Hello! Jim Jelinek here, serving Trinity Church with The Rev. Alan Neale, and offering another in our series of daily reflections/meditations.
This morning Psalm 90 was one of two psalms in Morning Prayer. It has several lines that led me to reflect on time. Here are some of those verses:
1 Lord, you have been our refuge * from one generation to another.
2 Before the mountains were brought forth, or the land and the earth were born, *
from age to age you are God.
3 You turn us back to the dust and say, * “Go back, O child of earth.”
4 For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past *
and like a watch in the night.
5 You sweep us away like a dream; * we fade away suddenly like the grass.
6 In the morning it is green and flourishes; * in the evening it is dried up and withered.
9 When you are angry, all our days are gone; * we bring our years to an end like a sigh.
10 The span of our life is seventy years, perhaps in strength even eighty; *
yet the sum of them is but labor and sorrow, for they pass away quickly and we
12 So teach us to number our days * that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.
14 Satisfy us by your loving-kindness in the morning; *
so shall we rejoice and be glad all the days of our life.
For those of you listening to or watching this video, I skipped a few verses here and there just to focus on time itself. I was musing about time as I took EZ for a walk in the rain, and I was reminded of that old popular song To everything there is a season, with an added verse something like and a purpose for everything under heaven. I remember singing a wonderful version of that text from Ecclesiastes 3 [1-8], when singing in an a cappella choir in college, but I did not remember that phrase about purpose, so I looked it up. Sure enough, that line and the oft-repeated Turn, turn, turn are not part of the scriptural passage. I think I shall save that whole passage for another reflection perhaps next week, because this psalm gives us enough to ponder here.
The author of Psalm 90 certainly has a sense of the vastness of time. His images of the emergence of the earth and the land and the mountains are very rich and sophisticated, with a sense of the duration of creation, from beginnings so long ago that they are well before human life and therefore beyond human memory. Yet he stops in his imagination with the end of our lives, the time of our death, not projecting into the future. Given that resurrection was little more than an idea in Hebrew thought at the time, and not a tenet of faith as we who follow Jesus believe, he is appropriate to stop there.
The psalmist has a powerful sense of God’s presence “from one generation to another,” adding “from age to age you are God.” Now he brings himself into the time which humans inhabit, but he is still caught up in the sweep of time, time from God’s perspective and not ours: “For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past…” I get that part, the implication that for God everything happens in the twinkling of an eye, but I think the conclusion is about our human experience of time, and perhaps nothing says it better than “a watch in the night.” I did a vision quest years ago on a mountaintop in eastern California, near Yosemite National Park. The last twenty-four hours are to be experienced totally awake and without caffeine or any other stimulant. That was one of the longest nights of my life, and the only nights that could compare were those when I stayed awake with a very sick child. I am sure you know what I mean.
The psalmist has some wonderful imagery for life-time, the only time we can do anything about: it is so quick that it is like grass which is green in the morning and fades away suddenly at night. And when we are enjoying ourselves, it does seem to go that fast. How many times have you said or heard someone else say, “where did the time go?” He is generous in the way he talks about the span of life being 70 to 80 years, because in his era lives might only last half that time. He seems to have a sense that life is hard, saying that the sum of our years is but labor and sorrow, “they pass away quickly and we are gone.”
Nevertheless, near the end the psalmist shows a ray of hope, that life is worth living, but it is only worth living when we take in all of our experiences and reflect on them. “So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.”
This is a lovely psalm by a man (or perhaps a woman) who has the soul of a poet and the mind of a philosopher. I urge you to go to page 717 in your BCP and read it over a few times and then reflect on how you are using time in this quarantine when we seem to have more time than ever before. What wisdom about yourself are you learning during this time? Are there changes you need or want to make? Have you stumbled upon some old grudges or resentments that need cleaning up? Have you remembered someone you need to ask for forgiveness? or you need to forgive? Are there some habits that you need to break or new disciplines to take on?
That’s the work we are asked to do in Lent each year, but this quarantine has made this the longest Lent in our lives. I wish you well if you undertake more of this journey. I wish you wisdom, the wisdom of insight, which I find strengthens our faith and our hope.
Let us pray.
O Lord God Almighty, as you have taught us to call the evening, the morning, and the noonday one day; and have made the sun to know its going down: Dispel the darkness of our hearts, that by your brightness we may know you to be the true God and eternal light, living and reigning for ever and ever. Amen. [BCP, p. 110] +JLJ