Time and tide wait for no man; so goes an ancient proverb. Originally the word ‘tide’ here was used in the same way we might talk of seasons or festival periods and so we might wish someone “Glad Tidings.” In the proverb it probably speaks of the story of King Canute who led his courtiers to the sea to show that, though he was a powerful king, even he didn’t have the power to control nature. As he sat resplendent on his throne, the tide lapped around his ankles, paying no heed to his power.
As the Icelandic volcano strangled British airspace and trapped me at the other side of the world, I think I know how King Canute felt (or if not him then one of his courtiers who thought human power was unlimited). Time marched on, bills were racked up, plans were overthrown, tempers were fraught, and the volcano just kept belching smoke and ash. It takes a lot to accept the moment and work with it. A lot of people encouraged me to do this as my return home was put back day after day for a week. A lot of people don’t know how close they came to being chinned!
They were right of course, and this experience has shown me how seriously bad I am at using time well. Now before we go any further let me just say that this is much more than time management in order to facilitate good working practice. Those who work with me know that I am just a disaster in myself where that’s concerned! No, this is much more fundamental and much more important. This is to do with the hours that are left of my life.
If you’re reading this and are a little discomfited by that last line, then join the club. None of us know how much time we have left to live our lives and there’s nothing like an impending plane journey over a recently active volcano to refine one’s thinking. But a little indicator: if you are repulsed by the thought and would rather watch re-runs of the Crown Green Bowls semi-finals than consider such weighty matters, it probably means that you are not too ‘in love’ with your life and you’re wasting precious time when you could be loving and living this life.
Jesus says to his disciples: It profits a man nothing, to gain the whole world and to lose his soul (Matt 16:26). And again, Can any of you add one single second to your life by worrying?(Luke 12:25) He goes on to point out to his disciples that the natural world around us moves in step with the seasons and to the beat of the larger world-order and in doing so has a deeper, more abiding beauty than the plastic and made-up world that we are so proud of and that we believe we are in control of. The beauty of a flower or a wheat-ripe field will fade, but that’s ok, because it will come back: creation knows this so it wastes no time enjoying the beauty whilst it lasts. As we become more and more disconnected from the natural world around us, and as we become more and more (seemingly) satisfied with the manufactured ‘beauty’ of our careers, our nose-job, our cars, our image, we become more and more terrified of the passing of things and seek to stop time and tide or the natural order from running its course.
The volcano has reminded me of the absolute futility of this action. If I must worry about anything it should be that I am not acknowledging the beautiful gift of life that I have been given in this moment. Sometimes it’s hard for people to do this because they have been conditioned by their society to believe it to be a futile act – and that includes religious people; other times its hard because they are crushed by the mere struggle for survival in impoverished areas of the world. But right now, no matter what my situation, I can thank God for my life. This is not just a private and pious act; no. In being thankful for this time, in a very small but not insignificant way, I start to turn the tide of despair and frustration that seems to swill everywhere in our world; it becomes a tide of hope. It is the work of Eastertide, an unstoppable tide for sure, but not one to fear.
Simon Lodge, 21iv10