In retrospect

And God said, “Let bright lights appear in the sky to separate the day from the night. They will be signs to mark off the seasons, the days, and the years.” —Genesis 1:14, NLT

christmastreeTime is motion; history is distance. Day after day, the sun and the stars crawl across the heavens with the passage of time. Or, so it seems. In fact, we are the ones moving, careening through time, space and history like a rocket on ice.

The earth spins at more than 1,000 miles per hour. No seatbelts. No airbags. No guardrails.

While spinning dizzily, we’re hurtling around the sun at more than 18 miles a second, adding 595,000,000 miles to our frequent flier accounts every year.

And if all of that isn’t enough, the entire solar system moves. Since the day I gasped my first breath of air, the sun and the planets have traveled some 20 billion miles further into the cold infinity of space, going who knows where.

The movement of the planets and the stars mark off the seasons, the days, and the years. Time ticks away on a cosmic scale.

We are largely unaware of the passage of time, until we glance backwards. Governments rise and fall, babies are born and old men die, wars are fought and young men die.

Despite the upheavals, we live by routines, we follow traditions, we build communities, great cities, and manage to wrap ourselves in the comfortable illusions of timelessness and changelessness.

My favorite television show is Monk, a serial about a fictional San Francisco police detective shackled with obsessive-compulsive disorder. In one episode, a woman asks if he is afraid of change.

“I don’t mind change,” Monk replies. “I just don’t like to be around when it happens.”

I watched an old, home movie the other day from Christmas, 1971. I was 19—it seems like an eternity ago.

My Aunt Addie makes a brief appearance, laughing at some joke, “carrying on,” as she would say.

“We don’t have much money, but we have plenty of fun,” was one of her favorite expressions.

Aunt Addie was my grandmother’s unmarried sister, and one of my favorites because I could always make her laugh. She lived in Overlea, on the north edge of Baltimore, and when I visited, she would sometimes take me into the city on the streetcar.

I was only about eight years old then, but I still remember the sounds of the electric streetcar as it rumbled and groaned and clack-clacked along the rails. The interior was stifling hot—it was summer—and the women were fanning themselves to keep cool.

The streetcars are gone now. Aunt Addie passed away long ago, and the earth has traveled billions of miles since then.

The seasons, the days and the years are in motion, but God is unchanging. The universe is ancient, but God was already the Ancient of Days when he first set the stars afire.

We are woven into the fabric of God’s history. The universe may be rushing headlong to who knows where; our days may be filled with change and uncertainty; but we are blessed to live in the light of God’s time, in the fullness of God’s mercy and grace.

May God be present in your life in the Year of our Lord, 2006.

Photo credit: Christmas tree cluster, National Optical Astronomy Observatory

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  1. Great insights, great remembrance. Thanks.

  2. I love Monk’s quote! And your wise perspectives:)

  3. I would like to see Monk in order, but am afraid I’ve come to the game too late. I’ll check the library for dvds.

    I remember old electric cars, here in Columbus. Must have been early 60’s. Wow. I am old. Like you. 🙂

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