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Fr Ray Hemingray has shared his thought for today, Sunday 4th October 2020.

A few thoughts today about ‘Time’.

Quite by coincidence, at around Michaelmas (Michaelmas, also known as the Feast of the Saints Michael, Gabriel, and Raphael, falls on 29th September) I have just started reading a book about the Italian artist Michelangelo – more specifically about the last 19 years of his life. He lived to be 89. We know about Michelangelo as an painter (for example, the painting of ‘The Last Judgment’ on the Sistine Chapel ceiling) and as a sculptor (such as the 5.5 metres high marble sculpture of ‘David’ in Florence). He also designed a memorial to Pope Julius II, to go in the church of San Pietro in Vinculi (St. Peter in Chains) in Rome. Why, you may well ask, have I started a reflection on time by talking about Michelangelo?

Well, firstly, all his art works took a considerable time to complete. For example, he did not complete the memorial to Pope Julius (which included seven separate sculpted figures, one of them holding the baby Jesus) until 1545, 40 years after the Pope’s death, when Michelangelo was 70. Secondly, whilst most people have retired by the age of 70, Michelangelo, having just completed the memorial to Pope Julius at that age, embarked on a new project, knowing that he would never see it finished. He was asked to design and supervise the building of the new Church of St. Peter in Rome. He spent the last 19 years of his life on that work, but it was not completed until 150 years after he started work on it. I think that there are some lessons about time that we can take from Michelangelo’s life.

Firstly, we live in an age when we expect things to happen quickly. If you were to ask someone to paint a picture for you, you wouldn’t expect it to take several years. If you order something from Amazon today, you are disappointed if it does not arrive within 48 hours. It’s the modern mindset. Life moves quickly and we expect things to happen quickly. I am sure a lot of people are complaining as to why it takes so long to get a Covid test, or even a doctor’s appointment.

Secondly, reflecting on Michelangelo’s work should remind us that time is bigger than all of us. It will last longer than all of us. Whilst time is endless, our share of it is small, and we need to think about making the most of the time we have.

Thirdly, if something is worth doing, it is worth doing well, however long it takes, even if we don’t live long enough to see the results of our labours.

One of my father’s favourite sayings was: ‘Time and tide wait for no man’. In other words, if you want to do something, get on with it now, before you lose the opportunity. So if, for example, you have ever wanted to do something like learn to play an instrument, get on with it! You may not reach Grade 8 in your lifetime, but however much or little you do learn will hopefully give you some pleasure.

I am sure that all of us at some time say we don’t have time for something and that, if we are really honest, in many cases we really do have time, if we choose to make the effort. The twentieth century French scientist Henri Boulard said: “Never say that you have no time. On the whole it is those who are busiest who can make time for yet more, and those who have more leisure time who refuse to do something when asked. What we lack is not time, but heart.” I am sure there is a grain of truth in that!

Sometimes time passes quickly and sometimes slowly. Albert Einstein expressed this phenomenon in this way: “When a man sit’s with a pretty girl for an hour, it seems like a minute. But let him sit on a hot stove for a minute – and it’s longer than an hour. That’s relativity.”

What do the scriptures tell us about time? Many people will recall the well-known passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3: ‘A time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance … and a time for every purpose under heaven’. In other words, there will always be good times and bad times, and we have to take the rough with the smooth. During the current pandemic there has been more than usual thought about the negatives: people dying, mourning, weeping, and less about healing, laughing and dancing.

Those confined to their homes, and those whose loved ones are suffering from or have died from the Covid virus, have reasons to be despondent. But we need to have faith that the tide of time will eventually turn, and we shall be able to focus more on the positives than on the negatives. St. Paul (Ephesians Ch. 5) encourages us to make the most of our time in dark days:

‘Brothers and sisters, be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil. So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is … be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.’

So in these difficult times, let’s try to think about the positives, all the things that we should be thankful to God for. Life is too short to be spent in being unhappy.

Fr. Ray