Time and Eternity in Community

I am sitting amongst the best of friends and the greatest of people. Food is warming upon the grill between us; beer on ice is within reach. The conversation is free; friends are united in love and community. Have we been tailgating along St. Charles Avenue for 2 hours? Or is it 5, or 8, or more? How many parades have gone by? I do not know. We have transcended time, we are not bound by any deadlines, and there is no next place to be. We simply are, together, united in friendship, blissfully existing in communion.

Time is an experience we all share. Eternity is something we often ponder. Being inside time we can hardly imagine eternity outside of analogous terms related to our understanding, yet eternity is outside of time, not contingent on time.

When Christians speak about eternity, we are usually speaking about what happens after our earthly death. We say that Heaven is eternal. How do we begin to understand Heaven which is outside of time when our only experiences are stuck on a one way street called time that is ever progressing forward?

In fact every sensory experience we have inside of space and time is already in the past when we become conscious of it. When I touch a table, the sensory signals are sent through neurological pathways to my brain, there they are processed, and finally I become aware of the fact that I am touching a table. This entire process happens so fast that I cannot distinguish the time passed between touching the table and being conscious of touching the table, but the reality of that sensory sequence is mapped in time. So, in a very real sense, you could say that we are always living in the past. Our conscious awareness of the material world as 'now' is always slightly behind the actual occurrence.

However, something appears evident to me that goes beyond a strict understanding of space and time in relation to matter and consciousness. My sensory stimulation is bound by cause and effect in linear time, however my complete consciousness is able to grasp the abstract ideas of past, present and future. It is able to grasp the idea of a person as more than just another mass of biological matter. I am able to foster deep connections with another person that go beyond the physical presence of that person.

If we were strictly biological material, we would be cursed to be entirely trapped inside the confined prison of our temporal material bodies. But we are more than just our bodies, we are also souls! I am not so bold as to conjecture the ideas of God in why he created us in this duality of material that passes away and souls that are eternal, but it is the reality.

The power of our soul allows us to connect in an immediate way, a way not contingent on time or material cause and effect. God encounters us with no hesitation and no delay, God’s presence is in the truest sense of the word ‘immediate’. Likewise it is not merely a biological process when we find deep intimacy with another person. There is a real and tangible connectedness with another person on a spiritual level that is transcendent. In the end, we are all seeking connectedness and belonging to another. We have a foretaste of that here on earth through our prayer and through our intimacy with others; however that foretaste is only a small portion of the reality of eternal union with God.

God is love. Love is not just an action God does, rather God IS love. Love presupposes relationship, for this reason we can recognize that for God to be love he must be in relationship, and therefore God being a Trinity in relationship makes sense. Furthermore, God is always inviting us into himself, into love. Our proper end is union with God, which is to be fully in relation with He who is love, to be united in the fullness of truth to He who is truth. To experience Heaven is to be stripped bare, where all is seen in truth, where past, future, and present meet in the ‘eternal now,’ and mercy is understood in relation to justice. Only in this state of nakedness, stripped of all pride, aware of all truth, are we able to approach the throne of Heaven and accept the great gift of God's love in humility. And this, this is the bliss of Heaven, united to the fullness of truth and love, we will exist in the ‘eternal now’ of God.

Here in my frail body, my love tainted by sin and weakness, I am unable to enter fully that bliss. I am a beast among the earth calling out to the world, and yet I am also a soul connected to eternity calling out to God. And so I ponder as C.S. Lewis does, "[Lord] that if you wanted us to behave like the lilies of the field you might have given us an organization more like theirs. But that, I suppose, is just your grand experiment. Or no; not an experiment, for you have no need to find things out. Rather your grand enterprise. To make an organism which is also a spirit; to make that terrible oxymoron, a 'spiritual animal.' To take a poor primate, a beast with nerve-endings all over it, a creature with a stomach that wants to be filled, a breeding animal that wants its mate, and say, 'Now get on with it. Become a god.'" (C.S. Lewis – A Grief Observed)

In the midst of this oxymoron I recall the prayer that Jesus taught us, and I pray, "Thy kingdom come, on earth, as it is in Heaven," and I long for the experience of Heaven here on earth. In this longing I realize that in the experience of community along St. Charles Avenue with my dear friends, where we transcended time and for a moment were infinite, I was experiencing a taste of the Heavenly communion to come.