Lord, Speak To Me

Lord, speak to me, that I may speak in living echoes of thy tone.
As thou hast sought, so let me seek thine erring children lost and lone.

O lead me, Lord, that I may lead the wand’ring and the wav’ring feet.
O feed me, Lord, that I may feed thy hung’ring ones with manna sweet.

O strengthen me, that while I stand firm on the Rock, and strong in thee,
I may stretch out a loving hand to wrestlers with the troubled sea.

O teach me, Lord, that I may teach the precious things thou dost impart,
And wing my words, that they may reach the hidden depths of many a heart.

O fill me with thy fullness, Lord, until my very heart o’erflow
In kindling thought and glowing word, thy love to tell, thy praise to show.

O use me, Lord, use even me, just as thou wilt, and when and where,
Until thy blessed face I see, thy rest, thy joy, thy glory share.

It’s a new year.  I am glad of that – the last year was certainly a mixed bag of good and bad, excitement and disappointment.  It’s nice to start fresh; to think about how one might approach life with a renewed vision.  This hymn reminded me of that – when I found it in the faith journey section of my hymnal, under the heading regeneration.

What does it mean to regenerate?  Looking up the definition, it seems to be a biological term referring to the process of restoring damaged parts.  I found that interesting.  Obviously, from a biological perspective, that means fairly specific things in specific contexts, but if I think about it from an emotional or philosophical perspective, it is exactly what many of us need at the start of a new year.  We are all damaged.  We all need to be restored.  To health, to safety, to calm, to energy, to joy, to rest, to peace.

The words of this hymn, written by religious poet Frances Havergal in 1872 are about finding regeneration through what she sought in her God. Whether we see things exactly as she did or not, we certainly can learn from this example of seeking inspiration in our lives.  But what I really find powerful, is that each of the things she seeks is about what she will then give.  Speak to me, that I may speak.  Lead me, that I may lead.  Feed me, that I may feed.  Strengthen me, that I may offer a hand.  Teach me, that I may teach.  It is this desire to receive in order to give that I find inspiring.  It is this flowing through us to others, from whatever inspires us, that is interesting – and so very useful when we seek to regenerate and move positively in our worlds.

There are times when what we need is rest and solitude.  There are times when we need not be preoccupied with others and when we should simply look after ourselves.  But there is also much energy and reward to be gained from allowing ourselves to pass on whatever we have within us.  Taking our moments of regeneration and using the results to offer that same space to others.  There is fullness to be found in doing so.  Fullness that will overflow.

Auld Lang Syne

Should old acquaintance be forgot,
And never brought to mind?

We two have run about the slopes,
And picked the daisies fine;
But we’ve wandered many a weary foot,
Since auld lang syne.

We two have paddled in the stream,
From morning sun till dine;
But seas between us broad have roared
Since auld lang syne.

Well, this really isn’t a hymn at all.  But it is New Year’s Eve and there is a bit of a tradition of singing this old Scottish song on this night.  Its words, a poem attributed to Robert Burns from around 1788, are about remembering old friends and shared adventures.  It seemed like a good idea to take a moment to do that at the end of this year.

There is much to be found when thinking about the conclusion of a year.  Obviously, the day is arbitrary and doesn’t really mean anything, but it has traditionally been an opportunity to reflect on the past twelve months.  There are often many wonderful adventures and experiences to recall, but there are also those that leave us heartbroken, disappointed and baffled.  Sometimes we come up with resolutions that, while not necessarily very effective, can be an interesting account of where we wish to travel in the coming year.  What we’ve done, where we wish to go.  A kind of annual measurement.

Thinking about our tendency to focus on what we’ve done and where we wish to go, I am aware that the poet’s words are really about something else.  As I read these words, what comes through is the idea that our adventures and travels and challenges and weariness are shared – and those with whom we share our lives, should not be forgotten.  It is the friends that are spoken of repeatedly.

Where would we be without friends?  Be they old or new or members of our families.  Those that share our adventures through the good and bad, and over time, are to be celebrated, remembered and toasted.  They carry us, they let us carry them.  They wipe away our tears, they listen patiently to our frustrations.  They cheer us on, and they laugh at our stories – time and time and again! They add colour to whatever we encounter.  They make our lives bright.

This is what I will remember about this year.  The friends who held me in their care.  The friends who listened and understood.  The friends who encouraged me and came along for whatever ride I suggested.  The friends who laughed with abandon.  The friends who simply remained constant.

It is a cup of kindness to have these friends.  It is a worthy thing to toast.

Happy New Year.

For auld lang syne, my dear,
For auld lang syne,
We’ll take a cup of kindness yet,
For auld lang syne.

Still, Still, Still

Still, still, still,
Weil’s Kindlein schlafen will.
Die Englein tun schön jubilieren,
Bei dem Kripplein musizieren.
Still, still, still,
Weil’s Kindlein schlafen will.

It is Christmas Eve.  For some, this is the night when we contemplate what Christmas is really all about.  We attend candlelit services, we sing familiar carols, we take a moment to receive the calm beauty of a sacred event.  It is a chance to be still – in the midst of the chaos of this time of year, the chaos of our lives, the chaos of our world.

It is also a chance to let our emotions flow.  For many, this has been a difficult year. There have been losses, there is confusion.  Things are not quite as they should be; all kinds of things have changed – some for the better, others not.  We are tired, we are anxious, we are uncertain.  We carry pain and frustration deep within, or close to the surface.  We need a break from everything.

So we take this moment to embrace the stillness and within it, allow all that we feel to be exhaled.  We listen to the angels singing – perhaps with the voices of those we know, perhaps with the voices of strangers from afar.  We breathe in the beauty, we allow ourselves a few tears. These voices offer us the comfort and assurance that we are loved and that we can find rest.

A moment of stillness and peace is my wish for you.  Merry Christmas.

All Poor Ones And Humble

All poor ones and humble and all those who stumble,
come hastening and feel not afraid,
for Jesus our treasure, with love past all measure,
in lowly poor manger was laid.
Though wise men who found him laid rich gifts around him
yet oxen they gave him their hay,
and Jesus in beauty accepted their duty, contented in manger he lay.

Then haste we to show him the praises we owe him,
our service he ne’er can despise,
whose love still is able to show us that stable,
where softly in manger he lies.

We’ve almost made it to another Christmas.  It is a beautiful time of year for many of us – filled with special events and traditions.  We are busy with decorating, gift buying, long lines at the post office and a lot of baking.  We anticipate seeing people we haven’t seen in a while, experiencing concerts, services and parties that only happen at this time of year.  It is the most wonderful time of the year, as the old standard Christmas song tells us.

Unless it’s not.

For many, this is one of the most difficult seasons to endure.  For all sorts of reasons.  Maybe it is a reminder of those lost.  Maybe it is a reminder of the end of another year of disappointments and failures.  Maybe it is a reminder of what we don’t have, and what we can’t possibly acquire.  Maybe it is a reminder of being unable to give what we had hoped to give.  There is loneliness, sadness, depression, pain.  To feel despair when the world bombards you with messages of sparkly joy and celebration, is like a slap in the face.  A constant reminder that what you feel is somehow wrong.

These words tell a different story.  They are about the possibility of those who stumble being offered a place of safety.  These words speak of the humblest of gifts being beautiful and worthy of acceptance.  These are words of love.

There is something very tender about how this love is expressed in this text.  The gentle image of a baby lying softly and contentedly in the manger is actually quite powerful.   Imagine that for a moment.  What if in the middle of the hustle and bustle, we allow ourselves space to feel softness and to be content?  Giving ourselves space to rest amidst the struggles and chaos of our lives.

This hymn doesn’t tell us that there are no stumbles or that everyone will magically find riches.  It tells us that who we are and what we have to offer is beautiful.  It tells us that love will accept us wherever we are and we will not be despised.  Reading these words, we are reminded that we are good enough.  I sometimes wonder if that knowledge can also give us the courage to offer this acceptance to those around us – living the example of soft and contented love displayed by the tiny babe in the manger.  Welcoming all that we receive with humility and grace, and offering our own beauty with kindness and generosity.

Maria Walks Amid The Thorn

After looking at all sorts of hymns over the past many years, I am endlessly amazed at how many songs have been written through the ages that so beautifully reflect the emotions and experiences we share as humans.  Through time and across cultures.  This is one of those, and while it may not be familiar to all, it has always struck me as being powerful in its haunting melody and simple words.  Words that, I think, are quite appropriate at the moment; words that for many are appropriate far too often.

This is an old German carol thought to go back to the 17th century, although the earliest printed version is from the mid 1800s.  It is the traditional text about Mary walking in thorns from which a rose will eventually emerge.  A lovely image, in its acknowledgment of pain and its promise of better things.

Maria walks amid the thorn,
Kyrie eleison,
Maria walks amid the thorn,
Which seven years no leaf has born.
Jesus and Maria.

What ‘neath her heart doth Mary bear?
Kyrie eleison,
The little Child doth Mary bear,
Beneath her heart He nestles there.
Jesus and Maria.

Lo! roses on the thorns appear!
Kyrie eleison,
As the two are passing near,
Lo! roses on the thorns appear!
Jesus and Maria.

For the past three years, we have collectively lived through a situation most of us could never have dreamed up.  It has, in some ways, felt a bit like being dropped into a dystopian novel or apocalyptic movie.  For those of us living in the relative comfort of the developed world, it has probably been the single biggest life altering event of our lives.  Most of us have never had restrictions placed on our day to day lives.  We’ve never had to give up our activities or completely change our work habits.  We’ve never seen empty grocery store shelves, we’ve never had to wait for anything.  An uncertain supply chain is a new concept, and missing milestones in the lives of our friends and family has been emotionally challenging.

Life has continued during this time.  Babies were born, people died. We had birthdays and weddings and concerts in whatever ways we could.  We missed things and it broke our hearts.  We were forced to see the cracks in our worlds and we continue to grapple with what that means moving forward.  Some of us lost a great deal.  All of us felt out of sorts – wandering through a wood filled with thorns.

But, if I’m honest, I see that a rose has wilfully emerged from all of this.  A rose with many, many thorns, no doubt, but a thing full of beauty and fragrance nonetheless.  During this time I have learned that there are friendships that are stronger than I could have imagined.  Friendships filled with laughter and care.  Friendships that are true.  I have learned that, while sometimes incredibly painful, it is of immeasurable value to behave in ways that reflect one’s beliefs.  Even if there is a cost.  I have learned that life must be lived to its fullest, whether our lives are filled with modest or elaborate things.  Fullness is about how much we take in, how much we value each moment and savour each one as a blessing.

The image of a rose blooming from its thorny stem is a powerful one.  Life is hard.  And yet, beauty can always emerge if we are willing to tend the plant from which this treasure grows.  But roses are also a gift given, a gift that can express love and friendship and commiseration.  As we seek to understand the experiences we’ve had over the past few years, perhaps this is where the real lesson lies.  We have faced something together that has offered us the opportunity to learn about each other.  To  learn how very much we need each other and our gestures of care. To seek out needs and find gifts that fill them, knowing that they can sooth so much pain and fill our world with healing beauty.

Kyrie eleison.

Comfort, Comfort, O My People

I was flipping through the Advent section of my hymnal the other day, looking for something to ponder this week, and I came across this song with music and words going back to the 16th and 17th centuries.  It’s not the type of music that we hear often – not something that gets recorded and arranged by all sorts of people at this time of year.  But it has stood the test of time.  It is a hymn that we often sing at my church during Advent, and I almost always, upon seeing it listed, have the immediate response of, “I don’t really like this one.”  I’m not sure why because, inevitably as I sing or play it, I realize that this is far from the truth.  It grows on me every time.  It is both strangely joyous and thoughtfully peaceful.  It is familiar, but not completely.  It comforts with its unusual rhythms and considered words.

Comfort, comfort, O my people, speak of peace, now says our God.
Comfort those who sit in darkness, mourning ‘neath their sorrows’ load.
Speak unto Jerusalem of the peace that waits for them.
Tell of all the sins I cover, and that warfare now is over.

In the past couple of weeks, several dear friends of mine have been confronted by the deaths of loved ones.  These moments can be filled with darkness and sorrow.  Whether these passings are expected in old age or arrive far too soon, the emotions can be overwhelming.  It is not surprising that music is often used as a way to mark these passages, and that it provides comfort to those who remain.  Music is a remarkable thing.  It opens space for us to face life’s challenges.  It gives us these special rooms in which to mourn, to cry, to laugh and to celebrate.

As part of the preparation of the Advent season, this hymn acknowledges that things are not always easy and certainly never perfect.  But within that imperfection, we have a role to play.  We are reminded of our responsibility to the world right now, and our responsibility to a peace that has yet to arrive.  Our preparation is about possibility.  It is about giving comfort to those who mourn and speaking of the peace that we all crave.

Offering comfort and speaking of peace seem quite simple.  But, I suspect, they are not actually that easy to accomplish.  True comfort is given when we put ourselves aside and seek out what is needed by those living beneath their sorrows’ load.  That can be very difficult – we all think we know what is best! We are rarely able to fill every need, but there is something about choosing to truly see what the needs are that is a humble kind of giving; a generous kind of comfort.  And surely peace can emerge from this simply because it is a powerful thing to be heard.  Especially within our sorrow.

So we continue to prepare.  As we do so, listen for the needs that swirl around us.  When we hear them we offer more than a moment’s respite – we offer space in which peace can be found; space in which peace can grow.  And, we offer deep and meaningful comfort.

O Come, O Come, Immanuel

Advent begins this week and marks a time when the Christian church prepares for the birth of Christ.  Celebrating Christmas is common in Western cultures, and beyond, regardless of religious affiliations.  We prepare for this holiday in all sorts of ways.  We decorate our homes, listen to our festive playlists, watch our favourite seasonal movies, attend concerts, buy gifts, bake special treats, gather with friends and loved ones. There is much to do, much to get ready.  It is an exciting time and one that many of us treasure.

As I was thinking about which hymn to look at this week, I was actually mildly surprised to find that we had arrived at Advent again.  There is something about the past years of pandemic time that leaves me wondering where we are.  It doesn’t feel like this state of strangeness we’ve been walking through started very long ago, and yet it feels like it’s been forever.  For many of us, this may be the first almost normal Christmas season we’ve had in three years.  For some the pandemic is a distant memory, for others it is an ever present concern.  We are in many different places.  Preparing for something becomes unusual in this context.  We need to accommodate those who are excited to reinstate all their traditions, while caring for those that remain cautious, and sometimes bound by fear.  The balance of this preparation is challenging.

O come, O come, Immanuel, and ransom captive Israel,
that mourns in lonely exile here, until the Son of God appear.

O come, the Dayspring, come and cheer our spirits by thine advent here.Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death’s dark shadow put to flight.

O come, thou Wisdom form on high, and order all things far and nigh.To us the path of knowledge show, and cause us in thy ways to go.

O come, desire of nations, bind all peoples in one heart and mind.Bid envy, strife, and quarrels cease.  Fill the whole world with heaven’s peace.

When I read through the words of this haunting hymn written more than six hundred years ago, I was struck by the clear understanding of the contrasts to be found in our communities, our world and our hearts.  We are lonely, in exile.  Trapped, yet aware that there is a way out. We are overwhelmed with darkness and death’s threat, but can see the possibility of daylight cheering our spirits. We are aware that wisdom can guide and that the peace found in working together can put an end to our quarrels.

Preparing to celebrate anything requires us to acknowledge the challenges that we face each day, the challenges that may never cease.  Celebrations that attempt to eliminate these challenges can feel quite thin and a bit artificial.  These words and the sombre music beautifully acknowledge that truth.  It was not a picture perfect world that this Christ child entered, it was a flawed one.  There isn’t a decoration, gift, event or jingle bell that will change that.  The beauty we seek at this time of year will never eliminate the pain, the struggles or the disappointments that we all encounter.  Nor should it.  For it is our moments of loneliness and the times we spend in darkness that give us the opportunity to really see the depth in beauty when it is offered.  As difficult as the act of choosing this view may be, allowing beauty to enter in despite our realities is also a powerful act. Beauty serves to offer us hope and inspiration, and in that way can become the ransom for our exile.

Perhaps that is why we can rejoice after singing through these melancholic words.  Perhaps that is why we prepare.  Perhaps that is why we celebrate – whether we are of this particular faith or not.  Understanding that there is joy to be found amidst the rubble of this world is important.  It gives us hope.  It renews us.

So we prepare.

Rejoice!  Rejoice!  Immanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Teach Me, O Lord

I seem to have inadvertently wandered into the Psalms on this latest bout of hymn exploration.  It wasn’t intentional, but it might be a path to follow for a while.  When I think of Psalms, I think of several things – our prayers, our praise – our need for comfort.  Through words and poetry, we find much in the Psalms: guidance, desperation, joy, hopefulness, suffering and peace.  Psalms are our sacred songs, offering us a way to sing the experiences of our souls.

Teach me, O Lord, thy way of truth, and from it I will not depart;
That I may steadfastly obey, give me an understanding heart.

In thy commandments make me walk, for in thy law my joy shall be.
Give me a heart that loves thy will, from discontent and envy free.

Turn thou my eyes from vanity, and cause me in thy ways to tread.
O let thy servant prove thy word, and thus to godly fear be led.

Turn thou away reproach and fear.  Thy righteous judgments I confess.
To know thy precepts I desire.  Revive me in thy righteousness.

This hymn is about learning.  About finding a way to walk fully in line with God’s commandments.  These words may seem a bit extreme in their use of concepts like obedience and righteousness – ideas that make us bristle in our era of self-care and individualism.  But, for me, there’s more to this poetry than the negative associations we can sometimes carry of religious imposition and rigidity.

These words are about the lifelong endeavour of being true to what one believes.  They are about learning to be driven by the integrity that keeps us on the path we choose to walk.  For some of us the struggle to find what we believe occupies a big chunk of our lives.  If we manage to find it, we are then challenged to live accordingly.  Both of these pursuits are hard.  It is clear from these words that the Psalmist also struggled, carefully outlining the challenges.  Seeking an understanding heart, anticipating joy that has not yet arrived, removing envy, avoiding vanity, releasing fear and being revived.  These are not the requests of someone who has found their way easily.  These are the requests of someone who understands the need to be constantly vigilant, constantly working.

It is this humility that I appreciate in these words.  Yes, they are in a context of a specific belief and reflect a particular set of guiding principles that we may or may not hold to or agree with.  But they are also encouraging in how they acknowledge both our weakness and our strength.  We can learn and grow if we choose to, if we seek ways to do so.  People have turned to these words for a thousand years – perpetually knowing that we must keep trying.  We must continuously seek knowledge and ways to live our beliefs; ways for our hearts to understand and our paths to be clear.

We live in a time when focus on our own thoughts, views, experiences and beliefs is constantly present.  We surround ourselves with like-minded people, we criticize others intensely.  We desire inclusion, but are masterful at excluding with our well-honed skills of judgment.  We are both vain and jealous, fearful and bold.  It is a strange time.

And yet, we can become much more.  These words remind me that when we commit to being taught, we open ourselves up to learning the vast wisdom that exists beyond ourselves.  Be it the wisdom found in faith or elsewhere, the act of seeking brings us closer to truth.  The act of seeking.  The knowledge that we do not have all the answers nor have we arrived, is powerful.  It requires us to learn.  It requires us to move.  It requires us to relinquish our fears, our envy, our vanity and our judgment.  And then, it revives our souls and opens our hearts.

O God, Our Help In Ages Past

One of the challenges I have faced when looking at hymns is how to reconcile the past with the present.  Old words; modern ideas.  Historic errors and wrongs; current perspectives and visions for the future.  Age old wisdom; fixation on all things new.  The evolution of language; the poetry and beauty of artfully crafted texts. The inconsistencies sometimes found in faith practices; the search for spiritual guidance that addresses concerns and inspires positive recognition of all. The good, the bad and the ugly, as they say.

It is an obstacle course, to be certain.  A delicate wander through places of discomfort, but also places I find deeply resonant and replete with wisdom and joy.

This familiar hymn has somehow escaped my gaze over all these years of hymn exploration.  I’m not sure why, as it turns out I quite like it.  The words are lovely.  I can only imagine that the image of a shelter in a stormy blast is one that is appealing to all.  It seems to me that is the entirety of what most of us are seeking throughout our lives – be it spiritual or literal; in our relationships of all kinds.

O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come,
Our shelter from the stormy blast, and our eternal home;

Under a shadow of thy throne thy saints have dwelt secure.
Sufficient is thine arm alone, and our defence is sure.

Before the hills in order stood, or earth received her frame,
From everlasting thou art God, to endless years the same.

A thousand ages in thy sight are like an evening gone,
Short as the watch that ends the night before the rising sun.

Time, like an ever rolling stream soon bears us all away.
We fly forgotten, as a dream dies at the op’ning day.

O God, our help in ages past, our hope for years to come,
Be thou our guard while troubles last, and our eternal home.

When I read through these words, I find within them a beautiful reassurance that something great cares for us.  Past. Present. Future.  That is a remarkable gift.  To be cared for through a thousand ages is a mighty thing.  It implies our value – long before we were here.  Long after we are gone.  Time ceases to matter as it continuously rolls along, carrying upon it all those who came before and after.  We are all worth a great deal.

Sounds lovely.  But challenges remain.  For whom is this help intended?  The saints alone?  What about those who find themselves drenched in storms – without shelter and completely insecure?   What about those who seem to receive no help?  What about those who find the concept of God repugnant or unbelievable?  Whose God gets to be the hero in this story?

I suspect my modern mind is imposing these question – inserting challenges into these words.   Valid, I think, because we should question our belief systems and institutions.  They have been at the root of countless horrors throughout history – in some cases, they continue to wreak havoc.  We desperately need to clean our spiritual and religious houses.  But we also need to find ways to gain the sustenance that gives us the strength and courage to do the hard work of making amends, of moving forward, of adjusting and evolving.

These old texts need not be taken literally.  Like all written words they are of their context, planted in their own time.  They are as imperfect as we are – judged for their flaws as we will be judged for ours a hundred years from now.  But, they are beautiful nonetheless.  They are able to express beliefs, desires, needs, fears and sorrows.  For me, the value of that is immense.  Knowing that Isaac Watts wrote so eloquently about what sustained him – in 1719 – and that these words continue to represent things we’re all looking for, is remarkable.  We need shelter from storms.  We need help, we need home.  We are all aware that our time is finite, but the cycle of life carries on beyond us. Consquently, how we live and interact with others and our planet matters.

I have often found that these hymns remind me profoundly of how common our experiences really are.  Now, then, here, there.  Not the specifics nor the equity.  But the things that carry us.  It is this truth that offers inspiration.  It is this truth that requires us to both receive and provide help; to be conduits of hope for years to come.

Teach Me The Measure Of My Days

It has been almost three years since I thought about a hymn. Well, sort of. In that time I put together a book of the first year of this hymn project (These Songs We Sing available at https://www.pandorapress.com/#/), so was reminded of the beginnings of this project. But, a lot has happened since those beginnings.

For many of us, the past few years have been life changing. The COVID pandemic has touched us all – in big and small ways. A couple of years ago, we were in the midst of it, at a time filled with unknowns. Now it feels like we’re sort of at the end of it – even though it continues to impact many. The way we live our lives is different, somehow, even if we can’t quite define how. If I look at my own life, it is simply not the same. As a musician, some things temporarily derailed have returned, others have not. Some activities remain altered, some are back to normal. Some things have been casualties of the emotional and psychological impact of these strange times; casualties of people’s inability to recover from the fear, the devastation, the pain they encountered along the way. Understandable, yet difficult for those touched by these ongoing struggles and the behaviours and actions that can emerge.

I will admit to feeling a bit out of sorts lately as a result. Feeling a bit like the life I had has been replaced by one that resembles it, but isn’t quite as it should be. There are losses that will not be regained. There are things gained that I wouldn’t trade. I suspect this is common. I suspect we are all looking to find our bearings at a time when the ground we walk on is extremely bumpy, maybe even a bit unstable.

So, I return to the words and songs of old. I have found comfort, wisdom and beauty in hymns in the past and I am certain I will find something of value again. I do not seek religious answers, I seek those nuggets of gold that are woven through time; bits of treasure found in the ideas left to us by those who have walked before. I am not concerned with the literal, but with the spirit of this kind of beauty that can sustain and inspire. I wish the same for you.

How to begin. After looking at so many hymns over the past eight years, I’m running out of favourites – both mine and those of friends and family. So I went on a bit of a random scavenger hunt. I came across this old hymn with a text based on Psalm 39, written by Isaac Watts in 1719 (the tune doesn’t have a known composer as far as I can find, but is listed as being in The Brethren’s Tune and Hymn Book, 1872. It was new to me until this week!). The words are a powerful reminder of the fleeting nature of life, and all within our lives.

Teach me the measure of my days, thou Maker of my frame.
I would survey life’s narrow space, and learn how frail I am.

A span is all we can boast, an inch or two of time.
We are but vanity and dust in all our flow’r and prime.

See the vain race of mortals move like shadows o’er the plain.
They rage and strive, desire and love, but all the noise is vain.

What should I wish or wait for then, from creatures, earth, and dust?
They make our expectations vain, and disappoint our trust.

Now I forbid my carnal hope, my fond desires recall.
I give my mortal int’rest up, and make my God my all.

These ideas are not new to any of us. The idea that our lives are about more than the trappings of day to day life is commonly taught. The idea that our focus should be on God (or whatever ideal/spirituality one holds to) is basic Sunday School teaching. We all know that nothing lasts and that we age and that the rushing around of our lives becomes meaningless if done at the cost of all else.

What struck me in these words was the way Watts describes our time. The narrow space; the inch or two. We are not here for long. We are, in the grand scheme of history, not that significant. And yet, how we live our lives can be remarkable and can have a lasting impact. These words are, after all, 300 years old.

As I ponder what this means in my own life, I am acutely aware that the details of what I accomplish are actually not that important. It can be very easy to get caught in the standards of this world – the idea that some accomplishments are better than others, or more important, or more valuable. We make these distinctions all the time. Some jobs get more attention, some pay more, some have prestige. In fact, almost all of our judgments on people’s successes or failures are employment, recognition and money related. We care very little for the notion of a vocation or the simple gifts, like kindness, as a valid life’s work. We evaluate our inch of time based on a fairly short list of easily recognizable and measurable factors.


Life is short and really can only be measured in terms of the day we arrive and the day we depart. How we fill the intervening years is about something more than a resumé or profile or accolades or bank account. It is about the wisdom with which we walk in this narrow space. It is about the wisdom with which we adjust for our successes and failures, adjust for things we cannot predict.  It is about the wisdom with which we make ammends when we need to, and celebrate when we are able. We are frail and we are strong. When we learn to measure our days by both of these realities, we begin to live fully. And, we have much to offer.