I’m feeling different. It started while I was in Israel this spring, but it’s still a fairly intense feeling four months later. “Different” is manifesting in a lot of ways: sleep patterns, priorities, appetite, how I spend my time, even the music I’ve been listening to. I’ve switched off my old favorites of Neil Young and Tom Petty in favor of Dave Matthews, whom I can’t get enough of. (Thanks Noreen for turning me on to him.) I’ve also switched off the news and am listening to music on satellite radio and the iPhone. I heard a song recently called "100 Years" by Five for Fighting. It has a beautiful-almost-haunting melody. As I listened, I realized the words are just as provocative as the music. The song is about how, if you've only got 100 years to live, then 15 is a great age to be - you've still got plenty of time—"time to buy, time to lose, time to choose" the song goes. Twenty-two isn't bad either, as you're just crossing the threshold into grown-up pursuits. At 33 things are coming together—you have people in your life and work to do. But at 45 you're nearing the halfway mark and time is slipping away. At 67 the sun is falling toward the horizon, and before you know it, you're 99, wondering where the time went and wishing you were 15 again, even for a moment. Is that how time works? Is that how God intends us to understand time?
I’m experiencing time differently too. A friend named this pro-longed summer vacation I’m on as my “Sabbath Pause.” I think that’s about right. I’ve hit the “pause” button on life...knowing full well, it will be back to full-speed in September. And “Sabbath” to me has always signified time out of time — sacred time set apart from regular time, stepping out of time into eternity to honor God, love God, contemplate God. And so in my Sabbath pause, I’m losing track of time. I lose track of the days. I leisurely go about the mundane tasks of living...eating when I’m hungry, doing laundry when the pile gets too big, tidying up only when company is coming. I spend my days reading, writing, hiking, running. And I think about God a lot. Almost all the time. My brain is having a good rest, so is my heart and my soul. So I am perceiving time in a more extravagant, less limited way.
One of my favorite texts from the bible is another song about time – it was popular long before the Byrds made it famous in the 60s. “To every thing there is a season and a time for every purpose under heaven. A time to be born a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal.” These are not instructions about how to manage time nor are they tips about how to preserve time, but they are a true commentary on the nature of time — it is unremitting; relentless. Time marches on, always. There is a cadence and a rhythm, and a dependability to time – it allows us to perceive some order in what would otherwise be entropy. While we are alive, we stand “inside time.” Yesterday is past, tomorrow is still to come, today is the present (i.e. a gift). It is part of being human that we experience time this way. It starts out long and sweet and lazy, and it passes faster and faster still as we get older. Time for us is more or less a straight-line. In the bible time has a more circular shape, coming around upon itself, like the patterns of the seasons — spring, summer, winter, fall. One of lessons God is teaching me is to listen to the changing seasons of life. I sense in a very profound, even a physical way that one season of my life has come to an end, and another season is about to begin.
I’m reading a novel that has an interesting reflection on the nature of time. The main character is a nineteenth century botanist; an expert in mosses, named Alma Whittaker. Her observation:
“Firstly, there was such a thing as Human Time, which was a narrative of limited, mortal memory, based upon the flawed recollections of recorded history. Human Time was a short and horizontal mechanism. It stretched out straight and narrow, from the fairly recent past to the barely imaginable future. The most striking characteristic of Human Time, however, was that it moved with such amazing quickness.
At the other end of the spectrum...there was Divine Time — an incomprehensible eternity in which galaxies grew, and where God dwelled.
Closer to home, returning to earth, Alma believed in something she called Geological Time...Geological time moved at a pace that felt nearly eternal, nearly divine. It moved at the pace of stone and mountains.
But somewhere between Geological Time and Human Time there was something else — Moss Time. By comparison to Geological Time, Moss time was blindingly fast, for mosses could make progress in a thousand years that a stone could not dream of accomplishing in a million.”
- Elizabeth Gilbert, The Signature of All Things, p. 169-170.
What of other creatures? Do birds experience the passage of time? If so, is their experience of time even faster than ours? Or do they not perceive time as we do at all? Are they somehow suspended outside of time, along with God? We certainly can’t call them eternal beings, but maybe they are a part of the whole pulsing, thriving, living rhythm of life. They are ephemeral; ethereal. What is time to them?
I heard a quaint old verse recently, "Only one life, twill soon be past. Only what's done for Christ will last." Maybe time as we perceive is really just a figment of our imagination...for it’s in eternity that we belong.