The malleability of time was an elusive theme that resided somewhere in my brain during my four months of sabbatical. I almost never felt that a day was too long or not long enough while I was away from St. Alban’s. That was a novel sensation for me as one who, like most of you, usually gets to the end of a day and wonders where the time went. Each day felt like the right length, wherever and whatever I was doing. And when I came back to work, it really wasn’t clear to me if I felt like I had been gone for years, or for minutes. Both seemed true.
By coincidence (and we all ask, is there really such a thing as coincidence?), the concept of time was mentioned in both of the more formal educational experiences I incorporated into my sabbatical. In a writing workshop at Chautauqua the instructor talked about writers, like composers, trying to control time. She saw prose and poetry, like music, as temporal, rather than spatial, forms of art. And in a conducting course at Princeton the visiting professor wept as he read to us a passage that was meaningful to him from a book I’ve since read myself, The Time of Our Singing by Richard Powers.
Written music is like nothing in the world – an index of time. The idea is so bizarre, it’s almost miraculous: fixed instructions on how to recreate the simultaneous. How to be a flow, both motion and instant, both stream and cross section…the score does not really set down the lines themselves; it writes out the spaces between their moving points. And there’s no way to say just what a particular whole sums to, short of reenacting it. And so our performances rejoined all those countless marriage parties, births, and funerals where this map of moving nows was ever unrolled.
It helps me to keep things in perspective when I think of my life and work as part of that “map of moving nows”. I’m reminded of a comment made by a singer, after the St. Alban’s choir sang a concert in Assisi, Italy in which she said that she saw our voices, like incense, being absorbed into the walls and joining the voices of all those who had come before. Isaac Watts, paraphrasing Psalm 90, captured a similar thought in that stalwart hymn, O God, our help in ages past, when he wrote in verse 5 that Time, like an ever-rolling stream, bears all our years away; they fly, forgotten, as a dream dies at the opening day.
We can’t control time. We can only let our voices, our lives, and our dreams become part of that ever-rolling stream of moving “nows” that takes us continuously closer to God’s love.