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Ancestral Values Series #1: Time

Updated: Dec 5, 2023

Returning to a life of making, Sabbaths and less.

A quilt with patches created and signed by individuals.
Quaker Album or Friendship Quilt, 1848

In this occasional Olden Practice series I would like to discuss ancestral values worth recognizing and reclaiming. Today foremost in my mind is the value of time.

In the children's book Quilt of Dreams by Mindy Dwyer--which I read to my youngest daughter for years and highly recommend as a story about craft and generations--a child is told that, "Quilts are made of time."

This past week I spent hours mending an old quilt of my mother's. It isn't fancy or handmade--she bought it when I was still in high school and gifted it to me when my family lost all of our belongings in 2017. The seams are coming apart, and while it would be infinitely easier to purchase a new quilt I feel a sense of honor--to the gift, my mother and time--as I repair it.

The quilt I am repairing with my three foster kittens.

Quilts are a wonderful example of the ancestral value of time.

By this I mean, time well spent, time not wasted, time held in cycles of production and rest. Time for many of our ancestors was labor, yes, but in pre-industrial societies labor stopped when the sun went down, or slowed when the crops were in.

Not only this, but many of my ancestors celebrated the Sabbath, a day of holy rest. Even in the midst of constant work, there was a built in pause for reflection and restoration, a concept of time--some time, at least--as sacred.

How does this differ with the perception of time today?

Farm women working on quilt. Near West Carlton, Yamhill County, Oregon, Dorthea Lange, October 1939

The Sabbath and Holy Time

I am a new student of religion having been raised almost entirely without it (my ancestors led me to their faith, which I'll share more about at a later date). One of the most powerful valuations of time I've seen is the setting aside of one day a week for spiritual practice, contemplation and sacredness.

Thinking about the Sabbath has been a mind shift to me. As a mother and self-employed person I could work all hours of all days, even if I shouldn't. Clearing one day a week from digital engagement, unnecessary work, buying and selling, and all sundry distractions has been a challenge.

But in the same way that quilts are made of time, so too are habits. This past moon Sabbaths have become easier, more intentional. A relief, if I am honest, and something I look forward to. It is my hope that as I continue this awareness--of both the need for sacredness and rest--this one day a week may be filled with joy.

The Day of Rest, Currier & Ives, 1869

Seasonal Time, Earth Time, Moon Time

Living cyclically is another ancestral time way--allowing the ebb and flow of season, light, dark and--especially if you are female--moon to be a part of our lived experiences and structures.

In the summer when the days are long I tend to get up very early, rising with the sun, and retire later with the sun too. In the winter I go to bed not too long after dark (except at Solstice when it darkens at around 4:30 pm) and sleep until light as well.

I feel this shift in energetics deeply in my body. And I know for many of my ancestors--especially those who could not afford lamp oil or candles, the dark winter nights were a time of story by the fire, then long periods of rest.

Likewise summer days, especially for agrarian families, were filled with activity from sunup to sundown.

I realize these seasonal rhythms require a certain freedom and responsiveness. But they primarily ask for awareness.

What if we set an intention of limiting engagement in the winter after dark?

What if the solar cycle helped us plan projects and activities in alignment with the earth rhythms?

The lunar cycles also govern my months--hormones waxing and waning along with fertility. The first ancestral calendars known were lunar, probably to track menstrual cycles. By bringing more awareness to these lived rhythms of time, I embody a fuller ancestral, and earthen, continuity.

Bone engraved with lunar calendar, ca. -40.000/-35.000 years. From the Blanchard rock shelter, Sergeac, Dordogne, France. © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY 4.0

Where else can the ancestral value of time be seen?

Where do you feel a draw toward slow crafts, cyclic rhythms or sacred days?

This afternoon I will take my mother's quilt into the early September sun and stitch the edges of each block, letting the fragrance of the earth reach me, the roses in bloom, the sweet calls of the birds. This is an activity, a moment, my fourth great grandmother would recognize.

And beyond her.

And beyond.

This is what I am striving for more of in life--days made of natural time, sacred time, simple time, stitched with intention, shared with blessings and love.


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