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Minute by minute

It is in the moment that things happen and the Spirit moves

Minute by minute


One year on a chilly Sunday evening, Dec. 29, a small group had gathered at the church where I worshipped. The Sunday night crowd was usually less than half the size of Sunday morning’s, and it was Christmas week besides, but our pastor preached as faithfully to scattered sheep as he would have to packed pews. For this sermon he borrowed a theme from his own grandfather, also a pastor, and notes from 1949 (before most of us were even born).

The future, he said, is like an impenetrable veil, so thick we don’t even know what the next minute holds. As I listened, I changed the figure of speech. Maybe the future was more like a thick fog, where we can form a pretty accurate picture of the next days and weeks, but the more distant times are shrouded in mystery. Ghostly shapes rear up out there, the shapes of our children, grandchildren, friends, and antagonists, yet unmet.

Or not. For in every sliver of the future lurks the sudden shift—the leap, or the fall. One minute can change everything.

It could have changed for me on my way to church that very evening, where I would hear that sermon. I was traveling north on a familiar route. The church building was in view, two blocks ahead. At a moderate speed (or maybe 5 mph over the limit, which is moderate for me), I cruised through the last intersection and, glancing up, noticed that the light was red.

I could have slammed into my future at 40 mph, putting a sudden end to it.

In one endless second: a screaming glare of headlights to the left, just before the force of a 300 horsepower engine burrows into my side. Or an outraged blare of horn as a pickup truck strikes my rear bumper and spins me like a top. Or the sputter and whine of a police siren as a cop swivels his blue light and pulls me over. Me feeling (or perhaps looking) like a crumpled wad of paper in my new coat that was such a great deal and made me so happy for a little while.

No, none of that actually happened. My hands flew up from the wheel, as though horrified at what I had made them do, and my wandering mind snapped back to attention with all kinds of oh-nos and what-ifs and promises never to do that again. Be careful, little eyes: We’re going to pay attention from now on, we promise.

It was a good experience from that perspective, a smart crack of the whip to a mind too prone to wander. My New Year’s resolution: Pay attention! Moments like that are when the fog could easily become a solid wall. I could have slammed into my future at 40 mph, putting a sudden end to it or loading it with consequences for my nearest circle of friends and relatives. Further tremors would have shaken out to fellow church members and business associates, rallying to assist me or do without me or make some changes in the masthead.

A single moment can change everything.

“Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom,” sang the prophet Moses (Psalm 90:12). I try to do that during morning prayers with every sunrise God gives me, knowing their number is limited. My times are in His hands, a great comfort. I need not fear the veil that hides my future; even a careless instant with dreadful results He can work out for good.

But be careful, little soul, not to shove “He can” in front of “I will.” I give Him my days but hold on to my minutes. I schedule my acts of charity and spiritual obligation but too often let my mind drift afield while doing them. Yet it’s moment by moment that things happen, that the Spirit moves, that lives begin and end.

My continuing resolution: Pay attention. Not to constantly grill myself on how I’m using the time, but to remain aware of time’s potential for good or evil. God orders my days, but I’m accountable for my minutes.