For almost 30 years, whenever the reader began, “A reading from the Book of Jeremiah,” I would look to the lady sitting next to me in choir and whisper, “Jeremiah was a bullfrog.” She would reply, “was a good friend of mine.” And together we would finish with, “I never understood a single word he said, but I helped him drink his wine and he always had some mighty fine wine.”
I mention this because as we go through our lives, certain words, events or even sights we see bring back memories of times past. During the month of July, the gospel readings for Ordinary Time dealt with the parables of Jesus. One of our popular church songs for that time is titled “Parable,” and I have the urge to add “turn, turn, turn,” after the opening line “To everything.” The long-ago popular song of that title, by a San Francisco vocal group known as the Byrds, was based on the third chapter of Ecclesiastes. That chapter of Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time for everything.
The concept of time is possibly as old as mankind. The challenge of keeping track of it has been a challenge for thousands of years. Evidence of our ancestors’ efforts can be found just about everywhere man has lived. Cave paintings and carvings on cliff walls may recall events or stories. The telling could begin with “Once upon a time,” or “Remember when. . .” Stone circles are found throughout both Europe and North America. Most were built to track the summer and winter solstice and the spring and fall equinox. There are indications that similar wooden structures predated those of stone.
We can all thank the Babylonians for the way we keep track of our day. While most of our ancestors were working with a base 10 number system because most of us have 10 fingers, they developed a system based on a base six system. They determined that the day was circular. The sun rose in the east and set in the west. At almost an equal length of time later, the sun again rose in the east. They calculated that a circle had 360 degrees. Easily divided into segments which were also easily divided by six. Hence, 60 minutes in an hour and 60 seconds in a minute.
The Greeks invented a mechanical device that was able to plot the locations of the sun, moon and the five visible planets for any day in the past or the future. After the fall of Greece, Europeans depended upon sand passing through an hourglass to track the hours. Almost 2,000 years later, when Europeans reached the New World, they discovered that the savages of what is now Central America had developed calendars that accurately measured time for thousands of years. About that same time, Europeans invented the clock using the Babylonians’ base six. I have one of those European inventions on my wrist. It is accurate about seven months out of the year. The other five months require that I readjust it to correct for the missing day or three that occur about every other month. It is a cheap watch.
The concept of time is our method of establishing order in our somewhat chaotic life. It is far from perfect and changes from time to time. Every so often, we hear that those in charge are adding a second to our day. In the U.S., we record dates as the month, day and year. Our European brothers record a date as day, month and year. We use a day that is divided into two 12-hour segments and designate the hour as A.M. and P.M. A.M. means ante meridian, and P.M. is post meridian. To us common folks, that’s before and after noon. Europeans use a 24-hour clock. We have four time zones in the continental United States. China has one although it stretches thousands of miles from east to west.
I am sure you have all heard of the prime meridian. Sir George Airy established the prime meridian in 1851 at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England. It was established as an aid to navigation for the British Navy and British merchant shipping. Within 30 years, most of the world’s nations were using it for their fleet’s navigation. The Prime Meridian and the ante meridian, 180 degrees on the other side of the earth, form a great circle that divides our world into two hemispheres. Like most of our firm fixed points or lines, it has been adjusted slightly over the years, but you can still put one foot in the Eastern Hemisphere and the other in the Western Hemisphere and snap a selfie.
When I was in high school I learned dates as B.C. and A.D. B.C. meant Before Christ, and A.D. meant Ante Domini or after Christ. We later learned that the B.C. and A.D. dates were off by three to six or more years. Since almost 2,000 years had passed, there was no effort to correct thousands of dates. Instead, just so we don’t offend anybody, we stopped using B.C. and now all those B.C. dates are B.C.E. dates. B.C.E. translates to Before the Common Era. I guess that the A.D. dates are now C.E. dates, but I have not seen that used very often if at all.
We use time to create order. Ecclesiastes tells us that there is a time to be born — yep, got that. A time to die — not yet, but I know that someday that will happen. There is a time to sow — kind of depends upon the weather around here. And a time to reap — which is related to the time to sow.
There is another “time” that I have heard of. My mother used it quite often when I was a teenager. I often heard, “Isn’t it high time you mowed the yard – took out the trash – washed the car – shoveled the walk,” and so on. I have noticed that there is usually always a before and after when it comes to just about everything. We all experience positives and negatives, or pluses and minuses. Surely, if there is a “high” time, there must be a “low” time. I have concluded that it must have occurred sometime between the hours of midnight and dawn, when I was usually sleeping.
“High times” are not fixed by the clock but depend, much like the tides, on some outside force. The tides are controlled by the gravitational pull of the moon and the rotation of the earth. High times always depend upon the whim of the speaker. And I notice that it is probably high time I ended this so we can all go home.