Time, like an ever rolling stream

Picture © Patrick Hoff

Chapter 8, the final chapter of Receiving the Day, ends with a description of a funeral.  It is appropriate that Bass would conclude her book about time with this inescapable truth:  at some point, we all run out of time.  In her discussion of Psalm 90, traditionally understood as “a prayer of Moses,” Bass describes how these verses “bring together two kinds of time–our short sigh and God’s mountainous eternity–together” (121).

My favorite paraphrase of Psalm 90 is found in the beloved hymn “O God, Our Help in Ages Past.”  Despite our commitment to inclusive language at FC, I’d like to offer up Watts’s original words.  For me, the old language makes the hymn’s themes even more poignant; the poet may be long dead, but his spirit endures through these verses…

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast,
And our eternal home.

Under the shadow of Thy throne
Thy saints have dwelt secure;
Sufficient is Thine arm alone,
And our defense is sure.

Before the hills in order stood,
Or earth received her frame,
From everlasting Thou art God,
To endless years the same.

Thy Word commands our flesh to dust,
“Return, ye sons of men:”
All nations rose from earth at first,
And turn to earth again.

A thousand ages in Thy sight
Are like an evening gone;
Short as the watch that ends the night
Before the rising sun.

The busy tribes of flesh and blood,
With all their lives and cares,
Are carried downwards by the flood,
And lost in following years.

Time, like an ever rolling stream,
Bears all its sons away;
They fly, forgotten, as a dream
Dies at the opening day.

Like flowery fields the nations stand
Pleased with the morning light;
The flowers beneath the mower’s hand
Lie withering ere ‘tis night.

Our God, our help in ages past,
Our hope for years to come,
Be Thou our guard while troubles last,
And our eternal home.

Our lives are so miniscule compared with the vast perspective of God; yet somehow, each of our tiny little lives is sacred and full and unique.  For me, being a person of faith revolves around this beautiful paradox: that human life is  both infinitesimal and epic at the exact same time.  I find something weirdly comforting about this idea–it suggests that there is a limit to human suffering.  This can help when we’re in the thick of our pain; it might encourage us to imagine an horizon with something else, something good, beyond it.

As our Sabbath study comes to a close, Isaac’s image of time as “an ever rolling stream” is useful too.  Time isn’t divided into perfect, discrete sections, but instead moves like a body of water, a flurry of connected molecules.  With summer ending, I imagine we’ll all soon pick up on a quickening in the air.  New fall season, new school year, new projects at work and home, new worries, new hopes… it’s exciting and stressful.  But your Sabbath experiences are not locked in the past.  Instead, imagine you’re carrying them with you in the stream; you are soaked in them.



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