I have long been fascinated by the varying rate that we can perceive that time is passing. There are moments when it passes very quickly – perhaps an evening you’re enjoying with beloved family members or closest friends. Remember the times when good food, engaged conversation, and laughter enveloped you for an evening? Seemingly, at one moment you’re gathering with your friends, sitting down to the table together. The next thing you know, the whole evening has passed and you’re hugging one another goodnight as you prepare to return home. (How I miss those days!)
But time also can seem to drag on endlessly. I recall many a tedious moment when I wished time would move more rapidly: enduring a particularly dull lecture in school, witnessing a truly terrible play, or even attending a sporting event where my team was losing very badly. But one of my biggest examples of this was sitting in the waiting room with my father and sister as my mother underwent emergency heart surgery. We knew ahead of time how many hours it was supposed to take, yet still, from the moment we left her beforehand until the moment the doctor came to give us the results, time seemed to hang around us like a still, dense fog that refused to burn off for lack of sunshine.
Though it can seem to pass with varying speeds during our different tasks or experiences, we know that time is a dependable constant. The length of a second, a minute, an hour or a day remains precisely the same across our lifetimes even as our perception of their passing does not. Each morning will transition to afternoon, which will shift toward evening and eventually fade into night. This week soon will be behind us, with the next week laid out before us. Summer will transition to autumn, leading to winter, then spring, and finally, summer again. Yet all we’ll ever experience, of any of these things, will be one day, one hour, one moment at a time. We live now, in the present, no matter how much we long for the future or cling to the past.
As the hours of daylight dwindle and winter’s cold approaches (though I write this column on an unseasonably warm day), I have been a bit concerned for how slowly time will seem to pass this winter. When the frigid weather would normally move social activities indoors, we who live in northern Massachusetts will find social activities even more uncomfortably curtailed. The things that have given us respite from isolation are becoming decreasingly available – eating at a restaurant outside, socially distant gatherings with friends or family on the lawn, etc. Most people I know are preparing themselves for a long winter uncomfortably tinged with isolation and distance.
I find comfort in the theological premise of the already and the not yet. It is effectively deployed by the Apostle Paul, who tells us that eternal life already is ours, even though we are not yet through with our frail existence here on earth. Likewise, in the Gospels, Christ proclaims that the Kingdom of God, the Heavenly realm, is at hand. That is to say, the realm of heaven has drawn near. It already is accomplished in Christ’s life and work, yet it is not yet established for all to know.
Our lives have always been lived in a liminal space – that is, both in the present moment and in eternity, in this world and in God’s world to come, in the midst of our all-too-brief mortal life and throughout all eternity, too. This gives me heart in the midst of the pandemic. At present, we are living through difficult days. All indicators are that things will get worse before they get better, as infections and hospitalizations are on the rise. Yet… yet… we also now know that the end, no matter how distant, is in sight. Several vaccines are nearing deployment. Over the coming months, we will start to see first front-line workers, then those most vulnerable, and finally the general population start to be vaccinated. As the months progress, more and more of us will receive the vaccine, and life will begin to return to normal. Through the difficulty and darkness of the present moment, we can see hope for a brighter future. It’s only a matter of time.
Our faith reminds us that God holds us through the present moment, no matter how long or short, easy or difficult, light or dark, we may perceive it to be. God gives us reason to be grateful and hopeful each and every moment of our lives. Together, by faith, we will find our way through the present as we live toward God’s yet unrevealed future. And through it all, we will rest assured, enveloped in boundless love and endless compassion – the promises of God, made known to us through Christ Jesus, our Lord.
Hang in there! We are getting through this. And we have more reasons to be grateful and hopeful than we can even imagine!
Faithfully yours, ~Bill