Friday, February 26, 2021

The Present Moment Is Eternity


Many years ago I stumbled upon a book in the public library, Holidays and Holy Nights by Christopher Hill,who first introduced me, a wholly Protestant girl, to the world of Catholicism.  I had no desire to become Catholic, but there was a beauty and a rhythm to this branch of faith that I found appealing, comforting. Recently, as I’ve begun working my way through the spiritual practices, I was reminded again of this lovely book and the in particular, the following passage. In my efforts to slow the pace of life, these words are a balm for my hurried soul, and what started me on my journey to a slower, sacred, and more meaningful way of living. 

"The whole point of the Year of the Lord is that there is more than one way to experience time. The understanding of time that most people live with is only one way to experience it. We could call it the worldly or profane understanding of time. It is an image of time as a straight horizontal line with a middle point, where we stand, called The Present. This line is always moving past us like a conveyor belt. On the left is the Past, where present moments constantly flow and immediately cease to exist. On the right is The Future, which is always moving toward the Present, but never actually arrives. 

This model is almost completely abstract. In other words, we never actually experience any of it. The present is gone before we are aware of it, and the past and future lie outside our grasp. Anxiety is built into it. Each human possesses only a limited quantity of this kind of time, and it is constantly passing us by, never to return. 

This view of time is not necessarily bad. It can be a useful tool. All human progress, in some sense, depends on it. But its not the whole or most important part of the picture. It is not the way we experience time in the deepest parts of ourselves, on the level of our hearts, and it is not the way God experiences time. Above and below this abstract, one-dimensional timeline, is well, reality. This is the world we actually experience, in which we “live and move and have our being”, as Paul said. The word “I Am” as God introduced himself to Moses. The present moment is eternity. 

For most of human history, people experienced time very different. The pattern was not a line, but a circle or cycle. The cycles of sun, moon and stars; of the seasons of the life, death and birth of plants, animals and human beings. Everything went away, but then in some way everything always came back. We can be sure that people living with this image of time still got anxious about things, but anxiety wasn’t built into the system itself. 

The image of the cycle contains a lot of truth. It expands the one-dimensional timeline into a two-dimensional circle and so takes in a lot more of reality. it is less abstract than the line, truer to experience and incorporates the fundamental patterns of creation. Years, seasons, months, weeks, days and hours all come from this model of time. Birth, life, death and rebirth are all in it. What it doesn’t include is the possibility for growth. In this cycle, the more things change, the more they stay the same. 

The Year of the Lord, the Christian understanding of time, is a variation on the cycle. The timeline, as we’ve said, is a one-dimensional model. The circle is two dimensional. The Year of the Lord is three-dimensional. It is modeled on the spiral, a circle that grows outward and upward. It grows in a vertical direction as well as horizontally, combining the straight line of the past, present and future with the height and depth of eternity. Like a spiraling tornado, it sucks one-dimensional time up into three dimensional reality. It uses time to break us out of time. It hallows and sacralizes time and transforms it into eternity. Year, season month, week, day and hour all concentric circles that lead deeper and deeper into the center; the present moment, where we live in the presence of God. The present is the Presence. And the present time ripples outward again, connecting us with all time and all the cosmos."

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