The Gift of Time

Late summer evenings . . . I’ve been enjoying quite a few lately, needless to say. Of all things, summer evenings ––(under the stars, if possible, of course; the 2020 Perseid meteor shower having just peaked on Wednesday)––are a time for listening––music listening, that is––with all the doors and windows pulled wide open, so that all that remains of the heat is a delicious and refreshing cool, as if one were somehow, swimming in the air. Late summer evenings, when all is quiet, and everyone else has gone to bed––except you!

I have a large CD collection and sometimes pull many different things from the shelves for late night listening. In fact I took a short vacation last month the whole point of which––so my friends told me, who had traveled from Alberta for this express purpose––was to listen to music together: ––yes, truth is stranger than fiction!!–– for it was music that had drawn us together in the first place; and music, of course, being closer than anything else in human experience, to pure feeling. And so we did, among other things, and it was hauntingly beautiful.

In any case, last week or so, (my friends having long departed, of course) I decided to listen again, for the first time in a long while, to the BBC recording of the funeral service for the late Princess Diana––of all things––who died August 31, 1997, and whose service was given from Westminster Abbey six days later, before the entire world.

To listen to funeral may strike you as rather odd, but this funeral, as well as being of profound historical significance, was exceptionally full of great music––glorious music, even, chosen and led by then-organist and Master of the Choristers at Westminster Abbey, Martin Neary.

Diana’s funeral was the first time I heard an extraordinary piece by the contemporary British composer John Tavener’s––(still living at the time but now gone)––an elegy called the “Song for Athene,” written in 1993 in tribute of Athene Hariades, a young actress who was killed in a cycling accident. It turned out to be John Tavener’s most famous piece. It was sung at the conclusion of the service, as Diana’s cortege slowly left the church.

Besides the music, many important and striking things were said at that service; some beautiful; some consoling; some haunting: and some controversial, even bitterly controversial, for Diana’s death was a needless tragedy.

Three members of Diana’s immediate family participated in it:––Diana’s two older sisters, and her younger brother. At the service, one of Diana’s older sisters, Lady Jane Fellowes, read the following poem:

Time is too slow for those who wait,
Too swift for those who fear,
Too long for those who grieve,
Too short for those who rejoice,
But for those who love . . . time, is eternity.

It’s the second section of a poem by the American poet and clergyperson Henry Van Dyke,

who lived from 1852-1933, which he wrote to be inscribed on a sundial at the home of some friends.

Time: is it a gift, or is it a curse? That is the question––probably more so now during this pandemic: in the Time of Covid, as it were, and beyond.

Needless to say, time has weighed very heavily on people over the last four months––very heavily. How much longer? people ask; of ourselves, of each other, of God . . . How much longer will we have to suffer this strange state of affairs? How much longer will we be stuck at home; and isolated from our friends; how much longer will we have to cope with the fears

which attend a flailing economy? How much longer will we have to leave the house, masked and gloved against an unseen contagion? How much longer will we have to be afraid, to be, ourselves?

The Book of Ecclesiastes, which we read this morning, says that there is a time for everything:

birth, death, planting, pruning; tearing down, building up; weeping and laughing; mourning and dancing; gathering, scattering, or throwing away; speaking, and keeping silence. There’s even a time for embracing, and a time for refraining from embrace, as we seem to do now, everywhere we go. There is also a time for love, as well as a time, of all things, for war.

But what is this time for? Being afraid? Getting tired? Giving up? Hiding away?

Needless to say, we are now caught, under Covid, in a strange, in-between time. We can’t go back to way things were; nor can we move forward, not knowing what is to come, or when it will arrive. It’s like a desperate trap, in which we are slathered with fear and sandwiched between what came before, and what will come after . . .

“Previous events have had a start, middle, an end,” writes Vaile Wright, senior director of health care innovation for the American Psychological Association, of Covid-19. “[But] people can’t disconnect from this. As the pandemic continues, people everywhere are having trouble adjusting to the strain of our new reality.”

In-between time. It’s actually one of the most dangerous points in life; where one can not only lose one’s faith, but one’s sanity; where one can begin to wander from what is good, and right, all the way to somewhere else; where one can simply give up, completely.

In one of my favourite episodes of Touched by an Angel––in fact the series finale––Monica, the angel, arrives on assignment in a small Colorado town. As she walks the streets in the company of a drifter she meets on the bus, she quickly discovers––oddly––that among other things there are no children. Old children’s toys actually litter the landscape; toy dump trucks rust in the grass; a young girl’s bike is abandoned on the sidewalk. In time she learns that there has been a terrible tragedy in this “pretty little town,” as the sheriff calls it; most of the 40-odd children were in fact killed one day, at school, when the basement boiler mysteriously exploded.

The whole town seems dead. I mean, dead.

One day meets a minister, named Peter, at the doctor’s office. Like many others, Peter has lost a child. The trauma of this has affected him so deeply that his whole life––like that of the town––has stopped. Dead. The church is closed as if in the Time of Covid, and he is on indefinite sabbatical, indefinitely. He’s fallen into a chasm, of sorts, and can’t get out.

“How are you, Peter?” Monica asks.

“Okay, I guess,” he replies, clearing his throat––the same thing he tells everyone.

Monica presses him to tell his story. “I was in my office that morning [referring to the terrible day of the explosion]. My daughter—Macy––stopped by on her way to school. She handed me this––(he takes an Easter Egg colouring kit out of an old paper bag that he now carries everywhere)––and said, ‘Daddy, do you want to make some Easter eggs tonight.’ There is a pause. “I keep waiting for the right time to colour us for her. The day comes, but, then, the colours just . . . . stay in the bag.”

“You remember the story of Easter,” Monica replies to him, moved by his account. “Death came on Friday; life, on Sunday. But there was a long, very hard day in between.”

“Yes, we’re all us stuck here in Saturday, aren’t we?” Peter replies, wistfully.

Yes, we may be caught in a strange in-between’ in a perpetual now and not-yet; in a day between two other days, like Easter Saturday. But this much we know for sure––and I’m going to want you to lean in, to hear it, as the fictional English teacher John Keating asked his students

to do in the 1989 film Dead Poet’s Society.

Are you leaning in? For God’s people, time is very important. Moreover, it’s a gift––the gift of God for the people of God––and is both to be treated with respect, and managed carefully. Yep.

We are not “the accidental tourists of life,” to borrow a phrase from another film, and the novel which inspired it); meaninglessly drifting to and fro like the flotsam and jetsam of everyday existence. Our lives, and the time in which, and with which, we live them, are a gift.

And with every good gift, of course, comes great responsibility, even in a time of Covid.

After all, to whom much is given, of the very same, much will be expected. And no good gift is ever given without purpose.

So argues Paul, in the Book of Ephesians. And here it is:

Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity––or as other translations put it––“making the most of your time,” because the days are evil.”

Making the most of your time––no matter what came before, and what may come after, Covid notwithstanding. That’s quite a charge to make of God’s people. After all, time can be a blessing; or it can be a curse . . .

When time is used to grow the presence of God in the hearts of people; when it leaves others encouraged, stronger, and loved; when it inspires people everywhere to drink in the good gift of creation––and give thanks for the good gift of life; when it is used to love, care for, and console others; when it creates dreaming room, and thinking room; when it cultivates wisdom; makes music; and enshrines glory:––time is a blessing.

But when it is wasted on impressing others or endlessly obsessing about “things;” when it is used to spread hate, and vanity, and debauchery, and everything else which is vile about human nature; when it kills, and destroys; defames, and denatures:––then it is a curse, a bitter curse.

There are actually two words for time in the New Testament, two Greek words. One, cronoV (chronos) is familiar to English speakers in words like chronology, the so-called charting of time,

or sequential arrangement of historical events. The second is not familiar to us, but it is even more important. That word is kairoV, (kairos) which can be translated, simply, as time, or opportunity.

A kairoV time, then, is a critical and decisive moment, either in the life of a nation, or in the life of a person, in which there is a unique opportunity for change, and growth, and for making important and critical decisions; for living out all that is good, and pleasing to God.

This is kind of time to which Paul refers, which is why he makes so explicit just how to spend one’s time, seizing every opportunity for good; while turning aside from everything which is evil, or traps people in hopelessly downward spirals of indolence and despair:––which, like the relentless march of a spiritual disease, waste life and destroy potential.

Here’s what he says, in my paraphrase:

“Don’t be foolish, and hence misunderstand what the Lord’s will is. And don’t get drunk; or give way to greed; or entertain stupid sexual immorality; or prattle on and on in a way which is coarse, foolish, or obscene, all of which behaviours enshrine debauchery. Instead, instead!––Be filled with the Spirit!!! Speak to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs––from the Spirit.

Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord!! And always, always, always, give thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

This is how to spend your time!!! This is how to fill your life with glorious “kairos” moments;

overcoming evil with good, seizing the day, and making the world a better place––in Jesus’ name––with every breath, and every footfall. You will walk the earth just as long as God wishes

––and not a moment more. So don’t waste the time you have been given, or spend it on nonsense. Or trap yourself in an eternal Saturday.

Yes, Time is too slow for those who wait,
Too swift for those who fear,
Too long for those who grieve,
Too short for those who rejoice,
But for those who love . . . time, is eternity.

So live for God, and love for God, and Time will become a blessing, even now.