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Sunday, December 30, 2018

Into the Now

2019 is nearly upon us and inevitably we become more conscious of the passage of time and with this, questions about time, being human and living a full life in our relationships with God and each other become more prominent.  

Three key questions arise: -
1. What is time and how is it measured?
2. Are there "special times"?
3. Is God "in time" or "outside time" or both?

Let us start with St Augustine and his relative ignorance - and ours!

And I confess to thee, O Lord, that I am still ignorant as to what time is. And again I confess to thee, O Lord, that I know that I am speaking all these things in time, and that I have already spoken of time a long time, and that "very long" is not long except when measured by the duration of time. How, then, do I know this, when I do not know what time is? Or, is it possible that I do not know how I can express what I do know? Alas for me! I do not even know the extent of my own ignorance. Behold, O my God, in thy presence I do not lie. As my heart is, so I speak. Thou shalt light my candle; thou, O Lord my God, wilt enlighten my darkness.” (Confessions Book 11; Chapter 25; Verse 32)

So, let us see how God has enlightened our ignorance with reference to the Scriptures, the Fathers, and the Liturgy of the Church.  Let us consider our three questions in order.

What is time and how is it measured?

That’s the big one!  Is it time simply as we experience it, so-called subjective time?  In part yes, but there’s a bit more involved here!  So we can start with two simple truths.
·        Time is experienced as a sequence of events both passively and actively.
·        The passage of time is heavily influenced by our mental state.  So, time passes more quickly when we are enjoying ourselves or as we get older and we get more used to the seasonal cycles of time. Time travels more slowly when we are bored or anxious about some event in the future, waiting for the results of a test or an exam for example.
So, how does God help us deal with subjective time?  When time passes quickly we need to slow the pace by being mindful of how we are, who we are and how the world is IN THE PRESENT MOMENT.  We only ever live in the ‘now’, but if we spend our ‘now’ moments straining forward towards an unknown future or backwards into the cage of the past then we shall not live fully with the Lord who comes to us in the NOW.  We shall miss Him if we fail to do that and we shall also miss both ourselves and each other.  We shall not be fully present in life and, therefore, not able to enjoy it.
To quote St Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:2:

"For He [God] says: ‘In an acceptable time I have heard you, and in the day of salvation I have helped you.’ Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.”

NOW is indeed the day of salvation.  The feasts of the Church and the Liturgy proclaims this with gusto.  We do not shout ‘Christ was born’ but rather ‘Christ IS born’; we do not raise the rafters with ‘Christ has risen’ but with ‘Christ IS risen.’  This is also reflected in the hymns of the feasts. 

Liturgical time and prayer time is always in the ‘now’ moment of God … presently realised in our lives today. This even applies to future events.  Christ, we know will come again, but in the Liturgy we not only yearn for that and anticipate that, we also give thanks for that as a transformative experience in our lives; in other words being in a continual state of readiness for the “Bridegroom that comes in the middle of the night.” (Troparion of Bridegroom Matins in Holy Week).  He comes of course to serve the Messianic Banquet of the Kingdom and in the Eucharist he continually comes with the Kingdom.  In that sense even our daily bread in the Lord’s Prayer is His provision for our needs from the future and into the present moment. Meet God therefore and be saved in all the NOW’s of your life.

Following on from this: are there special times? 

Of course, on the human side of this question, of course, there are … falling in love, the birth of a child, a family celebration, an outstanding achievement in your life or in the timeline of humanity.  However, I am not really thinking about these times but rather a special aspect of time when God is involved in our lives. 
The key aspect of Christ’s work here on earth up to and including his death, resurrection and ascension was the kingdom of God breaking into the present from the future.  This is the special time of which the Scriptures and the Fathers bear witness, not simply linear measured time, chronological time, from the Greek word “chronos” – but time as the stage for a transforming encounter with the God who breaks into our spacetime making all things new.  St Paul talks of this when he refers to the Incarnation:

“ … when the fullness of the time had come, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman.” (Galatians 4:4). 

This “fullness of time” is kairos not chronos, God’s time, not our reckoning of time. 
The first words of Christ Himself as recorded in the gospel of St Mark after His baptism makes all this clear:

“Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.'” (Mark 1:14-15)

Let us be clear then that the measurement of time for each one of us is not simply a matter of a clock, it is a question of quality of our lives in time, how we spend time, the decisions we make for time in the present, the redemption of times past and our trust of God into the future.  The most accurate of atomic clocks cannot deal with these issues of time!  These special times of God, renewing the spacetime of the Cosmos and our own lives when open to the Holy Spirit in the present moment are the most special times of all.

Finally let us finally consider our third question:

Is God "in time" or "outside time" or both?

The answer of course is both.  God in Himself is beyond time (as St Augustine knew, He created time along with space and everything in it) but also and for our sakes in the Incarnation he entered into time to redeem the world, past, present and future.  We do not pray, therefore, as orphans bereft of God.  In the Spirit we cry: “Abba, Father!” (Galatians 4:6).  The kingdom of God, God Himself that is, is always happens, closer than breathing, within us and between us, “Christ in us, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:27b).

As the civil calendar then marks the advent of the New Year in a few days and as the Church calendar marks the advent of the New Liturgical Year on 1st September, let us remember as children of the resurrection that we have a much richer experience of life in time with God than those whose affairs are governed by the tyranny of the clock.  We, even in this world, move in eternity, in the Kingdom of God, in a richness of loving grace unsurpassed by anything human yet remaking our humanity radiant and complete.

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