Posts tagged ‘time’

July 24, 2018

seems like everything means something

It was useless, except for the use they made of it, remembering together. There wasn’t much that felt worse than losing that shawl. There is no speech nor language; their voice is not heard. That’s true about things. It’s true about people. It’s just true.

…Lila told the child, “The world has been here so long, seems like everything means something. You’ll want to be careful. You practically never know what you’re taking in your hand.” She thought, if we stay here, soon enough it will be you sitting at the table, and me, I don’t know, cooking something, and the snow flying, and the old man so glad we’re here he’ll be off in his study praying about it. And geraniums in the window. Red ones.

From Lila by Marilynne Robinson.

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May 15, 2018

part of the dance the fireflies are dancing

From A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle:

You human beings tend to want good things to last forever. They don’t. Not while we’re in time.”

“…Let’s feel the twirling of the earth,” Beezie said, “That’s part of the dance the fireflies are dancing, too. Can you feel it?”

Chuck squeezed his eyelids tightly closed. He gave a little gasp. “Oh, Beezie! I felt as though the earth had tilted!” He sat up, clutching at the rock. “It made me dizzy.”

“…It can be a bit scary, being part of earth and stars and fireflies and clouds and rocks. Lie down again. You won’t fall off, I promise.”

May 10, 2018

closer in a way to the original day of the crucifixion

Working to capture the first step of Charles Taylor’s argument within A Secular Age, James K.A. Smith summarizes five pre-modern ways of understanding (or of inhabiting life) that served for centuries as powerful obstacles to unbelief:

  1. Understanding of the individual person as “porous” and subject to the influence of many powerful outside realities (i.e. as vulnerable and existing within an enchanted world).
  2. Understanding that every life depends on every other life to maintain a healthy social fabric that sustains us all (i.e. that no one can rise or fall alone).
  3. Understanding shared eternal values or an aiming of all human life toward something beyond ordinary human flourishing.
  4. Understanding of a higher sense of time that is not merely linear or chronological.
  5. Understanding of a porous cosmos that is suspended within its own beyond (i.e. that we inhabit a world that is created and dependent on a reality that is greater than itself).

Here are a few excerpts from Smith. On the 3th understanding:

We miss this if we retroactively impose our “privatized” picture of faith upon abbeys and monasteries and imagine that the monks are devoting themselves to personal pursuits of salvation. The monks pray for the world in the world’s stead. So the social body loves this tension between transcendence and the mundane by a kind of division of labor.

Second, the social body in Christendom has a sense of time that allows even those daily engaged in domestic life to nonetheless pursue rhythms and rituals that inhabit this tension between the pressures of now and the hopes of eternity. Rhythms and seasons create opportunity to live the tension.

On the 4th understanding:

Higher times “introduce ‘warps’ and seeming inconsistencies in profane time-ordering. Events that were far apart in profane time could nevertheless be closely linked” (p. 55). This is somewhat akin to Kierkegaard’s account of “contemporaneity” in Philosophical Fragments: “Good Friday 1998 is closer in a way to the original day of the Crucifixion than midsummer’s day 1997” (Secular Age, p. 55). Our “encasing” in secular time has changed this, and so we take our experience of time to be “natural” (i.e., not a construal): “We have constructed an environment in which we live a uniform, univocal secular time, which we try to measure and control in order to get things done” (p. 59). So nothing “higher” impinges upon our calendars — only the tick-tock of chronos, and the self-imposed burdens of our “projects.”

On the 5th understanding:

It’s as if the universe has layers, and we are always folded into the middle. If the premodern self is “porous,” so too is the premodern cosmos.

January 9, 2018

St John saw the true temple restored, and this is the earliest picture we have of Christian worship

The fact that we call Jesus the Messiah, the Christ, which means the Anointed One, shows that Christians live and think in a world where the lost anointing oil and everything it stood for has been been restored. The perfumed anointing oil was fundamental to the original temple world. Tradition remembered that it represented oil from the tree of life,9 and the tree of life was the ancient symbol of the Holy Wisdom. One of the wise teachers of Israel had said: ‘Wisdom is a tree of life for those who hold on to her.’10

9 E.g. Clementine Recognitions 1.46.

…In the Church all this was restored. The name ‘Christians’, first used in Antioch14 meant more than just ‘followers of the Christ, the anointed one.’ Since Christians were also anointed at their baptism, the name means something like ‘little anointed ones’, and so we are all little Melchizedeks, little royal high priests. This is what St Peter said to those Christians in Asia Minor: ‘You are a royal priesthood’.15

…There is a lovely story in a 3rd century CE Syriac text which tells how Adam took three things with him when he left Eden: gold, frankincense and myrrh, which were the symbols of the original temple. These were buried with him in a cave when he died, and when the magi came seeking the infant Jesus, they took those same treasures from the cave to offer to the new Adam.17

17 Testament of Adam 3.6; there is a similar story in Syriac Book of the Cave of Treasures.

…When the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians, or maybe a short while before their invasion, the oil, the ark and the cherubim disappeared from the temple; but in the time of the Messiah and the true temple, it was said, they would return, along with the seven branched lampstand, the Spirit and the fire. The Spirit and the fire returned at Pentecost, and, if you read the Book of Revelation with temple-trained eyes, [opened eyes] you will find all the other missing items restored too. St John saw the true temple restored, and this is the earliest picture we have of Christian worship. This vision shaped even the simplest worship on earth, because the Christians were a part of it.

…The outer part of the temple was called the holy place; the inner part was called the holy of holies, sometimes translated ‘the most holy place’. Now ‘most holy’ in temple-talk meant more than ‘very holy’. It meant actively holy, infectiously holy. Anything ‘most holy’ conferred holiness, but only the anointing oil – kept in the holy of holies – could confer ‘most holiness’ on a person or on a sacred object. The LORD told Moses how to blend the perfumed oil, and then he told him to anoint the furnishings and the high priests of the tabernacle ‘that they may be most holy, and whatever touches them will become holy’.22 Anyone entering the holy of holies became holy, a holy one, and that meant an angel. The holy of holies was the visible sign of the Source of holiness at the centre.

…In the outer part of the temple was the golden table for bread, wine and incense.27 The table is mentioned in the tabernacle at Sinai28 and in Solomon’s temple,29 but nowhere in the Old Testament is there any detail about what the table and its offerings represented. Twelve huge loaves were set out with frankincense, and the Greek text says there was salt.30 The high priests [and by the time of Jesus, the other priests too] had to put fresh loaves into the temple each Sabbath, and then eat the ones they brought out. This was described as their ‘most holy’ food, which means it imparted holiness, and it was also an eternal covenant.31 The bread of the presence – ‘shewbread’ in some older Bibles – did not mean ‘set out in the presence’. It meant that the bread was, in some way, a presence. But whose presence did the high priests consume to nourish their holiness? The meaning of the temple furnishings and rituals was known only to the high priests, but some of them, such as Josephus, revealed enough to enable us to detect allusions elsewhere.

…I have deliberately not mentioned the first day of creation, because there is no ‘first day’ of creation in the text of Genesis. Both the Hebrew and the Greek say ‘Day One’, not ‘the first day’. The origin of creation was not within time but was outside time. It was not a case of first, then second, then third and so on. The origin of creation was outside time, and the text marked this by saying Day One, instead of ‘first day’.

Day One was represented by the holy of holies, the golden cube that housed the cherub throne of God. Whatever was within the veil was outside time and outside matter, since the outer area represented the world of time and matter. Within the veil, a state beyond time and matter, there could be no division, and so Day One was said to represent the divine Unity underlying all creation and from which all creation proceeds. It was also the state of the light before creation, the light of the divine presence. In temple-talk, this was the Kingdom. Some temple mystics were enabled to see through the veil to the light and unity beyond. The Transfiguration is the best-known account of such an experience. St John said that seeing and entering the Kingdom was for those who had been born from above. 37

On the sixth day of erecting the tabernacle, Moses purified the high priests to serve in the tabernacle, and on the sixth day in Genesis, Adam was created. The comparison shows that Adam was created to be the high priest of creation. He was created to be the presence of the LORD. When the high priest was anointed, the oil was put on his eyelids to open his eyes, but also on his forehead in the shape of a cross. This was the sign of the name of the LORD.38 The Christians also had this mark, given at baptism. In the Book of Revelation, St John tells how he saw a multitude whom the angel would mark on their foreheads, and then he saw them standing before the throne in heaven, which means they were in the holy of holies. They all had the name, that is, the cross, on their foreheads 39, and so they were all high priests.

…Now let us see how this understanding of high-priesthood can illuminate the Genesis story of Adam. He was created as the Image. He was set in the garden of Eden to till it and to keep it. That is the usual English translation 42, but the writer of Genesis chose his words carefully and did not in fact describe Adam as a gardener. Jewish interpreters in the time of Jesus did not think of Adam as a gardener. The Hebrew word translated ‘to till’ also means ‘to serve a liturgy’, and the Hebrew word translated ‘to keep’ means to preserve the teachings. The role of high-priestly role of Adam and of every human being was to lead the worship of creation and to preserve right teachings about how we should live in the world.

…Nobody knows for certain the origin of this Slavonic text, the Book of the Secrets of Enoch. The oldest known copy was made in the 14th century AD. It could have been translated from much older materials, or it could have been composed at any time before that. Either way, it shows how Psalm 110 (109) was understood by someone at that time in old Russia. Enoch entered heaven and stood before the throne. There the LORD commanded the archangel Michael to remove Enoch’s earthly clothing, to anoint him with perfumed oil, and to vest him in the clothes of the LORD’s glory. In temple reality, this was the garment of fine white linen worn in the holy of holies. This was the equivalent of Jesus’s shining white garment that the disciples saw at the Transfiguration. Enoch described the oil as like sweet dew, perfumed with myrrh.52 This was the temple oil, the dew of Psalm 110 (109). Then, said Enoch, ‘I looked at myself and I had become like one of his glorious ones’. Enoch had become an angel. He was an angel high priest, wearing the robes of divine glory.

“OUR GREAT HIGH PRIEST: THE CHURCH AS THE NEW TEMPLE” by Margaret Barker. Fr Alexander Schmemann Memorial Lecture. St Vladimir’s Orthodox Seminary, New York, 28 January 2012.

October 26, 2017

the end of the world was long ago

For the end of the world was long ago,
And all we dwell to-day
As children of some second birth,
Like a strange people left on earth
After a judgment day.

From “The Ballad of the White Horse” by
G.K. Chesterton.

January 18, 2016

that universe is not human

A non-religious man today ignores what he considers sacred but, in the structure of his consciousness, could not be without the ideas of being and the meaningful. He may consider these purely human aspects of the structure of consciousness. What we see today is that man considers himself to have nothing sacred, no god; but still his life has a meaning, because without it he could not live; he would be in chaos. He looks for being and does not immediately call it being, but meaning or goals; he behaves in his existence as if he had a kind of center. He is going somewhere, he is doing something. We do not see anything religious here; we just see man behaving as a human being. But as a historian of religion, I am not certain that there is nothing religious here.

…I cannot consider exclusively what that man tells me when he consciously says, ‘I don’t believe in God; I believe in history,’ and so on. For example, I do not think that Jean-Paul Sartre gives all of himself in his philosophy, because I know that Sartre sleeps and dreams and likes music and goes to the theater. And in the theater he gets into a temporal dimension in which he no longer lives his ‘moment historique.’ There he lives in quite another dimension. We live in another dimension when we listen to Bach. Another experience of time is given in drama. We spend two hours at a play, and yet the time represented in the play occupies years and years. We also dream. This is the complete man. I cannot cut this complete man off and believe someone immediately when he consciously says that he is not a religious man. I think that unconsciously, this man still behaves as the ‘homo religiosus,’ has some source of value and meaning, some images, is nourished by his unconscious, by the imaginary universe of the poems he reads, of the plays he sees; he still lives in different universes. I cannot limit his universe to that purely self-conscious, rationalistic universe which he pretends to inhabit, since that universe is not human.

From Mircea Eliade (source unknown).

August 31, 2014

driven by a kind of flywheel

He was giving me the picture of a man snarled in a tangle, helpless to get free.

I knew that he didn’t have the strength to get free. His life was driven by a kind of flywheel. He had submitted to it and accepted it. It was turning fast. To slow down or stop it and come to a place that was moving with the motion only of time and loss and slow grief was more, that day, than he could imagine.

I knew too that it was more than he could bear. He was in a way given over to machines, but he is not a machine himself. Right then, he could not bear the thought of coming back to stand even for a few hours by his dead father in the emptiness he once filled. He said he would come as soon as he could.

…And then there was the funeral. The sixth of May. Eleven o’clock in the morning. Not twenty minutes beforehand, Mattie came. He was standing by the coffin, flustered and shaken, everybody looking at him, before unrecognized him and could believe it was him. He had flown to Cincinnati, rented a car, dashed down the interstate, and made it barely in time. And he had to hurry back one breath after the preacher said the final amen. I had to think of all that it had cost, of all the engines that had run, just to give one man a few minutes of ordinary grief at his dad’s funeral, but I was completely glad to see him.”

From Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry (164-165).

September 23, 2013

love your crooked neighbour

As I Walked out One Evening
by W. H. Auden

As I walked out one evening,
     Walking down Bristol Street,
The crowds upon the pavement
     Were fields of harvest wheat.

And down by the brimming river
     I heard a lover sing
Under an arch of the railway:
     “Love has no ending.

“I’ll love you, dear, I’ll love you
     Till China and Africa meet
And the river jumps over the mountain
     And the salmon sing in the street.

“I’ll love you till the ocean
     Is folded and hung up to dry
And the seven stars go squawking
     Like geese about the sky.

“The years shall run like rabbits
     For in my arms I hold
The Flower of the Ages
     And the first love of the world.”

But all the clocks in the city
     Began to whirr and chime:
“O let not Time deceive you,
     You cannot conquer Time.

“In the burrows of the Nightmare
     Where Justice naked is,
Time watches from the shadow
     And coughs when you would kiss.

“In headaches and in worry
     Vaguely life leaks away,
And Time will have his fancy
     To-morrow or to-day.

“Into many a green valley
     Drifts the appalling snow;
Time breaks the threaded dances
     And the diver’s brilliant bow.

“O plunge your hands in water,
     Plunge them in up to the wrist;
Stare, stare in the basin
     And wonder what you’ve missed.

“The glacier knocks in the cupboard,
     The desert sighs in the bed,
And the crack in the tea-cup opens
     A lane to the land of the dead.

“Where the beggars raffle the banknotes
     And the Giant is enchanting to Jack,
And the Lily-white Boy is a Roarer
     And Jill goes down on her back.

“O look, look in the mirror,
     O look in your distress;
Life remains a blessing
     Although you cannot bless.

“O stand, stand at the window
     As the tears scald and start;
You shall love your crooked neighbour
     With your crooked heart.”

It was late, late in the evening,
     The lovers they were gone;
The clocks had ceased their chiming
     And the deep river ran on.

From Another Time by W. H. Auden (Random House, 1940)

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October 29, 2012

strange vacuum covered by this truly demonic word

Today no one, except the peculiar and esoteric race of men called “liturgiologists,” is interested in what was in the past a major preoccupation for Christians: the feasts and the seasons, the cycles of prayer, a very real concern about the “kairos“–the time of liturgical celebration. Not only the average layman, even the theologian seems to say: the world of Christian “symbolism” is no longer our world, all this failed, all this is gone and we have more serious affairs to attend to; it would be unthinkable, ridiculous to try to solve any real “problem” of modern life by referring it, say, to Easter or Pentecost, or even to Sunday.

…The real tragedy of Christianity is not its “compromise” with the world and progressive “materialism,” but on the contrary, its “spiritualization” and transformation into “religion.” …Christians were tempted to reject time altogether and replace it with mysticism and “spiritual” pursuits, to live as Christians out of time and thereby escape its frustrations; to insist that time has no real meaning from the point of view of the Kingdom which “beyond time.” And they finally succeeded.

…We must understand, therefore, that the intensive, almost pathological, preoccupation of our modern world with time and its “problem” is rooted in this specifically Christian failure. It is because of us, Christians, that the world in which we live has literally no time. Is it not true that the more “time saving” devices we invent, the less time we have? The joyless rush is interrupted by relaxation (“sit back and relax!”), but such is the horror of the strange vacuum covered by this truly demonic word, “relaxation,” that men must take pills to endure it, and buy expensive books about how to kill this no man’s land of “modern living.”

There is no time because Christianity, on the one hand, made it impossible for man to live in the old natural time, broke beyond repair the cycle of the eternal return. It has announced the fullness of time, revealed time as history and fulfillment, and has truly poisoned us once for all with the dream of a meaningful time. There is no time, on the other hand, because having announced all this, Christianity abandoned time, invited Christians simply to leave it and to think of eternity as of an eternal rest (if not yet “relaxation”). To be sure, one can still adorn the meaningless time with “beautiful symbols” and “colorful rites,” preferably “ancient.”

…The cross of Christ signified an end of all “natural” rejoicing; it made it, indeed, impossible. From this point of view the sad “seriousness” of modern man is certainly of Christian origin, even if this has been forgotten by that man himself. Since the Gospel was preached in this world, all attempts to go back to a pure “pagan joy,” all “renaissances,” all “healthy optimisms” were bound to fail. “There is but one sadness,” said Leon Bloy, “that of not being a saint.” And it is this sadness that permeates mysteriously the whole life of the world, its frantic and pathetic hunger and thirst for perfection, which kills all joy.

From chapter three in For the Life of the World by Alexander Schmemann (48-49, 54).

October 21, 2012

a tender young lamb’s summer afternoon

From The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander in The Chronicles of Prydain, Book 2, Chapter 14 (“The Price”):

“You make sport of us,” Taran cried angrily. “The price you ask is beyond what any of us can pay.”

Orddu hesitated. “Possibly you’re right,” she admitted. “Well, then, something a little more personal. I have it!” she said, beaming at Taran. “Give us—give us the nicest summer day you can remember! You can’t say that’s hard, since it belongs to you!”

“Yes,” Orwen said eagerly. “A lovely summer afternoon full of sunlight and sleepy scents.”

“There’s nothing so sweet,” murmured Orgoch, sucking a tooth, “as a tender young lamb’s summer afternoon.”

“How can I give you that?” protested Taran. “Or any other day, when they’re—they’re inside of me somewhere? You can’t get them out! I mean…”

“We could try,” Orgoch muttered.

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