scheduled for Saturday at 10:00 AM. The priest from Ethiopia cautioned the wedding party at the Friday rehearsal (which started late), “You must be on time tomorrow, for the organist is from America and must be somewhere else at noon. And the parish is American, and Americans go by the clock! So, be on time!”

Come Saturday morning and it is just before 10:00 AM. The groom’s side of the Church is filled with White Americans. On the bride’s side, not a soul!  The wedding finally began about 11:15 AM and many of the the lovely Ethiopian bridesmaids felt hurried, at that! “Why are you rushing us?” one said, “This is a moment to be enjoyed!” The priest from Ethiopia was embarrassed but not surprised. “Neither am I surprised” I reassured him. “If the organist must leave, I will supply the recessional .”

No I was not not surprised. For I have come to discover in various ways, that we Americans (and some Europeans) are really the few for who “the clock” has all that much to say. For most of the rest of the world, “the clock” is more like the speed limit sign is for us in America, a “suggestion,” a general “parameter,” more than something to be all that particular about.

A few stories to illustrate:

  1. A friend of mine went to the Dominican Republic a few years back. He called the local Catholic parish and inquired (in Spanish) of the priest: “What times are Masses this weekend?” After a pause the priest said, “Sunday.” “I know” said my friend, “But what time on Sunday?” Again a puzzled silence, and the priest said again, “Sunday.” “Hmm…?” pondered my friend…. Then, like a light going off the priest said, “Ah! I sense by your accent that you are an American, si?” “Yes” said my friend. “Well here in our Country,  you see,” said the priest, “We gather on Sunday morning, and when most have arrived, we begin…So, you see, Mass is Sunday morning, when all have arrived! Please come and join us on this Sunday morning, you are most welcome!”
  2. Once, at my last parish, we celebrated the First Mass of a new priest, Fr. Carlos. It was scheduled for 8:00 pm Saturday, and the whole extended Latino family had joyously decorated the hall that afternoon, after the Ordination. Silly me, I actually had the Church unlocked and ready to go at 8:00 pm. But there was not a soul in sight, nor a car in the parking lot. By 8:45 pm the first people began to arrive. Slowly folks trickled in. Now it is 9:15 pm and the new priest arrives. Along with him an entourage of other priests. By 9:30 pm I, the ugly American, am fully anxious. I gathered the priests and said, “Fathers, we must vest now! Please, come to the sacristy at once.” One of the older Latino priests looked at me and said, “Father! Do not worry of the time, we live in eternity!” “Fine Father,” I responded, “But I have to be up for 8:00 AM Mass! Let’s get this Mass underway.” The priests looked a me with pity and began to vest.
  3. In my own experience with the African American Community I have also come to experience the reality of what many playfully call “colored people time” (aka “CP Time”). Now we’re not as bad as being an hour or more late, but our 11:00 am Mass never begins at 11:00 am, usually 10 past, or even 15 past the hour. Neither do we have a fixed time when Mass has to be over. The 8:00 AM Mass usually goes toward 9:15 or 9:30. The 11:00 am Mass ends toward 1:00 pm. Why rush when you’re with the Lord? One time I got Mass done in under an hour, and a rather angry African American woman came to me and said, “Next time you don’t have enough to say Father, send the Deacon over.” For, a Mass in under hour, seems something of a disgrace to an African American matriarch.
  4. I once asked a Latino friend, “How do you catch a plane in your culture, what with time being so vague?” “Well,” said he, “We go to the airport, and if the plane has already left, (and they never leave on time), then we go to the lady at the booth and book another one. We are not anxious, these things happen.”

Yes, anxious, I guess that is the key word. We Americans do fret the clock. There is an old expression, Let not the sands of time get in your lunch. In other words, the moment is to be savored, there will be time to take care of other things. An old gospel song says, Don’t let this moment pass you by.

I am not convinced our American way is so bad. In our culture, timeliness is a way of  showing respect, and is experienced as a kind of charity. Being on time ensures everyone is both respected and treated with kindness. Further it means that things go smoothly and are well coordinated. Without this agreed upon framework, most Americans are bewildered and angry and feel personally disrespected.

But I have also come to experience that our close attention to clock time is not shared by most of the rest of the world. Further, they mean no disrespect when they are incredibly late by American standards. In fact, I usually get a blank look when I exhibit consternation that a someone is almost 1.5  hours late for a wedding. They just don’t “get it” when I say, “Why are you so late?!” I might as well be saying, “Why whirlwind major drum marcher flibberdy-jibbet?!” I just get a blank stare from them, as if to say, “Late?” They find my exasperation strange and unfathomable and look to others around them who just shrug.

We Americans control things by measuring them. In the careful measuring of time, land, money, assets, polls, statistics, and scientific data, we feel a sense of control, and often try to show superiority to others with command of such facts. There is something consoling about the notion that we know we are 93 million miles from the sun, our planet circles it in 365 .25 days, that this is Tuesday, and 95% of American have some belief in God. Further the average temperature in DC is 84 degrees for this day.  Yes, we feel better, some how in control, when we know these things and have them carefully measured.

And as for time, I surely feel in control when I know that I have a meeting at 10, and appointments at 2 and 3 pm. Now I know what my day will be like. Or so I think.

But it is fascinating to me that so many others in the world neither need or value this sort of control. For them it seems OK to have general plans and then, let things unfold, rather than attempt to control and manipulate all outcomes. Yes, a completely different way of living.

And we may boast that we have the strongest and most efficient economy in the world on account of this. The Chinese and Japanese also have strong economies and, as far as I know, they also have a precision about clock time.

But at what price do we have these things? Just over 40% of Americans are prescribed  psychotropic drugs to deal with the stress of our culture (Oh!, did I just quote a statistic? Sorry! Some how knowing numbers makes me feel in control).

I am not sure what is best, but huge numbers of Africans, Central and South Americans are just not obsessed with time like we are. Neither are Middle Easterners. It seems a little humbling to me that so many others live in a completely different world than I do, time wise. I am not saying we are wrong, only that billions live differently, and are more focused on the present, than what comes next, according to a mechanical clock. I frankly don’t know how they do it, so wedded am I to a clock. But they do.

God too reminds us that for him a thousand years are like a day, or a watch in the night. Further, eternity is not chronological time, it is the fulness of time. And for those of us who are obsessed with clock time, God cautions, wait, be still, have patience, be not anxious. The Lord  says he is coming soon, but he does not mean it according to our clocks. And to those who insist on knowing times and seasons, he says we know not the day or the hour, and it is not for us to know the times or the seasons of God’s plan (eg. Matt 24:36; Acts 1:7).

Does anybody really know what time it is? No, actually we do not. But time is something that surely divides us. Some of us see the clock as a precision instrument to be strictly followed, others of us see it as a sort of speed limit sign that is broadly interpreted.

I like our Western precision, but admit it comes at a price for indeed, too often the sands of time get in our lunch.

In this video, Fr. Francis Martin talks a it about the concept of time in the Middle East and the flexible notions of time that predominate in the Scriptures. The context of his reflection is the incident of the cleansing of the Temple. John says Jesus did that at the beginning of his ministry, and the synoptic Gospels place it at the end of Jesus’ ministry. The discrepancy about time bothers us Westerners, but time was less an obsession to the evangelists who used time creatively and theologically, and were less obsessed with measurements. This video is an excerpt. Please see all of Fr. Martin’s videos here: Fr Martin Videos

Photo Credit above:

54 Replies to “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? A Consideration of the Western Notion of Time, and How It is Different from Most of the World.”

  1. I don’t know about CP TIme, but going to school in the desert Southwest, I am familiar with a similar concept: Reservation Time! I LOVE the story of the African American matriarch. I live in a world of appointments and calendars, but I become unhinged when I hear people complaining about how long mass lasts–I have been known to ask how long the first date with their wife, or the last production of Othello that they saw, or the last symphony concert—the answer is, of course, it lasts until it is over and no one watches the clock. I think, like most things, the beauty lies in the balance between clock watching an abandonment to time, and the virtue lies in practicing that which does not come naturally in order to achieve that balance. I think you have given me my Advent discipline–I’ll be putting away my watch for 4 weeks–and it will be interesting to see what it changes in me….

  2. One of the keys, I have found, to living life as Christ’s command is to never be in a rush. When you are in a rush you ignore all the opportunities for charity in action that the day presents you – and these truly are how we grow in holiness; not the extra 20 minutes of sleep that makes us rushed!

    1. In San Francisco, there are several traffic light intersections with people asking for financial and food aid. I will admit that I do not give cash but sometimes I have water bottles and rarely a bagel on hand to offer to my brothers and sisters. It’s stressful when the lights changes, it acts as a rush-o-meter making drivers anxious to get across and I get anxious too. Sometimes I miss the chance.

      Balance in the two is quite difficult without the peace from God. I was born in Asia and naturally go by CP Time. But living in San Francisco, I’m often rushed or exhausted from the concept of precise time. I cannot balance the two concepts of time using my natural strengths.

  3. OK, I get it. Folks need to relax, slow down, smell the roses, and not rush, rush, rush all the time.

    That said, I’m not sure that this is really an American problem . . . if it is a problem at all. And, while I won’t begrudge folks 5-10 minutes leeway, I’m pretty sure that “whenever we get around to it” is not a great virtue.

    When does a priest pray the Liturgy of the Hours? Can morning prayer be said at 2 p.m.? Vespers at midnight?

    When has the Sabbath begun for thousands of years? Rather than beginning at sundown Friday, could one simply take his time, and keep on working and playing through Friday evening and begin at midnight instead?

    To say that “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven” is not to be oppressive, it is to recognize that there is order in the world, order that originates with God. Now, it may very well be that these folks will be late to their own funeral, but when God calls them, at specific time divinely ordained and known to Him already, they are going, whether they are ready or not.

    Especially following a celebration of the virtues of work, and observance of Labor Day, for a people to prosper economically, with full employment, the discipline of order, including that of timeliness, is essential. Showing up to work whenever, waiting to start-up the assembly line or open the shop until everyone bothers to arrive, is an ethic that dooms a people to stagnation and high unemployment. It may be true that “huge numbers of Africans, Central and South Americans are just not obsessed with time like we are,” but it is also true that much of Africa, Central and South America are economic basket cases. It is not a coincidence.

    1. I think we’re in agreement here. I am not praising the siempre manana attitude, just noting it and how widespread it is. I prefer our more disciplined approach, but am willing to admit that we are pretty stressed and wired and that our affluence comes at a price.

    2. I see what you are saying but I think this some unfamiliarity with CP Time from the inside. In Vietnam, if you are a farmer, you always sleep and wake up at the same time relative to the hours of the day whether you have a clock or not. If the sun raises 10 minutes earlier this month, you happen to wake up 10 minutes earlier. There is a the clock of the land that God created in it’s order. The genesis story is a good example in my opinion. The days are differentiated by God’s blessing and then evening comes and morning comes. That was a day. The details of the day flows from that but is not broken up, segmented, or counted.

      So that same Vietnamese farmer would go out to the fields. If he has opportunities for leisure time, he may visit his brother or make a craft for future use such as a basket. The time just floats by. This is especially true with visiting the brother or other human relationships. Those take time and being late to something else while staying longer with the friend or family is the way Vietnamese people show respect. When you stay longer with your family then come late to a dinner with the friend. The friend considers you an upstanding person for staying late with the family. If you were rude to the family in order to make it to the dinner, the friend would consider you disrespectful and would treat you the same way as you did to your family by leaving on time.

      On another note, if you have a CP time Vietnamese friend who gives you a blank stare when you show them the clock, find out where they have been. Maybe they were late because of a family member or dear friend. That would be a sign of a timely person. But when it’s a casual acquaintanceship or for a tv show or object, that is a different story and would be poor judgement and rudeness in Vietnamese culture.

  4. I think the ‘western’ treatment of time is strongly related to modern western philosophy.

    From the late XVI century on, there has been a strong mechanistic view of the world (the world is just a ‘big machine… like a clock, one could say 😛 ) and the words of Sir Francis Bacon who said that man is ‘master and ruler of the world’ is indicative of the strong utilitarian view that emerged as well.

    ‘Knowledge is Power’ they said… not ‘Knowledge leads to wisdom’ as some older philosopher would have said.

    Indeed so. Everything, nature itself, became a ‘tool’.

    Since the world is a ‘machine’… we ought to be part of the machine and hence always ‘check the clock’ as well behaved parts of a bigger machine.

    Now this philosophical view that has dominated the western world for the past 400 years had its advantages. The most clear advantage is of course technology, which uses science as a tool to create things to make our life easier and more comfortable.

    On the other hand this view has also been taken a bit too far. Without going into criticism of people who have an absurd reductionist and materialist view of the world (i.e. like new atheists) this ‘mechanistic and utilitarian’ view of the world also led people to abandon wisdom.

    Knowledge is sought usually only as a tool for ‘power’ (power to get a job, make more money, become famous, etc.. etc..), it is not sought as a base, a starting point, for wisdom as people like Aristoteles or Thomas Aquinas or Augustine would have (indeed they did observed the world and admired ‘natural philosophy’, the forerunner of modern science, but they used such observation not just as a tool but also to ponder on it and gain greater understanding of the world. I could argue their metaphysics is still the pinnacle of philosophical thought, but I think people like Edward Feser or David S. Oderberg are more qualified to do that than me).

    Making a long story short: the conclusion of this shift in ‘philosophical thought’, which, ironically, desired to ‘free man from its burdens’, made man somewhat a slave of its own creations.

    We often are slaves of our watch, our cell phones, our PC or Mac, our fridge, our lamp, our ‘face cream’, facebook, etc…

    I remember a time I did not have a cell phone. Now I do realize I feel ‘naked’ without it… and most people, especially young people, even more so.

    I am not arguing here to ‘go Amish’, of course, nor that we should let trains come 1 hour late without reprimand.

    At the same time, we should let go of the anxieties of utilitarism and regain the search for wisdom.

    1. Very interesting a good addition to the post. I have often wondered too how exacting people were about time before watches, clocks and other time telling devices were so ubiquitous. I am sure the ancients were pretty clear of the overall scheme of time since they watched the stars, planets and the moon. But down to the minute precision must be a rather modern phenomenon.

    Nobody really knows what “clock time” it is, but we all know the time we were born, the time we were saddest and so on. In African, time is measured by how well, how memorably the activity is accomplished. After all is it not better to be at a mass scheduled for 10 am but which begins at 11:30 am with a full congregation with nothing else on their mind, than at one which starts “punctually” with the church half full of parishioners each thinking about the time for his/her next appointment.
    We would know what time it is if we knew when time begun(because time is supposedly a measurement from a definite beginning and ending point), but we dont. Time as it is, is avery vague estimate- otherwise why would feel like 15 at 42 years of age?

    1. Yes, thank you for this insight. To live richly is more than about possessions and creature comforts such as we in the West usually surmise. Our economic system is genius but it is mostly about material things. More often than not we fail to savor the moment as you describe. That said, I would have a hard time adjusting to such a flexible notion of being on time, for I too am a product of my culture.

  6. Epistle 250
    My some thoughts about “the homily” of Msgr. Charles Pope are here below:
    Firstly, in the homily, Msgr. Charles Pope asked a question: “Does anybody really know what time it is?”
    Thus, theme of the homily is time.
    Secondly, now permit me to discuss some matters to relate to the homily hereafter:
    In Gospel according to Matthew mentioned several times about the word time.
    Especially, Matthew 24:36-51 mentioned to “the day and hour unknown”.
    From notions of time in Gospels, Catholic sciences fulfilled the time science.
    Therefore, time includes second, minute, hour, day, week, month, year, century, and millennium according to System of Sun.
    For example 1, I begin to comment on the homily on 6 September 2011 at 14:04 Local Time of Ho Chi Minh City, South Vietnam.
    For example 2, every Sunday’s morning from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Local Time of Ho Chi Minh City, South Vietnam, I attend Holy Mass at Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica.
    You can seek the church here:,_Ho_Chin_Minh_City
    In the day and hour unknown, in the near future, I hope that Msgr. Charles Pope will be a main Priest in Holy Mass here.
    I expect Msgr. Charles Pope to come here./.

  7. Funny how all these cultures that don’t treasure time generally turn to the West for food and economic aid. All aid and social welfare should be cut off (in our country too), and the value of time will be learned.

    It is imagined by many that the West is ‘blessed’, that somehow we are ‘lucky’ in our abundance. Luck has nothing to do with it!!!!!! It is because of the appreciation of the value of time, a gift of God, that we prosper. As proverbs says “a little sleep, a little folding of the hands to rest, and poverty will come upon you like a vagabond”. The scriptures are full of admonition to diligence rather than relaxation. Casualness about time brings poverty.

    Time is a gift of God, to be sanctified by man. It is a means to be fruitful in his creation. We do not yet live in eternity, we are not outside of time. His gift should not be treated so casually.

    1. I understand your point but you’re being a little cranky 🙂 Agreeing with your concerns I would only add that there is more to life than material prosperity and we in the West could inch away just a bit from our rushed approach. As you point out, we might have less productivity and stuff at the end of the day, but having less without the rush and pressure, we might enjoy it more. It’s just a balancing point of view that I mention here, I generally like things to start on time.

    2. Amen! We have been given time as a gift to make use of for God’s glory; we are to be good stewards of that gift (cf. Mt 25:14-30).

  8. There isn’t a single culture that has a loose understanding of time that isn’t dirt poor. Ethiopia is a case in point. If immigrants come to the U.S. to flee the effects of dire poverty, the first thing they must abandon is their old undisciplined notion of time. A primary work of social justice is pointing out this connection to the immigrants. It’s really a form of sloth, and shouldn’t be treasured as some sort of cultural wisdom.

    1. I do wish you would be a little more respectful and avoid generalizations. We have a rather large Ethiopian community that celebrates the Geez Rite at my parish. They are hard working, industrious and self-reliant and generally they do adapt to our notion of time. However, when it comes to more personal things like weddings and liturgy, and personal gatherings they retain a more flexible notion. Finally, I would not describe Ethiopia as “dirt poor.” There have been problems with drought in the past and there has been war in that region off and on which has affect on the economy. But Ethiopia has been more recently stable and more prosperous.

    2. My comments are all from October. I obvious live in CP time since I didn’t know of this article before hand.

      However, I will define a “dirt poor” nation: Vietnam. The farmers in Vietnam work more hours, harder labor then 99% of the American population and earn less then $300 a year. And they work hard and strict without breaks during planting and harvesting seasons. They are not lazy nor sloths. Many Vietnamese when they come to the States do fairly well for themselves. In fact, as a ethnic group, Vietnamese are one of the most successful populations since their immigration. It’s very difficult to be success in another culture, using another language, living in a different climate while being lazy or sloths. The conditions are vastly different in American then in Vietnam.

      I expect that this is the case for the majority of the people from the “dirt poor” nations.

  9. This is all fine and good for the people who choose to live like this and who understand the rules, but I don’t find this trait something to be necessarily admired, nor disliked. It’s just different.

    I couldn’t function like this and I don’t want to. If I host a gathering with a time, I do expect everyone to be roughly on time or I think they are rude. I’ll keep “American Time” thanks! : )

  10. I don’t think I disagree with your general point. That said it seems odd that the rest of the world envies our material success but are not willing to discpline themselves in one of the major contributors to our wealth – efficiency.
    PS:Msgr. you are a much better pastor than I would be – that American-Ethipian wedding would have started no later than 10:15, congregation or not.

    1. Well, but you also need a bride and groom 🙂

      Re wealth, as I have noted above, I think we Americans surely have a lot of material wealth. I am not sure we have or take much time to enjoy it though. If that is the case, how wealthy are we? Just a thought to balance things a bit.

  11. This is a great read. I have experienced this notion of “timelessness.” The weddings I have attended by Africans never started on time, and “CP” was not the issue. Can you till me what time the sun will rise or set? Just a thought!

    1. Yes, I think I understand your point. We think we know what time it is by looking at our artificial devices, but we are quite out of touch with the natural world, with its cycles and seasons.

      1. I am from Africa, and we do not neglect time or are lazy as some seem to suppose. The notion of Time is about the right conditions being met for something to happen. As the other priest said in the story, Mass begin when enough people have arrived. There can be many difficulties which always causes people not to be on the specified time. Yet, clock-time is not more important than these people. Here, in the west, I have noticed the frustration when the priest have to stop confession in order to start Mass. But Mass should start when the line up for confession is over. This should be one of the condition for the time for Mass to start. This is not promoting disrespect for people who arrived earlier, but patience, love, and understanding. If time was honored above people, people would also find that the time to live after Mass is perhaps the time when they have greated each other and chatted for the purpose of communing more. But how many people leave on time, but leave with a wish someone would talk to them, or they would find someone to talk to. I am sure many people leave on time but go home to be bored…

        Someone also mentioned about praying the office. In Africa, often time is mesured by natural signs: bird singing, sun rising or seting. So we do care about natural signs and respect them. Only, we don’t see time as an artificial thing, but a natural thing. As I pointed out, it is time when conditions are met, when the ‘natural’ sign point it out. For parties, as many have mentioned, it is really time when people are ready; this is the natural sign.

        Let’s say that Time was/is made for Man not Man for Time. Perhaps we should analyze this notion deeper.

        1. Concerning the point I made about Mass starting time. It could help to realise that while Man should be lifted higher than clock-time, Love should also be lifted higher than Man. Respecting people who arrived earlier should not be above the need of those who need confession in order to receive the Eucharist. The Eucharist is surely more important than empointments, so waiting for a brother to confess so he can receive communion is more fulfilling than making it on time for my apointment, while my brother is paining under the weight of some sin.
          I think we shoud worry about natural time. I think this is the time the Bible speaks about, and this is the time indicated by particular conditions being met rather than forcing conditions to met a ‘time’. It is really the difference between what is ‘artificial’ and what is ‘natural’ or between ‘materialism’ and ‘spirituality’. God himself does not force anyone so that his time is met. Jesus came when the Virgin was ready. He will come again when the number of the elect is fulfilled. He did not fix a clock-time to come whether the number of the elect is fulfilled or not.
          So should we rush, yes, because we don’t know when the number of the elect wil be fulfilled, but we should not forget that the rush is not about meeting a ‘time’ but about sanctifying ourself so we are among the elect. It is not about respecting time, but creating time to sanctify ourselves.

          God bless

          1. “He will come again when the number of the elect is fulfilled.”

            I’m rather mystified by this statement that God does not set a specific time for Christ to return, but He has set a specific number of people for determining when to return. Could you explain further what you mean?

            This does not sound like any eschatology that I am familiar with (not Catholic anyway, it does sound vaguely Calvinistic, but then I’m probably betraying my total ignorance of Calvinism here).

          2. I am only sharing my understanding. God is everywhere already. So he ‘comes’ to us or in us when we are ready to receive Him because He does not force himself on us. There is a way this time depend on us yet it is not up to us to decide. St. Paul speaks of hastening the coming of the Lord. How can we hasten it if it did not depend on some readiness in us? I think this time is a function of the human free wills.

            Well, this is my understanding if few words. I will be glad to be corrected where I am mislead.

            God bless

  12. The comment about needing to measure things can be explored further as it moves into scientism and the tension it creates for those who insist that science and faith are incompatible.

      1. I’m not sure whether this is where Jim is going, but as our ability to measure things becomes ever more precise, we seem less able to accept ballpark figures. For example, many times have I had with my daughter a conversation along the following lines:

        c: What time is it?
        me: It’s about quarter of two.
        c: But what are the MINUTES?
        me: *sigh* It’s 1:46.

        [For some reason c’s concept of time is rather more elastic when we tell her she has 10 minutes left to play on her Wii.]

        We are, in other words, less able to tolerate mystery. We use online calculators to find how long we’ll live; we try to find partners on websites assuring us of a perfect match; we scrutinize local weather radar to see whether we’ll be able to finish up on the golf course before the rain starts. We want “proof” of Christ’s earthly life, death, and resurrection. And we want to know when He’ll return. To be told that such isn’t for us to know doesn’t set well with us at all.

  13. Msgr, Thanks for the good laugh. Two things give you a view into cultures: language structure and time. In Spanish word order is usually important only if you want it to be and time is pretty relative. In German-speaking Austria where we also lived, word order is prescribed, NO Variation, and time is exact. American English is somewhat flexible and so is time, within limits.
    For those criticising the understanding of time, Msgr is talking about cultural, heart issues such as Mass & Marriages and the importance people place on those. Doesn’t mean those folks don’t know how to show up on time for work. But, when it is a heart issue it is easiest to operate in your culture.
    The more different the culture is from my own, the more I have learned about myself, living and God. I’ve learned that punctuality is good, but sometimes the extra 15 minutes something takes is really worth the time and not hurrying.
    In Latin America I learned to ask, “de mi reloj o hora latina” (according to my watch or Latin time) and in Austria to be early in order to be on time. In Italy, I didn’t even bother. Nobody else was ever on time.
    It is now 9:47 (someplace, maybe)

  14. I am originally from Puerto Rico where we sometimes need to clarify whether some event is to start at “Puerto Rican time” or “American time”. While I utterly dislike the rushed lives we live I can’t help but wonder how many times we end us stressed out and rushing because someone else decided to follow their own time and kept us waiting for an hour. I see it as a lack of respect and charity for the other person. The purpose of setting up a schedule is not to pack as many things as we can in a day or to live by some arbitrary rigid standard but to be considerate to others and their time. Would it had been fair if another couple had a wedding scheduled a few hours after?

  15. My parish is a Hispanic/Anglo mix (increasingly more Hispanic) and I have always wondered if the time issue is really a power struggle. It’s not confined even to nationality. Those who are perpetually late hold those who are prompt hostage. No one can move on as long as we are waiting for the rest. This happens in families as well. It seems to be a passive aggressive ploy on the part of some. Perhaps the minorities do this to the punctual Americans who are generally in control of most parishes and liturgical events. Or so it seems in my neck of the woods.

  16. Expectation plays a big role for me both in how I treat time/timeliness and how anxious I get about the punctuality or tardiness of myself and others. When in South America, I’m as relaxed as the next person, for I know I will only annoy myself being on time or early to an appointment or expecting a bus to arrive on schedule. I’m on their turf, I play by their rules. However…I expect others to play by my culture’s rules when they schedule appointments, masses, etc here–that is showing respect for our beliefs, as I show respect for theirs by not going into their country and demanding they bow to my customs.

    1. Re: expecting a bus to arrive on schedule

      Don’t get me started. Argh. What is really annoying is such a lackadaisical attitude in the Metro system of “the bus will get there whenever it gets there.” Public transit is already inconvenient enough as it is, converting what would be a ten minute car ride into an hour or more bus and Metrorail ride.

  17. “I like our Western precision, but admit it comes at a price for indeed, too often the sands of time get in our lunch.” Unfortunately, Eastern imprecision comes also at a price, for, too often the sands of time are all such people have available for lunch due to their culture’s inattention to many things legitimately valued by Western culture. We must remember that this world will be imperfect until the Second Coming, and so must understand that EVERYTHING we experience in it will be imperfect until then.

  18. I enjoyed this post very much. Indians operate at Indian Standard Time, which can be very frustrating when you’re hosting a party … However, my first Thanksgiving turkey was done late even by Indian standards, but we improvised with pizza. Everybody came back the next day. I confess that I’m quite particular about being punctual because it aggravated me no end to have the attitude that things will happen when they will, maybe even in the next life.

    Life in SC is slower paced than in WA and we’re enjoying it tremendously.

  19. Do you think the way we relate to time has any influence in the way we view law and morality ?
    btw, there is also ‘Filipino time’ which seems similar to like CP time.

  20. The mechanical clock was the invention of medieval monks for the purpose of determining when to stop work, or whatever else they were doing, and pray.
    If they knew that their invention would end up being used for the purpose of making money half a milineum later, I’m not sure that they would have invented it.

  21. This post reminds me of two things. Years ago, when I was working on a construction site on Vancouver Island (north of Seattle) where I now live, I was waiting at a bus stop on my day off. A consultant from the eastern, more industrialized part of the country, who worked at the site happened to pass by and seemed to give me a very puzzled look.
    The next Monday morning the consultant came up to me and asked how I could wait so calmly for a bus, whereupon I replied that fidgeting, and the like, wouldn’t make the bus arrive any quicker. He didn’t seem to get it – especially when he walked away shaking his head.
    Several days later I happened on a T shirt with a droopy Dali type clock printed on it with the saying, “I’m on Island Time” So I bought the shirt and wore it to work the next day to work; showing it to the consultant next time I saw him. He just walked away shaking his head and staring blankly upwARD.

    1. I’d said that the original post reminded me of two things but, I ran out of time before I got to the second. I suppose I need to get more organized.
      Anyhow, here’s the other thing. My first interpretation of Monsignor Pope’s reference to one of my favourite Psalm quotes (Psalm 90:4) in the cahpter which began with; “God too reminds us” was about the difference between what I called “God’s time” and “our time” until I realized recently that His perception of time would be perfect and mine would not be.
      Now I mention God’s perfection perception of time and my imperfect one. Of course I don’t presume to believe that I have the interpretation perfect yet but, I strive to do my best.

  22. This reading is making me reflect much.
    I have noticed how many are attributing material prosperity of the west to their respect of artificial time, while it is concluded that poverty in third world is due to their disregard of time. I don’t agree really. What is really happening in the west is that man is forcing nature to bow before his clock. Speaking of food, how much food in the west is grown naturally? and what are the consequences of those engineered food on human nature? This is just one example. I think the third world goes poor because it falls victim of this agressive policies of the West, not because they disregard time. It is slowly affecting the West itself as well.
    Ethiopia is one of the most ancient nations on the planet and in certain degree, they even managed to resist the wave of colonization. I don’t think they lack a good mind and heart.
    Perhaps the calls in the West to respect nature will eventually find a good balance on what to make of Time.

    God bless

    1. always easy to blame someone else when one doesn’t have enough food, eh Alain?
      I guess we should leave them totally alone so that they will be abundant? I agree with you.
      personal responsibility is a core christian virtue.

      on another note, there seems to be an assumption by many that timeliness causes materialism. there is no such automatic cause and effect; ask the monks of the medieval monasteries.

      1. Hmm….this is turning a little dark. How about being a little more reserved in making sweeping conclusions. This post is not meant to elicit an adamant all or nothing approach to this question. Rather its intent is to accept our differences and that both “systems” have something to say to us. Timeliness does not cause materialism, but many here are tying our material success to being timely. It is worth remembering that there is more to life that what I possess, there is the enjoyment of it etc. You needn’t imply that pondering connections is to assert absolute causality.

    2. Alain —

      You do know that nature is even more aggressively tyrannical about time than man is, don’t you?

      A second is a second is a second, no matter what, specifically, a second is the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium 133 atom. And a minute was 60 seconds when dinosaurs walked the earth and will be when our sun dies out. Radioactive isotopes will decay at a strict and inalterable rate. Nature’s time stops for nothing.

      Never will you find it taking three or four hours in nature for one hour to pass. An hour is always an hour, right down to the millisecond. Respect nature? Nature’s time ain’t stopping to wait for you.

      If we were to put it in mathematical terms, (unit of time) = (change in distance) / (rate of change). In nature, time is an inalterable, absolute truth. Even when Einsteinian relativity applies, still that apparent relative nature of time is still strictly bound to laws of physics. It is only in the observation another location that time seems to be relative when travelling near light-speed — from the observation point, a second is still a second is still a second.

      Nothing and no one is more strict about time than nature.

      1. Thanks for highlighting those points. I have used ‘clock-time’ to refer to artificial programming of man on the account of the clock being an artificial device. However I should find a better word to refer to human artificial programming. I think what is at issue is ‘responsible’ human programming. When done rightly, there should not be conflict between the program of man and the program of nature. The thing is, the human heart and mind are part of nature and when the heart and mind are healthy we know our programming are not far from being in line with the program of nature.

        Nature can seem even more tyrannical as you said, but not when you are tuned to it by habit. Now, it is easy to be tuned to the program of nature than to the programs of men. The reason is that nature is one, and its program is universal and applies almost to all at once. However, men have various schedules and programs. Stress come from trying to be tuned to these varying and sometimes conflicting schedules. Culture conflicts also arise from habits acquired from being tuned to different culture programmings.
        Again the challenge, I think, is to remember that the hearts and minds are part of nature, to read the program of nature properly, and to respect it. All this ties to the fact that there is One God and belief in one God should make us with one mind and one heart, make us one.

        God bless

        God bless

  23. I do not like Sunday Masses to be rushed at all either. We gather together as a community in the house of God, why not spend it savoring every minute of it with God. It was funny reading about the African American matriach, I laughed out loud. But I can certainly relate to why she said it.

  24. Where I grew up, on a Native American reservation, there was “white people’s time” and “Indian time”. One had to stipulate to “white people’s time” if you wanted it done on a certain day or at a specific time. “Indian time” was infinitely malleable. It was interesting.

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