The Weight of Time

Background photo from Tyler Callahan. Series header designed in Canva.

Editor’s Note: This is the second part of a four-part series on suffering. Click here for part one. Listen along to our soundtrack of suffering here.

I do not understand your ways

Yet still I know you are the keeper of my days

Though I am lost I know you hold my hand

Keeper of Days, Jon Guerra

Étienne Loulié was born in 1654 in Paris, the son of a sword-finisher. He would go on to live a life filled with music, one of the few of his era who wrestled with the theoretical underpinnings of music alongside practicing and performing it. In 1696, Étienne used Galileo Galilei’s pendulum to produce the first metronome but, unlike the ones of today, the invention made no sound. Instead, a musician used the metronome like they used a conductor – visually watching the pendulum to stay on time. It would take almost two hundred years to produce what we think of today as the metronome, developed in Amsterdam by Dietrich Nikollaus Winkel in 1814 before the idea was repackaged with a scale and sold by Johann Nepomuk Maelzel two years later. Ever since, musicians around the world have utilized metronomes to develop their own sense of timing and remain on tempo, much as large orchestras do with conductors. But the tool is not without its controversy. Many musicians and musical scholars value the metronome for its mathematical perfection, restraining the human tendency to speed up or slow down over time and as a consequence of passion. Others are troubled by the perfection of the metronome. Music, in their view, should be felt instead of perfected. Delivering music across aesthetics and cultures involves more than timing; it requires swings, grooves, and creativity. Life, according to Ecclesiastes, also involves timing. And like the metronome proponents and critics, understanding time’s relentless rigidity and creative swings may help us navigate our seasons of suffering.

I have had a lifelong obsession with the third chapter of Ecclesiastes. It begins this way “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens.” The text goes on to list a time for each thing and its opposite: a time to be born and a time to die, a time to kill and a time to heal, a time to shut up and a time to speak. Life is not something we produce inasmuch as it is something that occurs to us. The choices we make, the works we produce, are like a metronome, giving structure to the music that plays without ceasing around us, the river of time that flows from death to birth to death. We learned last week that life is meaningless, that sometimes it is better to endure our joy and our suffering rather than to question it. This week, we are learning that perhaps all seasons are endured without reason. That time moves as we makes sense of it; our sense of it does not make time move.

I mentioned last week that I have been hearing a call to live more into today than worry about what is coming tomorrow. I am also learning to avoid the temptation of yesterday. I have restarted the practice of praying occasionally with prayer beads. The serenity prayer that accompanies the Anglican beads prays the last cruciform beads with this excerpt: “Let me live one day at a time and enjoy one moment at a time.” This is a countercultural notion of living life. Everything in our Western life requires and revolves around a plan. You may be familiar with the interview question “Where do you see yourself in five years?” From a young age, we are taught to set goals and see our lives on a path that we help lay the foundation of. You go to school so that you can do well and pass to the next grade. For most of us, those grades eventually led to another building, full of new people: the transition from elementary to middle school or middle to high school. When we graduated high school or left early, we were faced with choices. Do we continue on an educational path, electing to go to college or trade school? Do we raise a family? Do we enter the workforce? Where do we eventually want to end up? What do we see ourselves doing when we’re grown up? Whatever path we choose comes with new paths. How will we parent our children? What products will we use to clean our home? What promotions are on the table? What ladder do I want to climb and how far do I want to ascend? What classes should I take and how should I integrate this knowledge and these skills into my post-educational life?

Everything is on a path and, if you’ve lived long enough, you’ll know that those plans, like our bodies, can crumble to dust far quicker than it takes to make them. Our children respond differently to our chosen parenting practices than we had anticipated. The economy tanks and we get laid off. We choose a major, graduate with a degree, and realize we find so much more joy in a completely different field. We have no control over the river of time yet we plan as though we do.


All life is yours

All death is yours

Keeper of days

I give you praise

Keeper of Days, Jon Guerra.

A few verses after the lists in chapter 3, we receive this word: “(God) has made everything beautiful in its time. (They have) also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (3:11). I think some of our suffering results from this incongruence. We find ourselves out of time, struggling to be creative against the rigidity of the river. We find ourselves too creative, struggling to be rigid against the creative whims of the river. We know that there is victory in the end and yet we find ourselves living through the middle. We want to live each day as it comes and yet we know that our culture requires us to have a plan. We look anxiously each day toward the Coming of the Kingdom; We want to enjoy the bread we eat today.

The weight of time is this: that God is the one with hands on the clocks, deciding when we start and when we stop, that we are the ones whose feet are on the ground. Again, I am left with this query: what if we live our life? What if we exercise neither creativity nor rigidity? How might our lives look if we slouch into the river? I’m not sure what this will look like for you but I encourage you to dig into the slouchiness of it. What regrets from your past might God be calling you to let go of? What dreams of the future are keeping you from enjoying the moment? What joys from the past are you reliving that is preventing you from seeking joy today? What worries about the future are stealing your sleep?

The truth is this: what has happened has happened. What will be will come. Everything is meaningless. We are incapable of knowing the reality of tomorrow, incapable of changing what has passed. When we begin to craft our lives around the seasons we are in, I believe we may be equipped to endure our suffering in its time and endure our joy in its.

(Breathe in)

Keeper of Time

(Breathe out)

Let me surrender my claims to it

(Breathe in)

Let what is coming come.

(Breathe out)

Let what has passed pass on.


Wikipedia entries for the metronome, Étienne Loulié, and Dietrich Nikolaus Winkel were helpful in crafting and understanding the hisotry of the metronome. Verses quoted in this post come from he NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible published by Zondervan whose notes were helpful in writing this post. Notes in the NRSV The Harper Collins Study Bible published by Harper One were also used. Scriptures taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™ See here for notes on how we utilize God’s pronouns.

Bryce Van Vleet is the #1 selling author of Tired Pages and Before We All Die Let’s Have One Last Chat by the Fireside. He also hosts the podcast Death in Dakota and sells poetry art here. You can support him by clicking through blog posts or donating (scroll to the bottom of the page). Like him on Facebook or follow him on Goodreads.

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