Time, like an ever-rolling stream, Or: “What. Is. Happening?”

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. Annie Dillard

As a result of a blessed combination of perfect timing, grace, and generosity, I have recently begun a three-month sabbatical from my service as a parish priest. What a wonderful gift: a time set apart–true sabbath–for the purpose of rest, renewal, and re-connection with all good things. During the first couple of weeks, I have been caught up mostly in family business and sleeping. Now, though, as one will when given a chance to slow down: I have been thinking about death.

The Charles River, near the monastery of the Society of St. John the Evangelist, Cambridge MA.

Okay, not really. More accurately, I have been thinking about the relentless passage of time. How, in the words of singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman, Time Itself “takes so long, and it goes so fast.”

Being given the gift of time–relieved of responsibility for a solid block of three months–is such a precious experience. It is a wonder to re-calibrate the days, to shift from measuring the days in minutes and hours, and to practice measuring them in thirds instead.

Recently my 30-year-old daughter posted this message on social media: “OHMYGODohmygodohmygod. It’s been SEVENTEEN YEARS since ‘I Want It That Way.’ What is happening? What. Is. Happening. ‘I Want It That Way’ is almost old enough to vote. Sorry about the mess, my head just exploded.”

I feel her pain, of course. But I could not resist a little one-upmomship. I replied “I see your Backstreet Boys and raise you a John Denver.” I have been stunned that one of the songs of my own youth, “Take Me Home, Country Roads,” is 45 years old this week. Almost old enough for an AARP card.

The fact that we are always amazed that so much time has passed (and who knows where the time goes?) has to be balanced with our intentional and mindful awareness of how we spend our days. As I make plans to “spend” the sabbath time I have been given, I am keenly aware of Annie Dillard’s admonition: How I spend my days is how I will spend my sabbatical. And my life. I feel called–convicted, even–to careful attention to the time. And maybe, in this way, I will experience the timelessness of God.

A thousand ages in thy sight are like an evening gone; short as the watch that ends the night before the rising sun. / Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all its sons away; they fly, forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day.

Isaac Watts (1674-1748), O God, our help in ages past, Hymnal 1982