So teach us to count our days

So teach us to count our days

So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart. —Psalm 90

I’m still dwelling in the warmth and gratitude of our Installation celebration at the end of January. It became more meaningful because it was delayed.

Usually, before the COVID backlog, a pastor would be installed pretty close to immediately, when everyone’s still strangers. But we’re not strangers anymore. To celebrate now gave us a chance to express genuine appreciation for each other as we really are.

To celebrate now also gave us a chance to count our days. Six months was the count as of Installation. And counting is the way to wisdom, sings the psalmist.

In early pandemic days, many markers we used for counting were suddenly gone. We learned by losing that all these structures and rituals and places made Tuesday afternoon and Friday night and Sunday morning each different and distinct and countable. And we learned to count differently, even as we lamented.

You’ve seen the videos, I’m sure. In some places, at 7 or 8 pm, the neighbors would all come out and bang on pots and pans or blow horns or sing. Whatever else such activities meant, they were a way of counting the days. And the counting required a pause, a departure from the norm, an “event.” That’s what made it possible to make a memory, and memory makes it possible to count.

To “eventize”—or to make an event out of something—is language movie theaters and movie studios have learned to use. When anyone at any time can watch almost any movie in their own living room, most people need a reason to leave the house and go to a theater. But, make it a special occasion that everyone and their friends and fellow fans can anticipate and enjoy together, and suddenly people count down the days until they can give away their time and money at the big premiere. There’s wisdom here, if we can set aside the seductions of making money and putting on a show.

Eventize life. This is a key part of how we count our days. The Installation eventized Sunday, January 23—which otherwise would’ve been just another cold winter Sunday. We made the day special. We remembered. We said thank you. We made a memory together.

Sometimes slowing down is all it takes to make the day count. That’s when we can notice the holy hiding out in the ordinary.

And, there’s more to a wise heart. Or so sang the psalmist. Now’s the moment their song seems to change into a minor key.

“Nine more Christmases!” my wife Sara announced this year, while putting up the Christmas tree. Meaning, our days are numbered. This configuration of our family will not last forever. God willing, Susannah will graduate from high school first. And then four will become three, and three will become two. Sara is counting down the days until the nest empties, wanting to treasure the time we have.

There’s wisdom here, if we can set aside the need to control and force the time to fit a certain shape. And now we’re getting even closer to what the psalmist means by counting—valuing our days as precious and limited. Mary Oliver suggests this in her poem, “The Summer Day.” When she writes—

Tell me, what is it you plan to do With your one wild and precious life?

—I think she’s hinting to the wise heart that life is a gift and is at least as much about being as doing.

I’ve been counting days all through January. The 29th was the first anniversary of my dad’s death. In this accounting there is also hope. It is true that nothing and no one lasts forever. And neither does grief or any suffering. This too shall pass. And what will remain when the last day is counted? Only love and the Holy One, the Beginning and the End, who by the cross has tattooed all of our days on the heart of God. And there we will dwell forever.

Thanks be to God.

Pastor Clark Olson-Smith