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Deep Time

One summer about 20 years ago, I was in one of my favorite places in the world—the Mahaneh Yehudah shuk (market). It was a cool Jerusalem night, and the shuk was quiet. Not an eerie quiet, but a soothing quiet, like the silent aliveness of a house where everyone is sleeping. I was there for an evening of jazz, an intimate performance in one of the first cafes to lead the transformation of the shuk into a Jerusalem nightlife hotspot.

The ancient stones in the ancient city seemed to vibrate with the thrum of the upright bass, and the experience felt timeless—as if the entire history of the shuk, of Jerusalem, of all existence, coalesced in that present moment with the expanse of eternity that had yet to come. I felt transported to a celestial balcony, looking down on a universe that had existed since long before I was born, and would continue to exist long after I died.

Many people have similarly transcendent experiences at some point in their lives. A joyous celebration, a breathtaking vista from the top of a mountain, a magnificent work of art, even a moment of eye contact and an exchange of smiles with a stranger—such encounters can allow us to take leave of our limited human perspective and to hold the bigger picture, if only briefly, of the vastness of the universe through time and space. The Franciscan priest Richard Rohr calls this type of experience “deep time,” describing it as “past, present, and future gathered into one especially holy moment.” Learning to rest in deep time moves us toward a state of what he calls “spiritual fullness,” in which we become able to face life’s challenges with greater wisdom and equanimity. I have also found that cultivating an ability to relate to time this way helps me build the muscles of resilience, faith, and hope; in recent months, I’ve drawn on this power of deep time more than I ever have in the past.

How can we access deep time? How can we learn to linger, if not live, there?

In my own spiritual life, prayer can sometimes offer a portal to this form of consciousness—so long as I slow down and truly consider the words that I am saying. There are some specific prayers that have become my access points, including one that is familiar to many of us as the closing song of Shabbat morning services: Adon Olam.

This piyut, a liturgical poem of anonymous authorship, is also traditionally said at the beginning of daily morning services, and included as part of the bedtime Shema. It reads to me as a theology of deep time, an expression of the temporal transcendence we can touch through a personal relationship with God:

אֲדוֹן עוֹלָם אֲשֶׁר מָלַךְ בְּטֶרֶם כָּל יְצִיר נִבְרָא
…​​וְאַחֲרֵי כִּכְלוֹת הַכֹּל לְבַדּוֹ יִמְלוֹךְ נוֹרָא
וְהוּא הָיָה וְהוּא הֹוֶה וְהוּא יִהְיֶה בְּתִפְאָרָה
בְּלִי רֵאשִׁית בְּלִי תַכְלִית…
וְהוּא אֵלִי וְחַי גּוֹאֲלִי,וְצוּר חֶבְלִי בְּעֵת צָרָה
:וְהוּא נִסִּי וּמָנוֹס לִי, מְנָת כּוֹסִי בְּיוֹם אֶקְרָא

Before creation was formed, God eternal reigned alone…
And after all things cease to exist, the Awesome One will reign…
God was, God is, and in majesty God will be…
God is without beginning and without end…
God is my God, my living Redeemer, and my rock in times of distress
God is my banner and my refuge, my sustenance when I call. 

Sometimes when I say Adon Olam, I return to the memory of that night in the Jerusalem shuk. I recall the sense of timelessness I felt, and the surprising peace that settled over me in those moments. And touching that experience of deep time, I sing the final lines of this majestic poem with my faith and hope just a bit stronger:

בְּיָדוֹ אַפְקִיד רוּחִי בְּעֵת אִישָׁן וְאָעִירָה
וְעִם רוּחִי גְוִיָּתִי אֲדֹ-נָי לִי וְלֹא אִירָא

To God’s hand I entrust my soul, when I sleep and when I awake.
As my spirit dwells within my body, God is with me and I will not fear.


Shabbat Shalom,