Welcome to the Welling. This is a new year. 2020 is over. I’m told that a man went to an optician who asked him what he saw. The man said, I saw empty airports, empty stadiums, empty theaters, empty restaurants. That’s perfect, says the optician. You have 2020 vision.
This is a new year. Somehow, the coming of January does not magically erase all that has happened in the previous year. But we must go into this year hoping to outlast it, but definitely to outlive it.
This is also a new decade. There’s debate as to when a new decade starts. Since there was no year zero and everything began with year 1, the digit has to end with a 1 for a new decade. A new year and a new decade, I also hope it’s a new mind, a new heart, a new soul.
G. K. Chesterton, the great theologian/philosopher, said, “The object of a new year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul, and a new nose, new feet, a new backbone, new ears and new eyes. Unless a particular man made new year resolutions, he would make no resolutions. Unless a man starts afresh about things, he will certainly do nothing effective.”
Over the course of these first few editions of the Welling, the weekly for your spiritual health, for your well-being and overflowing I want to focus on one of the great time psalms, Psalm 90, so that you can outlive your life, even though you cannot outlast your life.
Each of these short segments will take a portion of that psalm and share a bit of my immersion in that Scripture with you. Psalm 90 is a sober psalm but it’s also a strategic psalm. It simply says, if we want to be effective, we have to start afresh again. We have one life. We have one life that we can live wisely. It is possible to outlive your life, though you cannot outlast it.
It is often a time psalm. It’s preoccupied with the matter of our mortality. I’ve been thinking about this preoccupation with time. During this mortal season where we’re constantly reminded of danger and disease and death, it is mortality which makes us emphasize and value time.
If we had all the time in the world, if we were eternal, we wouldn’t be focused so much on time being lost. You see we as human beings, we have a special attunement to the problem of dying. We have things like past and present and future. A mere animal lives continually in the present at the end of its instincts and nerve endings.
And yet, we don’t know what is the true nature of time. Theologians and thinkers and philosophers and teachers have been thinking and talking about time for a very, very long time. We don’t know whether time is linear or a circle, whether it has a beginning or an end, unless you go to what God says about these matters of time. So we get deeply philosophical, because it’s beyond our comprehension.
I remember a young man saying to me, there’s nothing like the present, because the present is simply the future moving into the past and the past moving into the future through a fleeting moment. So there must be nothing called the present time.
So let’s talk about what lasts past your time. What will last past the grave? How can we outlive our lives?
The whole world is going through near-death experiences. Even today, I have had friends being placed on ventilators, which seems to be the last resort before a person finally says farewell.
I’ve also had to do funerals this year. Bonnie and I have been keeping in touch with recently widowed friends. The grief is simply too much to bear. Maybe we can shoulder a little bit of the burden.
It seems like time is an enemy, so we have a race against it. Or time is like a criminal which needs to be captured. We even use the phrase “fugitive time,” says one author. Or we don’t want to waste time, as though it’s a commodity. What is this thing called time? How can we live this life so we can outlive, though we cannot outlast, this life?
Leonard Woolf–who is the husband of Virginia Woolf that you might have heard about–a British writer, politician, a public intellectual, said this. “I see clearly that I have achieved practically nothing. The whole world today and the history of the human anthill during the past five to seven years would be exactly the same if I had played ping-pong instead of sitting on committees and writing books and memoranda. I have therefore to make a rather ignominious confession, that I have, in a long life, ground through 150,000 to 200,000 hours of perfectly useless work.”
That’s our question today, for the life that we have, we do not know when our last day arrives. We’ve got to treat today as possibly our last day. We live in the tension of this day and that day, as Martin Luther was purported to say. We can outlive our life, though we cannot outlast our life.
Come back to the next Welling, and we will continue the series. This is for your spiritual well-being and your overflowing.