Time Like an Ever-Rolling Stream

Time Like an Ever-Rolling Stream

Author: Anne Vial
October 27, 2020

I have always liked the way hymn writers of bygone days describe time. The imagery depicting God’s time is expansive, making the span of both eternity and history a degree more comprehensible:

     When we’ve been there
      Ten thousand years,
      Bright shining as the sun,
      We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
      Than when we first begun.

     A thousand ages in Thy sight are like an evening gone.

God’s time is “unhasting.” When Martin Luther King, Jr., talked about the arc of the moral universe bending towards justice (in a paraphrase of abolitionist Theodore Parker), he was calling us to envision a positive trajectory across these thousand ages. We don’t know, can’t fathom, time’s expanse, but we sense the hugeness of history and, for Christians, count on an equally unfathomable eternity.

In human terms, though, time is fickle. There are times when large swaths of days seem like an evening gone. The pandemic gave me a Rip Van Winkle sense of having gone to bed in March and awakened in September. Was there a summertime in there? Some shorts weather and corn on the cob, as if in a dream, yes, but here we still are watching church, working at home, hoping masks will do the job of keeping our families and neighbors safe.

But there are other times when the hours—sometimes the moments—seem almost particulate. Time can give us whiplash in the moment between a tie game and the winning homerun. And even more when it comes to that moment between a loved friend alive and well and that same friend felled by a sudden stroke. After becomes utterly different from before in a blink.

Whether time is expansive, plodding, or jack-rabbit quick, the hymn writers also remind us to remain watchful, mindful. In the words of the spiritual:

      Keep your lamps trimmed and burning,
      keep your lamps trimmed and burning,
      keep your lamps trimmed and burning,
      for the time is drawing nigh.

We must make our way through time, stay on top of the parts of unfolding history that require action. History’s arc and indeed the seemingly random daily events often feel like they are outside of us, things over which I have no control. But Dr. King would remind us, and in his way Jesus would remind us, that we are history; we make history in the way we go forward through the world. God’s plan is long-term, but there is action to take in the short term.

Another hymn prays to God:

     “Guard Thou each sacred hour from selfish ease.”

The idea is not that resting is selfish—Nikki’s recent blog post reminded us how important Sabbath time is. But it can be selfish to move through the world heedless of what’s happening around us, heedless of history’s arc.

Riding the ever-rolling stream is more like paddling down the river than bobbing along like a leaf. The current, the rocks, the lulls, the rapids are all contingencies to navigate. The journey (“all the circling years,” as yet another hymn has it) requires readiness. Fortunately, the church family makes this a group excursion. And as every one of these hymns acknowledges, guidance abounds in the form of grace, light, hope, love—in “God only wise.”

Hymns Referenced:  
“Our God, Our Help in Ages Past”
“Amazing Grace”
“Immortal, Invisible, God Only Wise”
“Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning”
“Take Thou Our Minds, Dear Lord”
“God of Our Lives”



First Presbyterian Church


20 King's Highway East, Haddonfield, NJ 08033
(856) 429-1960