You’ve probably gotten through all of the turkey from Thanksgiving by now. Although it was last week, I am still thinking about it. We didn’t go around the table declaring what we were thankful for, but I’ve just now figured it out. It has taken a while, but better late than never, especially when you hear it. I am thankful for time.
What is it about time that I am thankful for? Its immensity. Its relentlessness. Its uniformity and dullness. Its speed and permanence. Above all, its ability to consume itself so that there is something outside of it once it has been swallowed up whole.
I’ve noticed these two things about time: its circularity and the existence of something beyond it. By circular, I mean that if you live long enough (i.e., have enough time), you will see things come around again, swallowed up. That is not a bad thing. Things come full circle only in and through time.
It happened at Thanksgiving dinner. As I looked around the room, I noticed people who had not seen or communicated with one another for some time. Even if they had, the relationships had been strained if not broken. Yet, there they were, eating, drinking, laughing, telling stories that went back half a century, and being family. It was beautiful to behold. The feeling of wholeness and joy was palpable. I asked my friend about it, someone I have known for years. I presume he did the inviting. He simply said, “It was time.”
The thing that exists beyond time? It would be more precise to talk about the thing within which time exists. Physicists call this the universe, which contains elemental forces like magnetism and gravity. Some schools of philosophy hold that time is a function of the mind, which, in turn, is a function of something else. I think time is a related to attraction; that is, time passes only in relation to something else.
Attraction is the force that binds the universe together, lying at the center of all natural phenomena. We are held together by this same force, driven by nature to find wholeness. I’ve ridiculed Jerry Maguire enough over the years, but his “you complete me” line is not without merit. Plato had Aristophanes say the same thing regarding soulmates.
The ultimate form of attraction is love. But it’s not just love at this moment. It is the love that exists beyond time and includes past, present, and future all at once. It is the love within which everything exists: dark matter, dark energy, dark night of the soul. This is why I disagree with the idea that the only thing that matters is now. That is a popularized and often misunderstood Zen Buddhist concept that you see a lot of in social media. The social media version insists that you put out of your mind everything but what is in front of you right now. But if you follow this idea to its logical conclusion, you discover that “now” does not exist, since it can always be parsed into ever smaller units.
What exists is the entire experience of love beyond right now. It includes what we were, who we are, and where we are headed. You don’t need a blog to tell you that this is messy. Even when love comes full circle, it is not a perfect circle. There are lapses, mistakes, relationships that survive only as prayer. But the glory of time is that everything, in its own way, comes around again. It reminds me of St. Paul’s Letter to the Romans in which he says that creation “groans” while waiting for fullness and that we should wait “with endurance” (Rom 8:25b).
Advent, the season of waiting, just started. The waiting we are asked to do, like love, exists beyond time. But the promise is that if we wait long enough, if we endure, we will see things come around again.
How wonderful will that be?