‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there’, as novelist L.P. Hartley famously began his affecting tale The Go-Between. The momentous events in our nation during September have reminded us how elastic time can be – and how a mere day or two can become elongated by significance, so that the time before appears remote and indeed foreign to us.
The Psalmist asks God to teach us how to number our days, that we may apply our hearts to wisdom, with the inference that we should understand both the constraints and gifts of our allotted time span and turn to the one who holds these days in his hand. As the seasons shift, the Christian year adopts a memorial tone, as we prepare to look back in thanksgiving for all those God has given us as examples of good and holy life. This leads naturally from Harvest or Creationtide as those weeks are increasingly known, when we offer up in gratitude all we have received.
The approaching winter is feared this year by some and will doubtless bring hardships to many cross the country, with escalating costs of heating and food. Communities will not only need material relief during these months, but the kind of spiritual resilience that comes from strong bonds of neighbourhood and a deep, prayerful reliance on God. A few people in a parish cheerfully living this way can have a wonderful, luminous effect, lighting the onward path for others. So may Christ inspire each of us to ‘do things differently’, not only in the past, but in the weeks to come.