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    Giving the Hours a Soul

    January 9, 2018 by Brandy Vencel

    Are there not twelve hours in a day?

    The New Year, she comes to me as a tall lady in spotless white, brimming with possibilities, unstained and innocent. I often imagine her as a blank slate for me to write upon or a vessel for me to fill. She delights me, for I am terribly naïve this time of year.

    There are certain truths about new years and time in general that I refuse to acknowledge until at least the third week of January. This year was a little different, though, because we ushered in 2018 with colds in our heads and sore in our throats.

    It’s hard to believe in perfection when you have a cough.

    The annual collision of ideal and real wasn’t delayed, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. A dose of reality can be good medicine if given at the right time and in the correct amount.

    For over a month now, I have been pondering a passage from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s Treatise on Method (ever since Karen shared it with me):

    Both do, indeed, at once divide and announce the silent and otherwise indistinguishable lapse of time: but the man of methodical industry and honourable pursuits, does more; he realizes its ideal divisions, and gives a character and individuality to its moments. If the idle are described as killing time, he may be justly said to call it into life and moral being, while he makes it the distinct object not only of the consciousness, but of the conscience. He organizes the hours, and gives them a soul: and that, the very essence of which is to fleet away, and evermore to have been, he takes up into his own permanence and communicates to it the imperishableness of a spiritual nature. Of the good and faithful servant, whose energies, thus directed, are thus methodized, it is less truly affirmed, that he lives in time, than that time lives in him.

    Now here is something worth reading five times and pondering for the remainder of a day.

    My delusions of the year-as-blank-slate are fatal. That’s not the sort of control I have, nor should I desire it. And notions of time as needing to be filled ignore the truth that the hours ahead of us are already full. There is a calling on my life and I can know with certainty that, barring an emergency, there will be laundry to do, tummies to fill, people to love, etcetera. The Lord Himself has already prepared the hours.

    Coleridge’s picture here dazzles me. What meaneth this “giving the hours a soul?” Certainly it is something like redeeming the time, as Scripture instructs us to do. Time: it comes to us whether we are ready or not. The river rolls on when we are sick and downtrod, as well as when we are productive and triumphant. We neither create time nor destroy it; we neither fill it nor empty it. God creates ex nihilo, but we work with pre-existing material. So with time. Like a sculptor with clay, we have one ability and that is to shape ourselves in time, as best we can, in a way that is pleasing to our Lord.

    I was thinking about this while I was sick. I felt like I was wasting time, lying there, doing almost nothing. My husband asked me a question the other night and I quipped, “Don’t ask me, I just work here.” He gave me a funny look, and I added, “I’m not even sure I do that anymore. I guess I just blow my nose, mostly.”

    I suppose it’s the duty of the sick to be patient and make sure the cure holds.

    Hours come to us each day. It’s as inevitable as laughter following a good joke. Coleridge asks: What distinguishes the man of superior mind? We inherit these hours, and sometimes we are pleased with them, while other times we feel we made such a poor showing, it was pointless to have received them in the first place. What makes the difference? Coleridge says the difference is that the superior man has a Method — even a Method in the fragments, underneath the rubble, underlying the chaos.

    Coleridge seems to use the word Method similar to how Werner Jaeger uses the word culture. It’s the relentless pursuit of an ideal.

    Now there is a thought. What if I allowed my ideals to give life to my days and weeks, my hours and moments? What would the ideal look like in this moment? That’s a question that packs a punch. It might look like a cup of water to a child thirsty, a hug to someone crying, an email in manner timely. It would look like honor and duty, yes, but also justice and beauty, mercy and creativity.

    Let’s take a practical example: I have fifteen minutes. What do I do with it?

    As a slave to my passions, I might click on my favorite social media app. Research tells me this is a fleeting pleasure.

    As a servant to a great ideal, however, I must take a moment to consider. What does the ideal look like, right now? If that question is confusing or unhelpful, another way to think of it is: Who do I want to be in 20 years? All these little choices we make each day add up to who we’re practicing to be two, three decades from now. We all become who we are through a myriad of mostly insignificant actions.

    Social media is still on the table. I don’t know about you, but there are some people I can’t keep up with any other way. Catching up with them might be a good use of 15 minutes. I’m not an all or nothing girl on this issue. But it depends. Reading a book, making a phone call, even paying a bill — these might be better uses of the same 15 minutes. How do I do justice in this moment? Have I done my duty today?

    It is easy to forget who I want to be and become amidst the daily plodding, partly because some tasks are mundane, but mostly because I fail to remember that while mundane, they remain significant.

    This year, as I stare at my beautiful blank calendar and laugh off my lady in white, I make one resolution only: to often and repeatedly ask myself what it would look like if I gave this hour right here a soul.

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  • Reply Naomi January 2, 2021 at 6:05 pm

    Rereading this a 3rd year in a row. So good!

  • Reply Deanna December 31, 2019 at 3:40 am

    This post really blew me away. I’m so glad you linked it in your New Year’s email! This year I will continue to reevaluate my email subscriptions so that I’m not wasting time, but I’m definitely keeping Afterthoughts!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel December 31, 2019 at 3:40 pm

      Aw. I’m honored to have made the cut. ♥

  • Reply Mignon December 31, 2018 at 7:09 am

    Ah, Coleridge! I have not thought about him in quite some time. It was really lovely to read that quote and your meditation upon it. Thank you, Brandy. I can always trust you to dish up some tasty morsel for us!

  • Reply Cindy December 30, 2018 at 4:18 am

    Excellent post and very edifying.

  • Reply Trisha January 19, 2018 at 7:43 pm

    Brandy, this is amazing. Thank you. <3

  • Reply Valerie January 12, 2018 at 10:06 pm

    Thank you for sharing these thoughts. I’m reminded of a quote from St. Faustina’s Diary that I find inspiring and SOBERING. 🙂

    “O life so dull and monotonous, how many treasures you contain! When I look at everything with the eyes of faith, no two hours are alike, and the dullness and monotony disappear. The grace which is given me in this hour will not be repeated in the next… Time goes on, never to return again” (Diary, 62).

  • Reply Carissa January 11, 2018 at 12:03 pm

    This is really beautiful and clarifying. What a wonderful way to express reconciliation between every day(or moment, even)’s clean page and the fact that it’s actually already full by way of the Divine pen, so to speak. This really feeds my ponderings on daily prayer too – if one was to give every hour a soul, then who better to bring life to it then the Breath of Life, Himself? Then as I come to every cross road of decision, I’m not hogging the road or closing my heart to His direction of, “this is the way, walk in it” into the ideal that I aim and long for.

    Sorry, I’m rambling a bit, but I so appreciate the food for thought! Thank you for posting.

    Thanks for posting this, it’s such a great reflection.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 11, 2018 at 12:15 pm

      I love the way you said all of this, Carissa! Especially this: “it’s actually already full by way of the Divine pen…” ♥

  • Reply Yong January 10, 2018 at 4:23 am

    Beautiful expression. What you had gone thru felt sense see touch someone like me oceans away..thank you.

  • Reply Amanda January 9, 2018 at 9:57 pm

    It’s almost like that unfilled planner means we just *might* be getting a few extra months this year! 😉 I feel the same way… and yes, I just work here, too. LOL. I hope you’re feeling better!! Sick is really no way to spend a break. *sigh*

  • Reply Tania Bingham January 9, 2018 at 5:18 pm

    This was a wonderful, thoughtful post. Thank you!

  • Reply Ann-Marie January 9, 2018 at 3:34 pm

    Happy New Year, Brandy! I cannot tell you how much I absolutely love this. I mean LOVE with a capital “L” love! I too have been sick with the flu (or possibly the plague 😉 and lying in bed for the past week or so pondering and contemplating time and its place in my crazy busy life. I think it is so amazing that sometimes when we are not well, we have the *best* thoughts on life and what is important and what matters most, don’t you agree? The idea of 15 minute intervals is a wonderful one and very doable for most people, even on the busiest of days. When I was sick (today being my first day back to wellness), I spent most of my day in bed or on the sofa knitting, watching tv with my kids and coughing—alot. With the exception of the way I was feeling, it was a wonderful welcome to slow down ALOT. I had not spent Advent in any form of rest or resting in Him and this was so restorative for me. I too have great lofty ideals when the new year rolls around, but, this year I am doing my best not to try to save myself or my homeschool or my kids or whatever else needs to be fixed or simplified or is rolling around in my brain. I am just going to be—and that means being the best version of me I can at the given time and doing the next right thing. Hopefully that will snowball and He will run with it 🙂 Hope you are feeling much better now! Still miss CMBC from last summer! Take care and be well, sweet friend!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel January 10, 2018 at 8:55 am

      Oh, Ann-Marie! ♥ So good to hear from you. I totally agree — we think some of our best thoughts during a forced slow down. But my how I must be dragged kicking and screaming! 🙁

      I’m sorry you were sick, too. Glad you are on the mend.

      • Reply Ann-Marie December 29, 2018 at 8:34 am

        Thank you so much for reposting this, Brandy!
        “I too have great lofty ideals when the new year rolls around, but, this year I am doing my best not to try to save myself or my homeschool or my kids or whatever else needs to be fixed or simplified or is rolling around in my brain. I am just going to be—and that means being the best version of me I can at the given time and doing the next right thing. Hopefully that will snowball and He will run with it”
        Re-reading my reply from last year in retrospection and contemplation…
        This year was the year of breaking down and being humbled to the bone! I can honestly say it was hands down the worst year for our family, but, God was still there during it all and there have been many blessings.
        I did not stick with not fixing things, but, the things that needed fixing were not always in my control. It was the year of leaning in large, letting go and trusting! That is what I get for choosing TRUST as my word of the year.
        At the end of this year, I am truly thankful. I feel like a butterfly in a cocoon about to spread its wings and venture out in the bright beautiful world.
        This is my inspiration for 2019…
        “There are far, far better things ahead than any we leave behind.”
        ― C.S. Lewis
        I will be more mindful with time as the past year has been a whirlwind of survival mode, but, I have really good feelings about the year to come and your lovely post will be in my mind daily.
        Best wishes for a blessed 2019, Brandy and look forward to seeing you in CMBC the sequel 😉

        • Reply Brandy Vencel December 29, 2018 at 10:17 am

          It’s interesting to look back on a year, isn’t it? We, too, had the hardest year we’ve had in a decade. I hope for a wonderful 2019 for you, Ann-Marie! ♥

          • annmarie333 December 31, 2018 at 2:02 pm

            I am so sorry to hear that the year was a hard one for you as well, Brandy! I hope that 2019 is blessed and peaceful for you. ♥

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