As time goes by

As creatures of time, we participate in our own creation
March 1, 2005

“Time,” says the old joke, “is God’s invention to keep everything from happening at once.” Like many such jokes, however, it carries a deep truth. We are creatures of time, so immersed in the tides of before and after, of yesterday, today and tomorrow, that we have a hard time in getting our minds around the concept of eternity, that mysterious quality of what Eckhart called “the Godhead,” that place where the mind of God does indeed hold all things, cherish all things and know all things.

It is within time that God is made manifest to us as the “Maker of heaven and earth,” for when any new entity is created, from a speck of dust to a trillion suns, time comes into being -- there is a time when it did not exist and a time when it does. There is a Before and an After. Time, one might almost say, is a byproduct of the act of creation.

But what has this to do with this holy season of Lent, this time we have set aside to examine, as well as we can, the state of our inner being? And what does it have to do with the turmoil going on in our church -- and on our planet?

The answer, of course, is that it has everything to do with these things. For until we understand ourselves as creatures of time and destined for eternity, as beings in the process of becoming something we can barely imagine, then we are bound to remain small and fearful creatures, hoping for meaning but unable to grasp it.

Neither you nor I is the person we were 10 years ago, or five, or yesterday. This fact, which is commonplace knowledge to every one of us, is also the proof that we are works in progress, always growing -- or so we may hope -- always coming closer to the mind of the eternal, always finding new truths or rediscovering the validity of old ones. We have, in other words, been invited by our Maker to participate fully and freely in the act of our own creation.

This, it would seem, is a truism hardly worth mentioning -- and yet I have seen many terrified of it. “But what if you’re wrong?” a young man said to me once, and of course the only possible answer to such a question is, “Well, then you’re wrong. Most of the time we are. But we live in time, so we have the blessed ability to change.”

Living in time, after all, means we make our choices without knowing the future and usually without full knowledge of the past. We make them, moreover, surrounded by other equally free beings who also are making choices just as blindly. Is it surprising that the results usually are not what we thought they would be?

Life is not a test that we have to get right; it is an act of ultimate creativity in which the only true choice we have is to participate -- or not participate, which all too often means a descent into frustration, despair and anger.

The secret that lives in the heart of life is that the act of creation is profoundly an act of love. In the case of God, this love is so deep and so perfect that, as the creeds tell us, the Maker of time entered into time, entered it and linked it to the eternity where the Christ is always being born, always teaching, healing, laughing, suffering, always dying, always risen.

In this eternal love, we, too, have our being. “In every soul that shall be saved,” wrote the Blessed Julian of Norwich, “there is that which doth not assent to sin, nor ever shall,” and again, “All our travail and all our woe is naught but the failing of love on our part.” Our eternal destiny is worked out in time. In time, we deal with the travail and woe of lovelessness; in time, we suffer the griefs of failure and loss.

But it is also in time that we love and heal and sacrifice, live and laugh and somehow struggle toward the hard-won knowledge that creative love is the only reality and that such love is, in eternity, not lost but made perfect.