A Reflection on time

Friday, 3rd April 2020

A Reflection on time

by the Very Reverend Dr David Hoyle, Dean of Westminster

I came to Westminster just months ago, installed as the 39th Dean on 16th November. A new boy, with west country ways, they had to bring me up to speed quickly. A memorial service was planned, members of the Royal Family, naval officers dripping braid, and Jimmy Tarbuck was speaking. There were welcomes, processions, prayers. The business of my instruction took some time. When, finally, we were done I collapsed back in my chair thinking that this would be a day spent on my toes. My colleague then said, brightly, ‘And the following day the King of Malaysia is here’. Abbey life is wonderful, but it is also relentless. I began to joke about wondering where I would find the pause button.

Well, it seems it is found, and, moreover, it works. My diary is littered with cancelled appointments, casual conversations are forbidden, and all the virtual encounters, on my laptop, are conducted at pace. I now have the gift of time. It is what I said I wanted. I used to have to book ‘time’ into my diary. Making space, to write a sermon or read a book, was a constant struggle. In fact, I even had to buy time, arrange a retreat and pay for it, then savour a few days without emails and another ‘to do’ list. No longer, I have time now. Of course, it turns out to be an uncertain gift.

I discover, uncomfortably, that time loses its way. Now, here I need to pause and consider the possibility I am just very odd, and that my experience is nothing like yours. If that is the case, I apologise, just bear with me a moment as I try to explain what is happening to me. My diary, my old routines, gave each day a sense of purpose. I was always going somewhere, with something to do. Now, although I am still busy (the Abbey does not completely stop being the Abbey) the pace shifts and I seem to lose a sense of proportion. When you are busy, you push through chores because you need to do that. When you are less busy, they loom larger. Bizarrely, I can feel harassed one moment and then listless the next. Because, like everyone else, I am not sure how long the pause button stays pressed. I cannot fix my eyes on any horizon. Do I have time to write a book, or just read a few more? Time loses its way.

As I, occasionally, succumb to feeling puzzled, or (I admit it) a little sorry for myself another story unfolds. It will soon be Holy Week. That is the week in which Jesus surrenders his agency, stopped being the one who did things, became the one to whom things were done. In Holy Week it is not just time that loses its way (darkness at noon remember) loyalties collapse, the judge is judged, the one who gives eternal life is killed. Everything is disorientated. Then, just as it gets as bad as it can be and Jesus dies, we hear words we cannot have expected: ‘It is accomplished’. Jesus says what God himself declared at the creation, ‘It is finished’. We might have been disorientated, Jesus never was. He did not lose his way and time was always on his side.

I am not so holy, so clear in my thinking that I can always grasp this and feel reassured, but time has not lost its way. I will still have moments of disorientation, frustration and longing. Even so, we can all be sure this time will end. More importantly, the story I know, but sometimes only glimpse is being worked out. What began in creation will still end in glory. There is purpose and there is hope.