Through stained glass: Dust in the wind?

Remember to enjoy the present as you look on to your future

My second-floor office in the student centre (just below the Argosy office) affords me an excellent view of the ongoing renovations of the former Gairdner Fine Arts Building. It is incredible to me, how quickly the site changes and how rapidly the work is progressing toward completion. Perhaps this perceived pace is connected to my stage of life, where everything seems to happen far too quickly: students arrive, and only four or five short years later they are gone, and it seems no time at all has elapsed.

Perhaps I think too much in biblical terms, which have a much slower pace. The institution of the Sabbath rest was designed to give a focus to the cycle of time, to slow it down and give pause for refreshment, reflection, renewal. The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years, a full generation, before they reached the Promised Land. The massive renovation of the Jewish temple, begun under King Herod before Jesus was born, was only nearing completion when Jesus reached the culmination of his ministry in Jerusalem, also forty years later.

It seems too often we not only anticipate the future, but live in it. We enter university and begin to think about when we will graduate; we enter the workforce and start planning for early retirement.

I live in the worlds of education and ministry, and try to adopt a longer, slower approach. It is not just the question of what can I accomplish today, or this week – the hectic demands of academia mean the days go by far too quickly – but rather what I am accomplishing over time. As a pastoral care provider and educator, I have to realize that I am planting seeds, and some will germinate and grow quickly and others will take years to mature and bear fruit. While at some times my work is immediate, in crisis intervention and response, the better part of the work is much longer in duration; the results may not be known for years, and may not be known by me at all. Years from now, I trust, the ideas I have taught and the care and counsel I have offered will still remain with former students as they make informed choices, participate in the world working for its improvement, as they care for the world and its people.

When I was an undergraduate student, the Kansas song Dust in the Wind  was high in the charts; based on a biblical motif, it was a reminder that time moves quickly, and that we may not have much to show for it. The task, then, is to approach life from the perspective of what French historians call “la longue durée” (the long term) at how we invest our lives, and how we can best live in this present moment. This present life is what poet-musician Bruce Springsteen calls our “kingdom of days.” It is my aim to make my present a kingdom of days a realm of significance where I live not only for this moment, but for the generations which are to come.

Rev. John C. Perkin
Rev. John Perkin is Chaplain of Mount Allison University.