first published at episcopalcafe.com, Oct. 23, 2019
Time is a moving target. Its speed varies, sometimes faster, sometimes slower. One hour passing on the top of a mountain is the not the same hour that passes at the bottom of the mountain, much like the water of a stream that cascades across rocks along the side of the mountain runs faster than the same water coursing gently through the valley. Also, time is curved, lending scientific support to poetry: a beginning might be the end, and the end might be the beginning. (T.S. Eliot) And, the only constant is God. Is grace.
Hence, when a person speaks of eternity generally, and of life eternal in particular, she needs not limit the concept of eternity to the way in which we experience time as something that wraps around us, binds us, holds and limits us. Rather than think of life generally stretched along a timeline, perhaps one might consider eternal life in terms beyond and unbounded by time, as in a life complete. Like kairos, and not chronos.
One particular prayer from Morning Prayer reminds us that eternal life is far more than temporal. To know you, O God, is eternal life … (BCP 99) What kind is that knowing?
How does one person come to know an-other?
When I left home to attend college, I made friends quickly with other new students who had also left friends and family, all of us moving to a school where we didn’t know anyone else. College freshmen in such circumstances typically connect easily and naturally with others, and we shared that common desire for community. The desire was fertile soil, and friendships germinated and blossomed quickly.
Everyone needs friends.
Later, after I finished both college and professional school, I found myself at the threshold of a new life. Only this time, I was alone. I, alone, was the person without a community in need of a new one. I alone was the one willing to risk new friendships. Everyone I worked with or met had built their lives already, had had established friendships and did not need someone new to supply their communal needs. Making friends took far longer as a young professional than it had as a freshman in college - a year, maybe two. I learned to invest time in others - jog with this friend, have coffee with that friend. Talk on the telephone (which people did in those days).
Yes, cultivate. Because friendship has less to do with knowing facts about a person than with intuitive knowing of that person. Friendship happens at the subterranean level, which is why it is so easy to fall back into the old friendships of youth, even after thirty or forty years.
To know you is eternal life … and isn’t eternity, then, simply slipping into a seasoned friendship with God? I think here of the description of Abraham, as friend of God. Wouldn’t you rather be God’s friend than accomplish the great things that Moses accomplished? Than being the greatest king of Israel, like David? To enjoy God, to feel what God feels, to understand God, at some subterranean level. I’m not saying I’m there by any stretch, but I know God better today than I did yesterday. And better yesterday than I did the day before.
And I learned that even my limited knowing requires investment. As in the garden, the divine still walks through gardens calling our name, seeking a friend with whom to take a walk. Inviting us to make the investment. In eternity. To know you …
Eternity is so much different than I had imagined.