Swift Days

A few more hours and the worship of “The Three Days” begins:  Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Saturday Vigil and Easter Sunday.  Lent is coming to its 40-day finish, but I have not yet learned the 6th and last hymn by heart. (Learning hymns has been my attempted Lenten discipline.)

This hymn is a newer one.  The text is by Herman Stuempfle, Jr.

How small our span of life, O God, our years from birth till death;
A single beat within a heart, the catching of a breath,
A drop within the ocean’s deep, a grain upon the shore,
A flash of light before we sleep to see the sun no more.

And yet our speck of life is spanned by your infinity;
Our tick of time on earth is caught in your eternity.
While suns and stars spin endlessly through depths of cosmic space, 
While aeons roll and ages pass, you hold us in your grace.

O Christ, you left eternity to plunge in time’s swift stream. 
To share the shortness of our span, our mortal lives redeem.
You filled your cross-closed years with love; you loved us to the end
And touch us with your risen life that ours may time transcend.

We thank you, God, for kindling faith that lights our transient years,
Illumining our pilgrimage through mists of doubt and fears;
For hope that sees a life beyond the swiftly passing days;
For love, both human and divine, that lifts our hearts to praise. 
                                              —Evangelical Lutheran Worship, #636

For those of you who are musicians, the words are sung to the tune of “Kingsfold.”

The images in the first stanza invite me to listen to my body and watch the world around me and notice how “small a span” my life is when looking at the whole picture.   But also it is sobering to realize that I am one heartbeat away from death, one breath away from dying.  The author says it well.

Another phrase that grabs my attention is that of Christ plunging into our time.  I can’t even imagine what it is like to move from what must be a many-dimensioned space into human time-bound living.  Christ shared the shortness of our span, and I realized, singing this hymn, he died far younger than I am now.  “You filled your cross-closed years with love” has a powerful sharpness in those words especially as we move into Good Friday.  And of course, I am reminded to pray for my son now walking through the rainy mists, the violent spring storms and, yes, the bears of the Smoky Mountains when I sing “illumining our pilgrimage through mists of doubt and fears.”

But mostly I cherish this hymn because it is a favorite of my friend who is in her last stage of leukemia.  This is almost certainly her last earthly Easter.  If there ever was one who sees a life beyond her swiftly passing days, it is she.  If there ever was one who can praise in the midst of difficulties, it is my friend.  She by example is calmly teaching me to sing this hymn with trust, peace, love and humor.  So, no, I haven’t learned it by heart yet.  It is being learned in a different way as I, with an aching heart, pray her through this last bend of her pilgrimage on earth.


  1. Thank you! I don’t know it by heart either, but I’m very fond of this Stuempfle text too. We sang it at C’s memorial service. I have been following your son’s blog, and am praying for travelling mercies. (And if bears, then only at a wholesome distance). I will pray for your friend with leukemia, as well. And for you. Christ’s peace, my friend!

  2. Good hymn. Even better photo.

  3. Photo: Driving over Cascade Mountains, Washington, last summer.
    Hymn: We sang it her memorial service yesterday where there were so many people who loved her; it was the last line that sticks with me now.