We are living in the stream of history. Though it seems like we can stop the flow of that river in a photograph or a video recording, we can’t really do it. The photograph or the video recording only creates a memory that can be viewed or replayed again. Everything is in flux. The haircut I give myself today will be different next week, because my hair begins to grow again immediately (yes, I am one of those freaky people who cuts his own hair). The shoes we buy for our kids or grand-kids will be ready to donate to someone else in about six months, since their feet just keep growing. The makeup my wife applies today will need to be removed and reapplied tomorrow, if not “touched up” later today—well, unless she has it tattooed on her face, but even that would change over time as skin ages and stretches. Not that she needs any of these things, since I rightly call her “The Fairest Flower in All the Land.” The point is: time is a flowing river, not a still pond.
Only God stands outside of time. We must take life “one day at a time.” It is impossible to capture and keep the moments that have already passed by. Consider these lines (51-57) from William Wordsworth’s poem, Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood:
… But there’s a Tree, of many, one,
A single Field which I have looked upon,
Both of them speak of something that is gone:
The Pansy at my feet
Doth the same tale repeat:
Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
Where is it now, the glory and the dream?
The eventual Poet Laureate of England was struck with a severe case of longing for the emotion evoked by that place in the past that suggested to him something more, something transcendent. He was looking at a field and a tree that he had remembered as a boy. He looked down at a pansy in the same field. Something was missing: “the glory and the dream” that had stabbed his heart as a boy was no longer there. Where did it go? Why did it leave? Can it be had again? For Wordsworth, that stab of longing for that ephemeral something that could no longer be found was an intimation of immortality. There must be something somewhere (or Someone) toward which that emotion recollected in tranquility points.
This is not unlike the musing of the Hebrew Philosopher in the book of Ecclesiastes (i.e., Qoheleth): “[God] has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart, yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (Ecclesiastes 3:11, NIV, my emphasis). How exactly has God “put eternity in the human heart,” and how does “eternity” express itself in our experience of the passing reality of the stream of time? Wordsworth and Professor Qoheleth seem to agree that part of the answer to those questions is that we have a constant experience of desire for something that is lasting, something that doesn’t pass with the seasons or even with the end of one human lifespan. Yet, there is nothing in this world that can truly and finally satisfy that longing: “no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.”
We get an extra calendar-day in Leap Year, but we still need to do two things: take life one day at a time, and develop a relationship with the God Who transcends time. That extra day gives us 24 more hours (or so it seems) to do just that. What are we waiting for? John 3:16 in the New Testament of the Bible records the Christian claim for how to find “eternal life.” We might start there.
[Some of this is taken from a book I am working on with the tentative title, The Glory and the Dream: The Paradox of Godly Ambition and Grateful Contentment.]