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The Measure of a Day

"Once, we all lived beneath the skies in the same perceived time zone – local solar time – and our biorhythms were synchronized with the rising and setting of that one natural light source."

Pamela Gossin, "Hardy's Poetic Cosmology and the 'New Astronomy.'" Ashgate Research Companion to Thomas Hardy, ed. Rosemarie Morgan, p. 235.

This line of thinking first occurred to me some years ago, when I started exploring the rhythms of morning and evening prayer. So much of the liturgical Christian tradition is rooted in the solar and lunar cycles, from the dating of Easter and the timing of Easter Vigils, to times of prayer. The daily offices of prayer ultimately go back to the monastic tradition and the Psalms, where the day is marked – or better, interrupted – by a stopping to pray, or a rising from sleep to pray. The ancient pagans do not have a corner on the cycles of Nature, as the Jews and Christians have also had great interest in them! I would imagine that all religions and early science have had interest in measuring the days, sunlight, path of the sun, and the skies. As the quote above notes, the pre-modernized, pre-electrified era would have naturally led to a synchronizing of the human body and mind with the evening sky. This is one of the odd wonders of camping, when one finds that with night-time one must go to sleep! Unless you've brought an iPad, Kindle, or something …

The resonances of light with the Christian tradition are obvious, especially since Christ himself claims to be the light of the world. Knowledge, illumination, and understanding have clear associations with light and seeing. Plato's The Good was associated with the sun in the parable of the cave, and The Good that is like the sun came to be seen as a pre-Christian understanding of God. Traditionally, bodies are buried feet first towards the east, so that at the resurrection they will rise facing the sun (at least, as I was told by a funeral director). C.S. Lewis uses this most overtly in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, where the protagonists are literally treading towards the rising sun, which is Aslan's land. The lovely sequence where Eustace is de-dragonified has Aslan illuminated by moonlight, which seems to not fit, until you realize that the moon is simply reflected sunlight (thanks, Planet Narnia!).

So the struggle, as Wendell Berry has long argued, is to be more connected with the created order, which means following some of the natural rhythms of our planet: going to bed with the evening, and rising nearer the dawn; praying at the beginning and ending of the day; having a greater awareness of the length of the day, as it waxes and wanes; and having a Hardyan sense of our small place in the cosmos, with its great expanse of distant stars and stellar beauty (as Gossin discusses in her terrific chapter).


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