Time and Things That Are
By Joseph Pearce April 13th, 2022
Time taken does not perish because it is made of imperishable things, such as truth itself. It exists in eternity liberated from the shadow of transient things.
Time is a great mystery. It is… but we don’t really know what it is. We know that we are subject to it and that it is not subject to us. The sand of time allotted to us is slipping away and there’s nothing we can do about it. We are, as Gerard Manley Hopkins reminds us, “soft sift in hourglass”. We are on borrowed time which is why our very lives are owed, not owned. If we owned our mortal lives, we wouldn’t be forced to part from our mortal bodies when our leasehold on life expires.
Yes, time is a great mystery. It is as beyond our power as it is beyond our ken. We can’t make it. We can only take it or waste it.
Taking time is spending it gratefully. It is taking it on our knees so that we may experience it with a sense of wonder, contemplating the presence of its mystery and allowing the time taken to open our minds and hearts to commune with the mystery to which we are subject.
If we don’t take time, we are merely wasting it, and most of us spend far too much time wasting it. We distract ourselves to death with distraction itself, seeking distraction in distraction itself. We spend too much time with our godgets and not enough time with our God; we prefer virtual reality to reality itself; we fantasize our lives away in the gratification of needlessly created wants. We become junk junkies, addicted to trash and trivia. Our lives are full of activity but are empty of meaningful action, a dust storm in a desert. To put the matter bluntly, a life of wasted time is a wasted life.
Is it not deeply and divinely ironic that a life of time wasted on self-gratification leaves us agitated and frustrated? Is it not divinely comic, as well as tragic, that a life spent doing what we want does not get us what we want? Is it not a perplexing paradox that the pursuit of pleasure does not make us happy? Is it not strange that seeking satisfaction leaves us deeply unsatisfied? Faced with such paradoxical questions, we may well agree with St. Augustine that our hearts are restless until they rest in God.
Our hearts are restless until they rest in Reality Himself. God is the Real Presence of Reality. Seductively virtual substitutes will not do. They are not enough. Indeed, we should remind ourselves that the word satisfaction, comes from the Latin word satis, which means enough. Only God is enough. He is Enough. Nothing else will do. As St. Teresa of Avila says, God alone suffices.
If this is so, we need to escape from the vicious and vacuous vortex of virtual reality that threatens to distract us to death. We need to disconnect from this virtual reality so that we can connect to reality.
Squatting on the couch is squandering time. We need to get up and get out into the real world that God made. This morning’s sunrise is more real than anything that can be experienced online. Any tree is more alive and more real than anything that Microsoft has to offer. Any sparrow is more priceless than anything that Amazon has to sell.
We need to open our eyes and see that the world is charged with the grandeur of God. It shines out. It shows itself. It is an epiphanous blessing. We need to see every individual tree and every individual flower and every individual bird as something uniquely beautiful, something miraculous that shines forth the presence of the Lover who loved them into being. Opening our eyes in this way, in humility and wonder, is truly taking time and not wasting it.
Time taken is prayer.
And there is a deeper mystery hidden and ultimately revealed in such time taken.
Time taken is time redeemed. It connects time to eternity, both of which exist in God’s omnipresence.
With our finite perception, we can perceive only the past. Even the present, by the time that we perceive it, has become the immediate past. In psychological terms, the present is as empty of time as the geometrical point is empty of space. It exists only in metaphysics, even if our physical existence depends on it. This is why T. S. Eliot can say that “history is a pattern of timeless moments”.
Wherever we find ourselves in the present, it is always a direct consequence of where we have been in the past. The past has put us where we are, and we cannot now be present anywhere else. Our perceptions of the future, on the other hand, can only be a figment of our imagination. It is what might happen. The nearer the future is to us, the more predictable it is. The further the future is from us, the less predictable it becomes. We can be fairly sure of what we’ll be doing tomorrow but can have no idea of what we’ll be doing five years from now. This rootedness of reality in the concrete presence of the past is one of the things which makes history so important. We need to know where we’ve been in order to know where we are and where we’re going.
For God, however, there is no past and there is no future. For God everything is Present. This is the deeper meaning of Divine omnipresence; not that God is present everywhere, though He is, but that everything is present to God. For God, therefore, we cannot say that time was but only that time is. It is always present to Him. The mystics understand this. The true poets understand this. T. S. Eliot understands this when he proclaims in Four Quartets that “history is a pattern of timeless moments” woven in God’s eternal presence. It is God who is the end of time, as He is its beginning. He is the alpha and the omega, both of which are present to Him in each timeless moment.
Time taken is time taken with God. It is time redeemed which partakes of eternity. Time wasted is time apart from God. It has no part in God’s eternal presence. It has excommunicated itself from Him.
God is the good, the true and the beautiful. The good is, therefore, imperishable. So is the true. And so is the beautiful. That which comes from God cannot die. Time taken does not perish because it is made of imperishable things, such as truth itself. It exists in eternity liberated from the shadow of transient things. On the other hand, that which does not come from God has never truly lived. All of the evil afflicted in wasted time will pass away because it never truly was. It was only virtually real.
In the end, as in the beginning, only the truth remains. Imperishable. Holy. Eternal. In Heaven.