A Feature Review of
Sacred Time: Embracing an Intentional Way of Life
Christine Valters Paintner
Reviewed by Pamela Kittredge
“Sacred time is time devoted to the heart, to things that matter, to wonder and beauty, to catching glimpses of eternity. Sacred time is not measured in minutes or hours, but in moments and spans, offering us an inner sense of expansiveness.” -Christine Valters Paintner
What is your relationship with time? Do you view it as a scarce resource to be carefully guarded? Are you a slave to the hands of the clock as they tick off the hours of the day—the hours of your life? Or do you recognize time as a gift and a blessing, leading you forward into an intentional, reflective way of being?
In her new book, Sacred Time: Embracing an Intentional Way of Life, Christine Valters Paintner invites us into a focused relationship with time that calls us to view it not as scarce, but as rhythmic and spacious, abundant and eternal. Beginning with the breath, and moving outward in concentric circles to cosmic time, Paintner suggests that we learn to create a new time consciousness—one that understands time as a creative and life-giving force. She calls this sacred time.
Contrasting Chronos, the Greek deity that gives his name to linear or clock time, with Kairos, the deity of sacred time and flow, Paintner leads us on an exploration of the ways time works within our lives.
Each of the eight cycles of time is explored in one chapter making this book useful for small group or congregational study. After some background information is offered, each chapter includes a scripture reflection (NRSV), a practice, a meditation and a creative exploration, followed by a closing blessing. Paintner’s poetry, and illustrations by Alexi Francis, are well suited for contemplative use.
Chapter one, “The Breath”, calls us to attend to the most automatic of bodily functions as a practice of awareness. Attention to the breath invites us to slow down, to quiet our minds, and to remove distractions, in service to expanding our aliveness. A particular focus here is the pause between the inhalation and the exhalation—a place most of us never notice. Bringing our attention to this place of rest is a cornerstone practice for the work that follows.
The next chapters discuss rhythms of the day, rhythms of the week, and Sabbath rest. Praying the hours is suggested as a way to mark the passing of the day in a rhythmic and intentional way. If you aren’t familiar with this practice, Paintner suggests resources for becoming so. Sabbath is a source of resistance to the culture of doing, and offers us time to rest, to play and to recharge. Sabbath marks the passing of each week. Any day may be chosen for the Sabbath as long as it is kept as a time apart from regular business, schedules, and perhaps even technology!
In “Waxing and Waning Lunar Cycles”, we look at how the waxing and waning of each moon might be brought to bear on our lives and spiritual practices. Citing the example of St. Francis, whose kinship with all of creation included his love for Sister Moon, we explore practices that are based on lunar cycles. Both the Jewish and Islamic calendars, Painter writes, are lunar and begin the month with the new moon. This draws our attention to the spirit’s emergence from darkness into light. “The moon offers another window into sacred time…and into a meditation on the times for waxing, for fullness, for waning and for darkness” (52). This chapter also has a rich discussion on dreams and their use as a tool for reaching into the heart.
“We expand our focus from the lunar month to the seasons…from lunar cycles to solar ones.” Expanding upon the idea that seasons have their own particular work, Paintner describes the practices inherent in each. Spring is for blossoming, summer for fullness, autumn for harvesting and winter calls us into stillness. Linking each season to a liturgical rhythm surfaces the perhaps unconscious pattern for the church year. Seasonal turnings are threshold times, she writes, where we can yield ourselves to the stirrings of the Spirit. As might be expected, the Scripture for this chapter is from Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.
In “Seasons of a Lifetime”, we are encouraged to ponder our path through life and to note its turning points as places for study and engagement. The practice of lectio divina is explained in this chapter. Lectio, Paintner suggests, can be used to read not only texts, but to read a life.
After examining our life, the next chapter moves us into an examination of our ancestral time. Integrating what we have learned about our own life into the larger narrative of the lives of those who came before us, we may understand ourselves better. Telling the stories of our generative family may even work to heal present wounds.
A final chapter on cosmic time examines time’s eternal nature. This chapter places all of the other chapters within a cosmic context, urging us, as it does, to breathe in stardust, for example, as a way to connect with the cosmos. We learn about deep time, and mythic time, and why we must attend to both endings and beginnings.
This book asks: Can we cultivate a new relationship with time? Can we become more present to the holy in every moment? Can we honor time’s circular nature and embrace it as spiritual food? Those who wish to answer these questions for themselves, and those who will walk forward on this path, will find this book a wise and steady guide.