Tick, Tick, Tick: Time

Winging Toward Home

However far away they are, birds can find
their way home again and again and again.
But not God's children — God's children
aren't homesick for him.

God is our true home. Away from him,
we are lost.

(Thoughts to Make Your Heart Sing, by Sally Lloyd-Jones & Jago)

Perhaps the simple words of a child's devotion sums up much of what I have been trying to say to myself (and maybe a few others) over all these years. I often write about home — being home, missing home, finding home, our real home — because I think about home all the time. I'm a homebody, a body meant for a home, a lasting home. And a devotion meant for a six-year old sums it all up: “God is our true home. Away from him, we are lost.”

If you have ever moved from a home of some time, you know what it is like to lose a part of you in a place. By our possessions and our daily lives we invest a place with meaning. Nestled in a favorite chair by a window, we read, listening now and then to the familiar sounds of our home, from the hum of the refrigerator to the purr of the cat to the creaking of a floorboard above, a family member moving down familiar hallways. At night you lay in bed and listen to your house settle slowly back into the ground from which it rose, creaking under the weight, while the clock ticks out the seconds, only seconds, while we count, resting, resting deep in the bed of our place.

When you move you slowly divest a place of meaning, removing furniture, clocks, paintings, books, many more books, desks for writing, and the table of a multitude of family meals, and it becomes only a house again. Go farther and consider pulling up the carpet, removing the drywall, opening it to the world, and then even the frame of its existence passes away, even foundations are dug up and carried away, and there is only an impression in the dirt where it once was, even that covered in time by grass and shrubs and trees, until one day it passes into memory and farther still into a deep forgetfulness. Dust to dust. A life deconstructed.

That could be a depressing train of thought. I am glad I am not moving. And yet take heart.

We live on. We carry every memory of home with us, inside. Whatever love and hope and care with which we invest our places, none is lost. We live on eternally to see its fruition, to see all our earthly places reborn and completed in a new earth whose builder and maker is God.

“God is our true home. Away from him we are lost.” He is preparing a place for us, a final home. There, all that we love and cherish in our homes here, all the dear possessions and sweet memories, and even all the bad memories somehow transformed, will find rest. Jesus said, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him” (Jn. 14:23).

Oh, I'm homesick alright. All God's children do wing toward Home… again and again and again.


Sabotaging the Regime of Speed

AllFleshIsGrass"The power of history is not to make us more informed, but more whole. . . . Remembering is sabotage against the regime of speed. . . . It's an act of faith too."

(D.J. Waldie, in Where We Are Now: Notes from Los Angeles)

I once had a conversation with one of my children about the importance of history.  It amounted to a back and forth of "History is important" countered by "No, it's dumb."  I said "You remember how you walked up the steps to your room?  Now, what if you couldn't remember?"  (Visualize rolling of eyes.)  See, history is important, right?"  And then there was that conversation closer, "Oh, that's different."

That is different, only it's different because that's our own micro-history and what we were really discussing was macro-history, history writ large, like WWII, the fall of the Iron Curtain, or even medieval times.  About this, as it is well known, we have a cultural amnesia, living as we are in a time in which the disease of present-ism is epidemic. 

Others may speak eloquently to that, but what I was taken with was Waldie's initial comment that "remembering is sabotage against the regime of speed."  Our time is characterized by the idolatry of speed, whether it's faster hard drives, instant communication, or a flattening of the time from here to  there.  Pretty soon we can suspend disbelief and pretend there is no there, that everything is here, as it virtually is.  Right now, if I wanted to, I could see a place in and speak with a person from every time zone on the planet.  I don't want to.  There is something deeply unsettling about such a flattening of time and place and ignoring of the natural rhythms of day and night.  My contrarian bent rears its head.

For Christians, the regime of speed and homogenizing of time and place is deeply unbliblical.  Remembering - something we are repeatedly exhorted to do in Scripture - forces us to stop movement of mind and body, to, as God commands via the Psalmist, "be still and know that I am God,"  to take note of our place in our Creator's economy. Whether it is the constant exhortation of the Israelites to remember the Exodus, God's deliverance of his chosen people, or the Apostle Paul's exhortation to remember the death and resurrection of Christ, remembering is a rebel act of sabotage by which we are delivered by God from a regime of speed to a place of light where time nearly ceases in the presence of truth.  I think of those very long minutes that ticked by in 4th grade as my friends and I waited for the big hand on the clock to hit 3:30 and the bell to ring.  Like that, remembering is also waiting --- waiting for God, for revelation, for the jig-saw puzzle of the past to shed a bit of light on the present, for God to show up in the higgledy-piggledy details of a life already lived.

In his own inimical way, Waldie does not always draw out the meaning of a phrase, good prose-poet that he is.  He says remembering "is an act of faith too."  That bears thinking about, and our thoughts may carry us (as with poetic language) on paths not necessarily intended by the poet. But what I think this means is that when we remember rightly we mark our belief in a providential ordering of past events, both the big stories and our own little thread of personal history.  For if we don't believe that history is in any sense ordered, that all is random, that there is nothing predictable but unpredictability, then history is valueless.  The way home may not be the same way home as it was yesterday.  The ground may have shifted.  Power that corrupted 100 years ago may do so no longer.  People who can't seem to be good will all of a sudden act justly, kindly, and wisely all the time, or vice versa.  Even the atheist can't live with a nihilism that renders history meaningless.

Note I didn't say that history never appears random or seems meaningless.  It does.  Whether it's tsunamis or tornadoes or the less than equal distribution of resources to nations, or why we can never seem to get a leg up, lost our job, or suffer unrequited love, the question of why stretches far across the landscape of history, both communally and personally.

"An act of faith?"  I think he means not faith in history nor God forbid faith in man.  It's not the why of history but the Who behind it all that matters.  Why addresses secondary causes; Who, the primary.  When we know the Who, we can trust that all the seemingly meaningless threads of our lives will come together, in the end, in the One who holds together all things, and who on that day sets aside even time.  May He speed that day.

Until then, we wait, and remember, watch the clock, and somewhere in our past see what is timeless and beyond the regime of speed.

[The image is of a mult-media work by Asheville, NC Carol Bomer entitled "All Flesh Is Grass."  Carol describes it this way: This is an assemblage which includes a clock that turns the hand in front of a light box. The light box shines through a pair of X-ray hands (a poignant night light) that reach upward like the grass motif repeated twice at the top of the piece. The photo is my husband and friends when he was six. It has a removable frame which exposes text that reads, "...for all flesh is like grass, and all its glory like the flower of  grass; the grass withers and the flower fades, but the Word of the Lord abides forever."   I liked it for the clock, in its reference to time, in the time-lessness it exudes.  For more information on Carol's art, visit Soli Deo Gloria Studio.]

When All Times Become One Time

On my first grade report card, my teacher, Mrs. Nell Teague, comments that "Stephen is so shy in class that he hardly ever contributes to class discussion." That was first quarter. The next quarter she says "Stephen speaks with less hesitation but almost never volunteers without being asked something specifically. The third quarter there is only this ominous comment: "May we have a conference Friday, April 16th at 2:45?" I suppose they planned some intervention to get me talking. I don't know what transpired, but by the last quarter of first grade she is able to write "I am delighted with Stephen's maturation - he is so much more outgoing and relaxed." I doubt that. I think she was just being hopeful.

I don't think I liked Mrs. Teague very much. But hearing her describe my hesitancy to speak up in class is to be thankful, to be reminded that I am not so much different than I was at the age of six, 47 years ago. I remain reluctant to speak up.  I have no problem being in front of groups of people, with public speaking or leading, but I do not like to speak up when in crowds of people. It's somewhat comforting to know I didn't just get that way overnight, and I'm probably not going to change.  In fact, I don't think I want to change.  What I have long realized is that there are plenty of other people who can articulate my inchoate thoughts (as well as no small number of blowhards), and so, given that it comes so natural for them, I let them.   It is who I am.  The core of who I was then is still the core of who I am now.  I am the same person, and for all the deficiencies I own, I am glad.

To look at my six-year old self, to peer back in time across a million moments good and bad since then, is an odd, sometimes surreal experience.  Reading others' words about me makes me feel close in time to who I was then, almost as if the intervening 47 years are elastic, accordion-like, sometimes stretching so as to feel a gulf impossibly wide and unbridgeable, sometimes collapsing to only inches like moments apart.  Somewhat akin to that odd sense of deja vu that comes upon us unaware, this elasticity of time surprises us, like something otherworldly and outside our day-to-day experience.  I'm not being blasphemous when I say it is God-like, a faint and fleeting shadow of the way God experiences time all the time.

That God is beyond time, even supra-dimensional, perhaps explains why we have such difficulty with apocalyptic literature in Scripture.  As Catholic writer Michael O'Brien recently said about the Book of Revelation:

We are in the final battle, we are in the apocalypse, we are in the book of Revelation, which the Church, beginning with most of the Church Fathers, believes to be a vision of the entire unfolding of salvation history after the Incarnation, culminating in the total victory of Christ over the entire cosmos and its restoration to the Father. The book of Revelation is not a schematic diagram or a flat blueprint or a purely linear time-line. It is a mysterious multi-dimensional vision which surely contains linear-chronological aspects, but that is not the whole thing. Indeed it is not the main thing.

In other words, God's revelation to John was a reflection of his multi-dimensional character, in time (or times) but also outside time.  Given our finitude, it is difficult for us to fully or easily grasp, and we revert to time lines and graphs to show its fulfillment, reducing it to something understandable, trackable, and (sometimes) even manageable.  God is not like that.  He defies neat categories.

And so do we.  We are made in God's image.  As such, impressed upon is is something of God's nature.  Nevertheless, theologians often distinguish between the communicable  and incommunicable attributes of God.  As it goes, the latter belong to God alone --- things like self-existence (asceity) or immutability (unchangeableness) or eternality (transcendence of time) --- as opposed to the former --- things like love, mercy, and goodness, or the fact that we create just as God created.  However, without minimizing that unbridgeable gulf between Creator and creature, I sometimes wonder if if such neat categorizations always hold up.

Take eternality.  Clearly God is everlasting in a sense that we are not and never will be, but is that attribute entirely incommunicable?  Michael Horton, who adopts Augustine's view of eternity, concludes that "eternity transcends temporal categories," and that [w]hile God transcends time, redeemed creatures will experience a regathering of their times in perfect joy and fulfillment."  if we experience this regathering then in whole, why not on occasion, even fleetingly, now?  Is what I experienced at six years of age really so far removed from where I am now?  Sometimes it doesn't feel like it.

So. . . Hello Mrs. Teague, class, Trina Payne, and Jimmy Simms.  It's me, Stephen, now just Steve.  I'm the same kid.  Really.  It's been a long time, I know.  Trina, I hope you found a husband.  Sorry it didn't work out for us no matter how many pennies you saved for it.  Mrs. Teague, what exactly did you talk to my mother about in that conference?  Jimmy, I forgive you for blabbing about me kissing Trina during rest time.  And people, I still don't speak up much, and I don't think I ever will.

 I look forward to Heaven, to the collapsing of all times, to the fulfillment of time, to the time when all times become in some mysterious sense one time.  Until then, I like to think I have just a glimpse of that through something as iconic as a report card, a window into another of my times.

Looking Back. . . With Wonder

Growing up happens in a heartbeat.  One day you're in diapers; the next day, you're gone.  But the memories of childhood stay with you for the long haul.

I remember a place, a town, a house, like a lot of other houses, a yard, like a lot of other yards, on a street like a lot of other streets.  And the  thing is, after all these years, I still look back. . . with wonder.

(Kevin Arnold, in the Final Episode of The Wonder Years)

Say what you want about nostalgia, but the longing for the past or at least what we think was the past, has its rewards.

I discovered a new word a few days ago. Plangent.  As in resounding loudly.  Or as in a resonant and mournful sound.  Sometimes that is what the past sounds like.  It beats loudly in our ears, swells up in our hearts, as in a plangent longing for the past.

I don't think a plangent longing for the past is either helpful or even Christlike, and yet one can enter in for a moment so as to feel the weight of the past, to understand how it might feel for those who live in such lament, with the daily beat of missed opportunities, lost golden ages of youth, and past loves to preoccupy them.  But not only that.  The longing for the past is also a window through which we see our future, as the best of the past carries in it the seed of our future Home.

Kevin Arnold had it right.  In the Summer before 12th grade, on the cusp of college, he and Winnie Cooper sensed that change was coming.  They were no longer kids; the world was changing, and they were changing and would soon be moving on, saying goodbye to childhood, to the games and pettiness of the middle school years, to high school and changing relationships with each other and parents.  An older, wistful Kevin Arnold breaks in, the last words uttered in the series, saying "I can still look back. . . with wonder."

So here's to old girlfriends, backyard games, nights laying on the top of my father's station wagon looking at the stars and talking with my best friend.  To smelly locker rooms, long summers, first cars, and impossible dreams.  To a if not always happy at least less complicated life and world, where the boundaries were clearer and the people both bad and good more easily categorized.  To a street, a home, a room, and a family I could always come back to.

I never get over the obvious.  It was all there, and now it's gone.  Gone where? I don't know.  And yet it fills my mind, informing every thought and move, and sometimes seems closer than the ground beneath my feet.  I carry the past with me, not as burden but as a treasured gift that grows more weighty with time.

I am Kevin.  I grew up on those suburban streets, in those backyards, in a cookie-cutter house a lot like every other house.  Every morning I got up and my Mom made my breakfast and I walked to school or rode the bus or drove my car, and I sat in classes some good some boring and listened to the snap of the line on the flagpole the chatter in the halls and the droning of the teachers, and came home and watched Gilligan's Island or I Dream of Jeanie and ate a bologna sandwich and did a very little homework and ran and played until my Mom yelled out the door that it was dinner, and ate dinner feet in my chair and book in my hand and called my girlfriend or went to her house or walked the streets with my friends and then went to bed.  And then I got up and did it again, and again.

You know what?  Parts were sad, and parts were happy.  But when I look back, I am filled with wonder.  Those were, after all, the wonder years.  And yet they remind me that a wonder-working God does that every day, making my plangent longing for the past into a plangent longing for a Heaven with all the good and true and beautiful of the past.  I'm living the days of future passed.  Don't you like the way that sounds?

[I first wrote about The Wonder Years here in 2008, and then in 2009 here.  Maybe I should write a book about it, as I often relate life to something that happened in the show.  Never released on DVD, it is at least available now as reruns on The Hub Network.  The show had some excellent writing and captured what it was to grow up in suburbia in the late Sixties and early Seventies.  I commend it to you.]

A Hinge of My History

Author and historian Thomas Cahill's sparkling prose is what animates his series of history books known as "Hinges of History."  Cahill has a wonderful way of bringing to life the habitations and byways and ideas of places like Medieval Ireland, the Palestine of Jesus, or Ancient Greece.  To the point, Cahill says that the "hinges" refer to "those essential moments when everything was at stake, when the mighty stream that was Western history was in ultimate danger and might have been divided into a hundred useless tributaries or frozen in death or evaporated altogether."  Then, in this narative of grace, he points to the arrival of great "gift-givers" who "provided for transition, for transformation, even for transfiguration, leaving us a world more varied and complex, more awesome and delightful, more beautiful and strong than the one they had found."  What he really recounts is how history is providentially undergirded, luminous from within if we only observe.

What is true of the great history of cultures is also true of you, and of me.  Our own personal histories are not just some long tragi-comic narrative, a purposeless muddling through of life, but histories framed by turning points, "hinges' if you will, moments in time when critical decisions were made, new life trajectories were set, and blessing or curse followed.  Inauspicious moments and seemingly small decisions can have long consequences, and while the results are not irredeemable (when they go bad) they often do force us into certain paths.  Like taking the wrong path at a fork in the road, we may not be able to go back but, rather, may have to make the best of the path we are on.  On the other hand, the blessings that can flow from seemingly insignificant decisions or events can also be portentous.

We all have our own hinges.  I recall one.  In 1976 I graduated from high school.  I had become a Christian in high school though I had no fellowship, no discipleship in the faith other than that provided by books (good though they were).  I was outside the main social circles of my large suburban high school, uncomfortable with high school fellowships like Young Life which seemed filled with kids who already had everything, already had plenty of friends.  I was painfully shy and insecure.  The social hurdle posed by a mass of popular kids was too much for me.  So I remained an alone Christian.

At the same time I knew that I needed fellowship.  I had read about it.  I wanted things to be different.  I wrote letters to all the campus student fellowships at N.C. State, where I was admitted, something I now look back upon as a somewhat surprising initiative from someone who lacked initiative.  All of them wrote back and let me know of their campus activities.  However, three students in leadership with Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship wrote long handwritten letters to me --- Sam, Rich, and Buck.  They told me there was a vollyball and ice cream social on registration day.  I made up my mind to go. 

When registration day came, I joined the crush of students and did what I had to do.  Then I walked through campus and down the sidewalk on Dan Allen Drive.  There was a grassy area where a vollyball net was set up.  Three guys were sitting on a slight hill, their backs to me.  And this is the hinge:  Every natural impulse in me told me not to go over to them, that I could always go later.  And yet I did.  I did the unnatural.  I recall it was like watching my feet move without willing them to move.

One of the guys I met there that day, David, is a friend I still have lunch with monthly.  Another guy I met that day, Bruce, became my roommate for three years and is still a fellow church member.  I was welcomed into that fellowship, went to retreats, was in a small group Bible study, attended the Urbana Missions Conference, met my wife of 29 years, became a leader, and grew in faith (as well as graduated from college).  Blessing upon blessing followed from that one decision to talk to those guys sitting on the hill.

I'm not presumptuous enough to think that it all came down to me.  My "hinge" was secured, fastened to the One who providentially guides all events.  In the mystery of God's sovereignty and my choice, the door could have swung the other way and I could have walked on by.  Thank God it did not.

The guys who reached out to me, who wrote me letters and spent many hours with me, were Cahill's "gift-givers," instruments of God's grace in my life who took part in His transformation of my life.  The "hinge" was that essential moment on a stretch of sidewalk on Dan Allen Drive when my feet took an unnatural path and the door opened in on a world of rich blessing I could just as easily have missed.  Even today, I drive that way, look at that sidewalk, imagine that field, remember, and give thanks to the One who pulled me in.

And that's just one "hinge of history," one seemingly insignificant moment in one life among billions.  But it matters.  They all do.

Letting Time Go

8:45     Went to breakfast
10:00   Went back to room

My daughter is tweeting her vacation.  Well, not really.  She's just writing things such as this down in a one by two inch memo pad she carries in her pocket.  She's not publishing it, at least not yet.  I asked her why she is doing this.  She says she doesn't know.  It's just fun, she says.  I asked her if I could see her list. She said no.


This afternoon I walked out of our ground level hotel room door, crunched across the gravel between our room and the path that circles the property, navigated the cacti on the hill and started walking.  It was like being among old friends.  I suppose it is the starkly different surroundings of the desert that make me hyper-attuned to the plant life and wildlife around me.  I see pine trees around 355 days a year.  I take them for granted. Here, it's not so.

I decide to get off the gravel path, which is a bit too cultivated, and I take to an adjacent wash that is just dirt.  Maybe in the Summer the wash may be full of water, during a monsoon rain, but now it's bone-dry. Imagine the sound of the birds which are everywhere here.  Two desert hares skitter across the wash, two of the eight to ten I see in the 40 minutes while I walk.  I've seen javelinas (wild pigs) here on occasion, rooting in earth and snorting.  None today.  I've even seen a coyote, warily watching me from a distance.  In the heat of the day they are likely farther up in the hills that are shadowed by the Santa Catalina Mountains.  I look up at them.  It's difficult to believe that 11,000 feet up, where I see green, there is a birch and fir tree forest, maybe even snow.  The browns and greens are in such sharp contrast to an azure sky, the blue so piercing it almost hurts.  I look down and ahead.  Last time I was here I nearly stepped on a rattlesnake.  Not everyone here is friendly.

Let me introduce you.  Here is the palo verde tree, and there, and there. They're all around. The word means green stick, a tree with green branches that photosynthesize in the place of leaves which are difficult to maintain in the desert.  There is the jumping cholla, a cactus so named because its needles ended up (that is jumped) into the hindquarters of many a cowboy.  They don't really jump.  There's the staghorn cholla, which is severe looking and has a tinge of red its green branches, and the barrel cactus, a fat squatting type.  Yucca.  Brittle-bush with yellow blooms.  Prickly pear cactus, with its Mickey Mouse ears.  And towering over them all the saguaro cactus, many of which were germinated in the last century. I mean the 1800s. Because the arms on each of them all have a different shape, I even recognize some.  After all, I have been coming here for 25 years.  They haven't changed much.  Maybe they grew a foot in all that time.  Maybe not.  They will outlive me and my children and grandchildren will visit them.

I said old friends.  Maybe what I really mean to say is that I am among my elders.  Walking here I have the sense of timelessness.  I see mountains that were here long before the first settlers came West.  Most of those here preceded me.  They may be inanimate, but if rocks cry out and trees clap their hands (as Scripture says), then perhaps these elders say something too.


11:00    Went to pool
12:00    Tired. Bored.  Went back to room.

What is it with this hyper-attentiveness to time? I'm not sure what possesses her.  It's not a journal. Nothing profound in what she writes down.  Maybe it's just documentation, validation that she is here.

I could have told her that.

Maybe, just maybe, she'll take to the wash and find something there to really write about, something that will make her stop counting time, stop measuring it at all.  Maybe she'll discover things that are timeless.

Like the cactus wren poking his head from his nest in the saguaro.  At 1:22.

In Ordinary Time

CIMG0256 "Be still, and know that I am God."  (Ps. 46:10a)

One of the reasons I have visited Arizona and other Western states once or twice a year for the last 25 years is, apparently, for solitude --- to be in a place where I can listen to and see things I have difficulty experiencing in the Eastern urban area where I live. Even in a park near my home, the sounds of traffic, airplanes, and people’s voices are ever-present --- the horns and motors, the drone of planes, the bits of “he said, and I said, and can you believe” kind of conversations that I weave in and out of, a constant soundtrack that obscures a more subtle layer of things to see and hear.

Last Wednesday I stood beneath this enormous concrete cross about 25 miles east of Nogales, Arizona, just past the wispy community of Lochiel, constructed as some sort of memorial to one of Coronado's fellow conquistadors by the side of the dirt and gravel road we traveled on through the fields of the San Raphael Valley, making our way to the old mining town of Bisbee. There was no one around. Not a car. Not a house. Not even livestock. We passed two vehicles on our journey --- a Border Patrol agent and a mailman in a dusty pickup truck, both doing their lonely work along a not so well-traveled road.

CIMG0257 Given the lack of man-made sounds and structures, I was entranced by the few things I did see and hear when we stopped our car. There was the cross juxtaposed with the clear, empty blue sky --- a testimony, a claim, a reminder that we are not alone. There was a windmill flagged by the biblical name of Samson. Surveying the landscape, there was a single shade tree, perhaps an Arizona sycamore or scrub oak, golden fields of grass, called llanos, as far as I could see, and mountains and hills on three sides --- behind us, the Patagonia Mountains, north of us, the Canelo Hills, and east, the Huachuca Mountains --- their colors changing as the sun moved lower in the sky, shadows growing longer with day’s end.

Listening carefully, at first I heard nothing, just silence. But then I began to notice the soft rise and fall of the wind, the gentle rustling of the grasses, the occasional squeak of the windmill as the blades turned. I heard and saw a few cactus wrens, alighting for a time on the telephone lines stretched overhead, and I looked up and noticed how the wires form a musical staff, the wind’s whistling sound like a song stretched over them.

CIMG0263 I looked at my watch and realized that seconds and minutes and hours don’t mean much here where time might be measured by the position of the sun, where most days are the same except for the variables of weather. Let’s just call this ordinary time, where no clocks are ticking, no appointments waiting, where there is no “breaking news,” where what happened today on the stock market is of little interest, where the machinations of the politicians in Washington have little impact, where no one cares who did what to who in Hollywood or what happened on The Office last night.

One of my favorite writers, Frederick Buechner, majors in a celebration of silence, of learning to reflect on and contemplate our lives. That’s difficult if we are always in an urban environment. Buechner says: “Pay attention to what happens to you. Pay attention to who you see. Pay attention to what you say, what they say. Pay attention to what the day feels like. Observe. That wonderful phrase, ‘religious observances,’ means, among other things, just what it says. Observe religiously. Observe deeply. Don't just get through your life, as all of us are inclined to do, on automatic pilot, not much noticing anything. “

I think of Elijah, asleep under a broom tree in the desert outside Beersheba in Judah, waiting for God to do something, anything, or sleeping in a cave in Horeb, waiting for the gentle whisper of God’s voice in the wind, a voice saying to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”

CIMG0269 If I lay down here and slept, awakening on a new day, it would likely be the same. The tree would still be doing its important work of photosynthesis and shade-bearing, the windmill still turning, if there is wind, or not. The cross would still boldly if silently make God’s claim to every square inch of this universe and make restless travelers like me consider a Kingdom where a king comes not to take the riches of the land and make vassals of its peoples but to give not only riches but His life away.  Christ, the King of love.

It might rain, or it might not. The wind may blow, gently or with bluster, or not, faintly humming over the telephone lines overhead.

It’s all strangely comforting. If I’d had time, I might have stayed awhile, looked around, and better listened to the sound of ordinary time. Who knows? I might have even heard a voice calling my name, saying to me, “What are you doing here?” and then, “Go back the way you came.”

Spirit So Big

dream "There is no other day. All days are present now. . . . This moment contains all moments."  (C.S. Lewis, in The Great Divorce)

Fall has come to my home, and it's welcome.  A couple days ago the 90 degree heat finally gave way to chill 50-something mornings and 78 degree days, with sharply blue skies and radiant sunlight.  I opened the windows, and the sounds of the neighborhood returned to the interior of my home after the hermetically-sealed air conditioned silence of the hot and humid Summer --- the morning birds waking, the squirrels fussing about whose tree this is anyway and where oh where did I hide that nut, the slap of the newspaper on the driveway, the garage doors opening for the first over-achieving employees on their way to work, the thud of a pine cone (or sleepy bird) on my roof, the waking creak-stretching of my settling home.  I know I've been here before, last year, for sure, and the one before, but even, I remember, as a child --- waking in the morning before anyone else, listening.  I roll over, locate myself in time: 6:38 a.m.

Last night I took a drive in this air, the windows down and moonroof open to a nearly full moon, drinking up the blackness of the night and just-so-cool air, listening to one voice, that of Jan Krist, singing "And the spirit gets so big/ and the body gets so small/ The spirit clutters all life's corners/ and it spills into life's halls/ And the spirit gets so big" ("Spirit So Big," from Love Big, Us Small).  The heat came on.  Headlights probed the darkness.  At that late hour, the blacktop seemed noticeably relieved, restful even.  I've been here before, driving, dreaming,

I cannot now remember how many years ago it was that I first heard the music of Jan Krist, but it was unlike anything I had ever heard before, a revelation to me.  It was lyrically deliberative music, fresh out of life-experience, with a sound like the gentle encouragement of a friend.  Right now, I can hear these songs --- "Spirit So Big," "Put Her to the Test," "Wing and a Prayer," "Can't Close My Eyes" --- and a dozen times and places rush in, all present now, in this moment.  There's a first performance, unsure of herself, and yet painfully honest and gifted; more than a dozen concerts, showcases, and radio interviews in a places from Albuquerque to Cleveland to Peoria; difficult conversations and laughter among friends; the business of the business, and the music, always the music.  Ten or fifteen years later it's all here, all real, every day present now.

I'm not being nostalgic.  I'm not being mystical.  I'm not suggesting I want to return to some past moment that I've made larger than life by selective memory, or that there is some mysterious thing going on here that we can never, never understand.  It's just that it's my common experience that these images and remembrances of past events, people, and places are palpable.  The distance between them and me is paper thin.  They're here.  There's truth in what the aged mean when they say "It seems like just yesterday that. . .", and I know now what they mean.  In a real sense, It was just yesterday.  We've been there before.

6:40.  Was it just last night I was listening to those songs?  It seems I was tunneling back through the years in those moments and I'm still connected, always connected.  I roll over, close my eyes, and those places are still there, and I feel that if I put my hand out in the early morning air I might just touch them.  Almost.

It didn't have to be this way.  We need memories, for sure, so we don't repeat all our mistakes, forget our own faces, forget where we left our keys and even what the keys are for.  Memories could have been just the practical stuff, the stuff we need to get by, two-dimensional black and white text messages or soundbytes of "just the facts," and not the rich four dimensional realities they are.  And if everything matters, then this matters.  We're made this way for a reason.

I think it's because we're made for eternity.  Cast a line back to the deep pool of those opening chapters of Genesis where God fingerpaints the panoramic drama of Creation in great broad strokes, and I land here, on Chapter  1, verse 26, where the self-existent, Eternal One says "Let us make man in our image. . . ."  Reel that verse in and try to take hold of its slippery existence and you'll realize how difficult it is to grasp.  Certainly it means we image God in some clear ways.  Dorothy Sayers, for example, said we image Him as creators, and  we do.  Jan Krist does.  Everyone does.  But it's much more than that.  Marred as we are by sin, and fallen from the grand place we were intended to occupy, we still image God --- in his timelessness, his eternality.  When we sense the almost tangible presence of memories, we experience a fleeting and pale imitation of what He knows all the time, or all the not-time, that this moment contains all moments, that all days are present now.  Time drops away.  Everything's present now.

Driving, driving.  I've been here before.  In a '72 Camaro, my just sixteen -year-old self slicing through the darkness of four counties, after midnight, liberated at last from the confines of the walking/biking life, the eight-track playing The James Gang, Traffic, or Led Zeppelin, stopping late night in a foreign county for a Coke, and  laughing with my best friend John.  The air is the same, the same feeling of freedom and pure joy, driving with the music on.

6:45.  The alarm sounds.  I've been here before.  I put my feet on the floor, rise again, making memories, imaging God, surrounded by a crowd of witnesses, all the places I've been, the people I've known, the things I've done, all with me now.  And I'm thankful: I've lost nothing.  Time has passed, I've moved on, people have left, I'm older.  But they're all here, all with me.  I'm timeless.  I'm built for eternity.  The body gets smaller, but the spirit's so big. 

Thank you, Jan.

Tick, Tick, Tick (Part VII): Trippin' With Hugh Ross

Hugh_ross_2 "God's invisibility and untouchability keep our yearnings focused right where they rightly belong, on the supernatural realm that awaits us.  His written Word combines with evidences in this spectacular but limited physical realm to communicate that His desire and plan involve transporting us, at some future point along our time line, across our dimensional barriers into His super-dimensional realm."  (Hugh Ross, in Beyond the Cosmos: The Extradimensionality of God: What Recent Discoveries in Astronomy and Physics Reveal About the Nature of God)

I've met my Timothy Leary, and his name is Hugh Ross.  Reading this Christian physicist's book, Beyond the Cosmos, is mind-altering, even mind-expanding, sans psychotropic drugs.  While I'm only about halfway through the book, already I'm fascinated by Ross's ability to help us imagine what is really unimaginable -- the existence of more than four dimensions and how such an understanding (if you can call our imaginings, "understanding"), helps us begin to appreciate the paradoxes of scripture, like the Trinity, the omnipresence of God, the nature of Heaven, predestination and free will, and so on.

While reading about this, a question came to me that I don't think Ross directly addresses, that is, if we are made in the image of God, in what sense, if any, do we image (using the word as a verb) the super-dimensionality of God?  For example, as God is not bound by our space and time dimension, is there some faint way in which we participate in such transcendence by virtue of having been made in God's image?  I think maybe so.

Perhaps some of the odd sensations we have are a result of this imaging.  For example, most people have experienced deja vu, a sense of having been in a place before.  Well, perhaps in some sense we have.  Perhaps this is a very, very faint reflection of God's super-dimensionality, his omnipresence.  Or, as I have mentioned before, I feel at times the sense of being very close to my childhood.  Perhaps this propinquity is a pale reflection of God's being outside of our plane of time.  And then there are the really odd coincidences.  For example, a few years ago I was in Tucson, Arizona at a restaurant, nearly 3000 miles from home, when, getting up to excuse myself I passed in front of a waiter.  He stopped me and said "Aren't you. . ." and said my full name.  I said yes.  He said "I was in your 5th grade.  You haven't changed a bit."  Well, given that it had been 32 years, that was amazing.  I did not recognize his name or his face.  So why do things like that happen?

These odd happenings can be nothing, of course, or they can be as I have mentioned -- God's image-bearers experiencing in just the slightest way a touch of God's super-dimensionality.  For me it's just a reminder, a message from beyond, that we were built for glory, for something indescribable.  Like Ross says, it keeps our yearnings focused right where they belong, on that place called Heaven.

Read Hugh Ross.  It's quite a trip.

Tick, Tick, Tick (Part VI): Leaving Time Behind

Clip_image002_22 As I approach my own end, which cannot now be long delayed, I find Jesus' outrageous claim to be, himself, the resurrection and the life, ever more captivating and meaningful.  Quite often, waking in the night as the old do, and feeling myself to be half out of my body, so that it is a mere chance whether I go back into it to live through another day, or fully disengage and make off; hovering there between life and death, seeing our dear earth with its scents and sounds and colors, as I have known and loved them. . . . ; recalling the golden hours of human love and human work, at the same time vouchsafed a glimpse of what lies ahead, Eternity Rising in the distance, a great expanse of ineffable light --- so placed, I hear Jesus' words ring triumphantly through the universe, spanning my two existences, the one in Time drawing to a close and the one in Eternity at its glorious beginning. . . . Yet in the limbo between living and dying, as the night clocks tick remorselessly on, and the black sky implacably shows not one single streak or scratch of gray, I hear those words: I am the resurrection and the life, and feel myself to be carried along on a great tide of joy and peace. 

(Malcolm Muggeridge, "Impending Resurrection," from Jesus: The Man Who Lives)

Because death is an inescapable fact, for man, animal, plant, and even (you might say) for the inanimate (which will not endure in its present form), I have to keep reminding myself, as did Muggeridge, that death is but a new beginning, that I and the ones I love will live on, and even the earth itself will not pass into nonexistence but be reformed and renewed, the atoms themselves being rearranged without the virus of sin, with nary a discordant note to mar the great sound of Creation.  That'll be the day.

I hope I can be like Muggeridge, who, knowing that his body was wasting away, could live in the light of the new beginning of Eternity, when he could, finally, bid farewell to the bounds of time and finally be timeless.  I hope so.

Out walking in the desert today, life and death are all around me.  The caucus of a 200 year old saguaro cactus lies on the desert floor, dead.  It began its life shortly after the birth of this country, was there before the white man came, and now will rot slowly into the desert floor.  I visited the remains of the Freeman homestead, settled in the 1930s, now but just foundations, and them too slowly being worn down by wind and water.  Mr. Freeman is dead now, and not much remains in Time of his efforts.

Time moves on, and yet from God's perspective, its duration is so minuscule as to almost be meaningless, insignificant.  That's what amazes me.  He could be so much more vast than all of space and time, and yet He, the Creator, the Limitless, could become the Limited, the Eternal become Temporal, to free us from Time.  The "night clocks tick remorselessly on," but He has come, He is the resurrection and the Life, and the tick, tick, tick will end not with silence but with the Great Song of the Day, when all creation is free from Time.

Tick, Tick, Tick (Part V): Time Dilation Theory

Clip_image002_21 Just think about time a bit, and it begins to get very weird.  For example, where did yesterday go, really?  Is it still there or so or did it simply evaporate when time moved on?  This is the kind of weirdness that has produced multiple plots for sci-fi movies (Back to the Future, or The Philadelphia Experiment, to name a few), and every sci-fi series, from the various Star Trek series to Stargate SG-1, has had episodes devoted to time travel or exploring the theoretical multiple and parallel dimensions in time.  It apparently fascinates us.  Perhaps it is because we earnestly desire to be in control (rather than God), so that if we can control time, that is, alter time to fix some current injustice, we can make our lives better.  But then multiple other movies have demonstrated what a mess we could make of things.

I'm as fascinated as the next person with time, but I'm not as interested in time travel (what a mess that would be) but in understanding how as a Christian I am to view time, that is, how I can have something of God's perspective on time.  From what I know of it, I think what's called time dilation theory helps us understand a Godly perspective on time.

The best example utilized to demonstrate this theory goes like this:  Imagine you're standing outside looking up on a starry night and a rocket ship races across the sky.  Einstein's Special Theory of Relativity says that the time you measure for events occurring on the rocket ship happens more slowly than events measured by the astronaut.  In other words, time dilates, or "expands," form your point of view on the Earth.  Theoretically, at a certain speed. . . hmmm. . . lets say the speed of light (670,616,629 mph), for every one second on the ship 10 seconds may pass on Earth.  If, say, you could move inconceivably fast, faster than the speed of light, perhaps one second could equal a lifetime on Earth, maybe more.

That may be imperfect and mighty speculative, and yet it may be a helpful way to see how God views us and time.  He is timeless, that is, outside of time, eternal.  He looks at the whole life of the universe much as we might look at a second in time.  And yet, it was a second that mattered to Him.  When you are eternal, when you are outside of time, not time-bound, your perspective has to be different.

I think the closer we walk with God, the richer our communion with Him, the the less chronos time matters because we see it more from the Timemaker's perspective, just a fleeting second.  What matters is kairos time, meaning how did we live that second.  Viewed from God's perspective, yesterday folds into today and tomorrow, and perhaps that explains the odd sensation I have at times that I'm really not far away from where I was 30 years ago, if I could walk there.

Like I said, think on this much and it begins to mess with your mind.