Tempus fugit (Time flies)


In “The Glass Menagerie”, playwright Tennessee Williams wrote, “Time is the longest distance between two places.” Yet the whimsical prose of Dr. Seuss expresses most people’s experience with time, “How did it get so late so soon? It’s night before it’s afternoon. December is here before it’s June. My goodness how the time has flewn. How did it get so late so soon?”

The expression “time flies” is shared by all people, especially those of us who are getting older. Time has a way of being elusive, it darts and flutters around us like a fly that can’t be caught. Attempting to contain time is a fruitless endeavor because it is ethereal, transcendent and fleeting. Speaking of fruitless, humorist Groucho Marx once said, “Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana.”

I’ve learned it is “fruitless” to allow the past to trouble us since there is no chance of changing it. However, the time ahead of us holds the promise that we can do something with it. I remember family vacations to the Rocky Mountains. As soon as we crossed the Colorado border my two brothers and I kept looking at the horizon hoping to be the first to see the faint shadowy forms of the mountains. The anticipation of those majestic peaks made us eager to experience the adventure that lay ahead. Hopes and dreams are always in the future, never in the past. The time ahead of us seems to be far away beyond our sight. Still those events will arise, like the ghostly peaks that emerge from the horizon. Time is always in the future and the events it holds are far away.

In January I began preparations for Lent and Holy Week (which has come and gone by the time this article is published.) Last November I planned the Advent services and then awaited their occurrence. Now I am looking forward toward warmer weather to plant my garden and begin fishing.

Which is why Tennessee Williams’ quote is significant to me. The time from Advent to Easter, the miles between the border and the mountain or the long cold days of winter before the spring, are always “the longest distance between two places”. It is when we can do nothing more than anticipate them. Yet within hours we are climbing the winding road into the highlands, scurrying to till the soil for the seeds and plants or making last minute changes to Holy Week service. Months become weeks, weeks become days, days become hours, hours dwindle down till we turn a shovel of earth or make the first hopeful cast or rejoice in the gift of the Risen Christ. It is then we taste the fullness of life, made succulent by the time spent waiting.

The time before us brings worry as well. Depending on what phase of life we are in, time holds uncertainty about retirement, jobs, college, and even death. Taking liberty with Shakespeare’s Hamlet, the future is “the undiscovered country”.[1] We anticipate things that will happen and worry about how they will occur. There is also the anxiety of things that might happen and if we should prepare to prevent or encourage them.

Why am I obsessed with time in this article? Perhaps it is because in two years I will be eligible to retire. In eight years retirement will be mandatory. What can I do with the time I have left? Can I still accomplish those things I dreamed of in my youth? It serves no purpose to begrudge why I didn’t achieve them. Perhaps I should concede that they are for someone younger and set new hopes that fit in the timeframe ahead of me.

Please don’t think I am saddened by what lies ahead. I still have the hope of that young boy eagerly scanning the horizon for the distant mountains. It is a hope expressed by the wizard Gandalf in “The Lord of the Rings”. The wise old man tells his troubled young friend Frodo, “All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

My concerns for my own future is practical and pragmatic. I am confident that God will guide me to whatever purpose He has chosen for me. I am worried about the future of our church and especially the two churches in my care. Yet I worry about the universal church as well. Worry that is wasteful because just as I have no control over the past, I have little influence on God’s universal church. That is God’s work. I can only focus on a small but precious portion of the Kingdom.

As for that, I can do little more than share in the journey. For God has plans for our churches that I cannot fathom. I have no idea what they are or when they will be fulfilled. I need, we all need, to graciously accept the path which God has laid before us whether it be troubled or joyful, bitter or sweet, arduous or gentle. But like the far-distant mountains beyond my sight, I know that they are there, and that God is there, rising from the future with majesty, promise and hope.

[1] The actual quote is “…death, the undiscovered country from which no visitor returns…”

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