Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Back in northeast Ohio

I've been back less than 48 hours, but it feels like a week has gone by. This past fall I heard Myron Scholes give a lecture in which he stated that understanding the markets means understanding "volatility-time." By that he meant that markets react differently based on how much trading activity is going on. I think it's a powerful analogy if only because we can all relate to it; time does seem to compress and expand based on how busy we are!

Last night was the first worship and music committee meeting of 2010, and we made plans and selected hymns through Palm Sunday. For me this is a season of anticipation and planning - the semester is about to begin, a new church season is only a few weeks away, and of course the New Year always brings renewed resolve. Our lives are full of such moments where we pause and form plans for the short term.

Recently, though, I was reminded of the macro picture of time. A recent acquaintance of mine works as a military consultant in Afghanistan, and he said the biggest problem in the Middle East isn't anything that the average person would normally list. The biggest problem, he argued, was the lack of consistent long-term goals, as administrations and personnel change at all levels from enlisted men and women to the President. How can you work effectively on a daily level if you don't know where you're headed next year?

What's true in that setting is also true in so many aspects of the world. How can elementary school teachers create standards and lesson plans when the next pedagogical revolution or testing regime might be just around the corner? How can a church grow in faith and community if there is no long term vision? We've made our plans for the spring now, and it's important that we plan for next Sunday and also for 10 years from now.

Back on the micro level, music is shaped in time. Rhythm defines the structure by which we sing liturgy and hymns. I found a hymn text that reminds us of the importance of perspective on time that I thought I'd share in closing today:

Life at best is very brief,
Like the falling of a leaf,
Like the binding of a sheaf,
Be in time!
Fleeting days are telling fast
That the die will soon be cast,
And the fatal line be passed,
Be in time!


  1. Nice post, Tom! We’re glad that you traveled a lovely Floridian break, but are very glad to have you back!

    You are right, we do not have all the time in the world, and all of our time is most precious. I find that two of the situations in which I feel the most alive are when I create music in some form and when I pray. (Well, giving birth knocks it to you too; though, I did sing and pray during labor. :) When doing these things, I feel like I’ve entered into a different continuum altogether- where I can feel the waves of time ebb and flow through my mind, body, and spirit.

    This is one of the things I find most moving about music by the best of composers: their ability to create such music in time, with beautifully shaped rhythms that exist not only at the level of the teeny, tiny notes, but also through the levels of macro rhythms that can shape a piece as a whole.

  2. The whole construct of time is partly a Euro-American perspective, as you allude to here. For many cultures, things will get done when they get done, and planning can impose constraints that are unwelcome. Ruby Payne also says that this can be a poverty vs. middle class issue, in that many in poverty are not as concerned with time and planning - or maybe that is partly why they are in poverty?

  3. More on time: Chonos = clock time and something we can plan; Kairos = the right time, or perhaps God's time. The modern world tends to focus on the first whereas the more traditional cultures focused ont he latter. Even when we have plans, they sometimes change, although I hesitate to call airline arrivals kairos...

  4. I find your comments very intriguing, Alan! Our more typically Western preoccupation with time certainly doesn't ring true in the village my grandparents lived in on one of the Greek Islands. H Ora H kali ("the time that is good") is celebrated as much as possible. :)

    Interestingly, in modern Greek, "Chronos" also means "year", and "kairos" means "weather".

    Additionally, is this why singing chant, which is freely metered, can make one feel that he or she has entered eternity? Outside of time?