Teach Us to Count
“Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You turn us back to dust, and say, “Turn back, you mortals.”
For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night.
So teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.” – Psalm 90:1-4, 12
My late father was fond of quoting a 19th century statistician and explorer who wrote, “Whenever you can, count.” He was captivated by mathematics, which made his mind sing: “Whenever you can, count.”
He may have been inspired by more than math. Since he suspected his encroaching dementia years before it was diagnosed, I wonder if counting became kind of a lifeline, a way of focusing and collecting his attention when he feared it was unreliable. He counted anything within sight or reach. Rulers and balances and scales appeared around the house, along with a multitude of notepads filled with lists in neat handwriting.
Being a scientist, he reveled in what was measurable. Being a reader of poetry and scripture, he also was keenly aware of the years beyond numbering, and grace beyond measure, contained in a single moment of God’s time.
I learned from him the creative tension between the awareness of our finitude, and faith in the mystery of God’s realm. Awareness of our mortality — subject to measurement, to beginnings and endings. Faith in God’s eternal grace — which can’t be numbered on all the fingers and toes of all the faithful of all the ages.
Holy Dwelling Place, thank you for the capacity for counting, especially when it helps us perceive the grace of life in you. Thanks for each of my 20,610 days. Amen.
John A. Nelson is Pastor and Teacher of Church on the Hill, UCC, in Lenox, Massachusetts.