Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Cause and Cure of Time

Again, there are two forms of time; or at least time has its two vectors, one toward dissolution and decay, the other toward growth and creative intensity. Every religion deals with the problem of time in its own way; in fact, religion can largely be seen as a response to this very problem, i.e., to somehow heal or overcome the incompleteness and loss associated with this two-faced two-timer.

Charles Taylor (I think) remarked that "history moves to heal the wounds it made." Taking it one step further, Berdyaev writes that "Time that has recovered from its illness is eternity."

Thus, human beings are in need of a cure for time, a medicine for mortality, otherwise we are in the awkward position of believing that the very same thing which creates us destroys us. Er, thanks for nothing, time! This is like a hundred monkeys playing in the sand and producing a beautiful painting before a windstorm blows it away. Remind me: what was the point?

And why would you believe a monkey, anyway?

But again, as alluded to in yesterday's post, time cannot be fundamental in a creative cosmos, only a side effect of its creativity. Therefore, unlike primitive and timebound progressives, we cannot and should not appeal to time for our salvation, but rather, to.... yes, to creativity, but first we need to lay a foundation.

In addition to the naughty and nice aspects of time, it is divided into past, present, and future. These latter three are so different that it's difficult to see them as one thing. For example, what does the present have to do with the past? Not much. The past is completely objective, frozen in place: it is what it is -- or what it was, and there's not a damn thing we can do about it.

Then again, if time is a single phenomenon, then we can't really draw a rigid boundary between past and present. As is the case inside the Trinity, there are distinctions but no strict separations.

This being the case, it suggests that the past may actually be "changed," since it is prolonged into the present. Employing a spatial analogy, we cannot isolate an infected tooth from the rest of the body, so taking an antibiotic is medicine for, and communion with, the entire organism.

Notice how, subsequent to the Resurrection, one of the first items on the agenda was to situate Jesus in deep historo-scriptural and even pre-ontological time, e.g., in the beginning before the beginning was the Word before language....

Looked at this way, Jesus is the quintessential nonlocal higher-dimensional object passing through our local landscape. Tradition, you might say, is his contrail -- which, of course, can only be seen in the present.

That's weird -- I was about to use the example of an invisible jet's contrail, and there it is, right outside my window, between two trees. You may not see the jet (I don't), but if you see the white streak across the sky, you know it was there. You don't find a turtle on a fencepost unless someone put it there, just as you don't find primates surfing atop the temporal wave unless the Big Kahuna put them there.

In a somewhat obscure passage upon which we will attempt to shed some further bobscurity, Berdyaev writes of how "the problem of the relationship between past and present" may be "expressed in two ways." That is, "how to make the evil, sinful, painful past as though it had not been," and "how to make the dear, kind, beautiful past, which has died and ceased to exist -- how to make this continue its existence."

In short, we are dealing with precisely the problem alluded to in the first paragraph, i.e., good times / bad times. How do we preserve the good and toss out the bad? Or how do we get rid of the tumor without killing the patient?

This goes to the mysteries of repentance on the one hand -- which has to do with the "past" -- and salvation, or resurrection, which have to do with the present and future, respectively. Thus, it makes sense that repentance must precede salvation, just as recovery from illness must precede health, even though these are two sides of the same coin.

What is the worst evil that Time deals us? Death, which, ironically, is the end of time. That doesn't really make much sense, does it, because it reduces life to a kind of gas pain that is cured by farting.


Look, don't blame me. That's how it came out. But contrast this with, say, childbirth. There too we have pain, but the result is life, not just the cessation of tension. Furthermore, the internal tension is then displaced to the outside, where we now live in tension with the infant -- in the loving space between persons. So yes, life is tension. But not only tension.

The upshot, it seems, is that the Christian journey is entirely covalent with the mystery of time, "of the past, the present, the eternal" (ibid.).

I mean, journey, right? A journey is not quite the same thing as just being lost, but nor is it the same thing as being at our destination. Rather, it is an in-between state, which means that it is in the present, although looking in faith toward the future while nursing the wounds of the past.

"The good thing about the future," writes Berdyaev, "is that freedom is associated with it, that the future may be actively created." Here again, creativity is actually prior to time, wrapped up with the freedom that permits "the conquest of the determinism that is connected with the past."

Second from the bottom line: the past is either the fatal disease that infects the present and future; or, the present-and-future are the cure for the past. The former is fate, the latter destiny. And our fate is assured so long as we fail to discover our destiny.

[W]e must discover freedom in regard to the past, as well, the possibility of the transmutation of time. In religious thought, this is the problem of the Resurrection.... This is the victory over death-dealing time. --Berdyaev

So, Happy New, or Same Old, Year, depending.


Rick said...

Another awesome post.

Re the past/present/future and that whole "given enough monkeys in a sandbox" idea toward, say, the works of Mozart:

1) We know that the works were done by Mozart; and not monkeys. In other words, monkeys = not "just as good", because not "what happened". (Btw, what's wrong with these so-great monkeys? Why aren't they doing it too? Why haven't they even started?!)

2) Mozart is still ahead of his time. And he did it, way back then, and did it like rolling off a log. But also painful. 'course he didn't have to.

The monkey theory, ironically, gets worse the more time one gives to it.

Rick said...

No offense to the monkeys.

Paul Griffin said...

This all reminds me of the words Lewis put into MacDonald's mouth in "The Great Divorce":

" They say of some temporal suffering, 'No future bliss can make up for it,' not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say 'Let me have but this and I'll take the consequences': little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin. Both processes begin even before death. The good man's past begins to change so that his forgiven sins and remembered sorrows take on the quality of Heaven: the bad man's past already conforms to his badness and is filled only with dreariness. And that is why...the Blessed will say 'We have never lived anywhere except in Heaven,' : and the Lost, 'We were always in Hell.' And both will speak truly.”

This all brings to mind the role of forgiveness in healing, and what is healing if not a reshaping of the future? The sort of healing that forgiveness brings is quite literally a changing of the past. When we are so hurt and full of anger over a past wrong (whether real or perceived), the past is very much in the ever present, often unconsciously, and actively shaping our future. It is a story we tell to ourselves over and over, reinforced with every retelling, and more firmly (fatefully, I suppose Bob would say) guiding us into a repetition of the same awful story in the future with every agreement with it.

When we are finally able to forgive (which is not the same as saying that what was done to us didn't matter or wasn't really wrong), the story we've been telling ourselves about the past finally has a chance to change for the better, we see the past more clearly, and its death grip on our future starts to slip.

julie said...

That was beautifully put, Paul. Thanks.

And Happy New Year, everyone!

ge said...

Can you name your favest album? or movie?
I am an admirer of Jim O'Rourke [esp. his album INSIGNIFICANCE] and was psynched to see he didnt hesitate to name his as SONG CYCLE [Van Dyke Parks 1967] and PERFORMANCE [Cammell-Roeg 1970]
I happen to cherish both and could answer/have answered the question the same!

Jim named a string of his records after Roeg movie titles [he mentioned asking for a movie camera as a kid & getting a guitar instead!]



robinstarfish said...

My gong has been banged. While lotsa stuff sails over me head these days, this kind of time-less-ful prose is rich dark ale. A food group. Slurp. Pour me another, barkeep.

Gagdad Bob said...

You've got the teeth of a hydra upon you.