The other day, my son John Paul and I were looking through some of his work from last school year (perhaps to take our minds off the realities of virtual 2nd grade). He pulled out a paper and showed it to me:
For those of you who are out of practice reading the phonetic spelling of 7-year-olds, this translates to, “I saw Hector at church. I hung out and chatted before I had to go to Altar Guild.”
He smiled at me and asked if I liked his writing, but my face was stricken. The paper is undated, but I remember that Sunday in March well because it was the last Sunday we worshipped at our church as Covid-19 spread around the country. His school closed the following Friday and that paper was among the contents of his 1st grade desk that was delivered to our front porch in a brown paper sack after it was announced that the school year was over.
Since then, the days and weeks and months have all blended together into a mishmash of sameness, uncertainty, and anxiety. Sometimes John Paul asks me what day it is, or if it is time for lunch, even though we ate lunch an hour ago. I mean, I’m pretty sure that today is the 213th day of March, even though my husband keeps telling me it is October.
Leave it to an ongoing pandemic to show us how vulnerable we can feel when the markers we use to feel in control of time get upended.
Ironically enough, we’ve gotten to the point in the church year that fits well with our current pandemic mood. I don’t know about you, but Ordinary Time often feels like it lasts forever. Is it the 20th Sunday after Pentecost or the 120th? I don’t know. John Paul used to ask me if the frontal would be green again with that perfect complaining groan of a petulant child, and I would explain again about the idea of the growing season. Sigh. What I wouldn’t do for a baptism or a major church festival right now (I see you, All Saints Sunday).
The near past seems so distant and the future indiscernible, so we grasp for anything that makes us feel some measure of control over our present. But as the pandemic drags on and on (and on), I keep coming back to something that helps me just a little bit to come to terms with this terrible feeling of being unmoored from time.
Last year (though 2019 seems now a lifetime ago), my family and I had the opportunity to travel to England. We stayed in a small country village and spent much of the trip touring as many old churches and cathedrals as we could find. On our last evening before returning home, John Paul and I went to a choral service at the church in our village where we sang “Crown Him With Many Crowns.” It was then I learned that the Anglican version contains several verses that are not used in the 1982 Hymnal and I became enamoured with the poetics of the Anglican version.
I bring this up because had we not joined this small group of parishioners on that singular Sunday evening, I would not have encountered this particular stanza, which I have been turning over and over again in my thoughts:
Crown him the Lord of years!
The Potentate of time,–
What a beautiful idea to grapple with! A potentate is one who has dominion over, who rules and these words remind me that our habits and rituals, our seasons, our church calendar help bring order and structure to our lives, but they all represent time as a human-centric construct. We are not the rulers of time, as much as we may wish it were so.
I desperately wish that Covid-19 were over, or that someone could tell me that it will be over at some specific time point in the future. I’m not going to get that wish, but when I struggle with the uncertainty, I find comfort in knowing that God is the Lord of years, not me, not you, not us, and that this is but the merest moment, interminable though it may seem.
So be it.
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