Between Cross and Resurrection, C.S. Lewis, Craving Empty Time, Eternity, Eternity in their hearts, Fractured Time, Future, James Taylor, Past, Peril to Art and Politics, Present, Robbed of long thoughts, Screwtape Letters, Smithereens, Time and Timelessness, Unfathomable time, Uninterrupted Time, Very effective Censorship
Vacations are wonderful opportunities to find serendipity – even if you’re not looking for it – but isn’t that the point? Serendipity is finding something wonderful you weren’t looking for.
On a recent flight back from San Fransisco, I finished all the reading I had taken with me so I rummaged in the seat pocket to find “Hemispheres,” the magazine of United Airways. In the June issue was an interview with legendary folk musician, James Taylor – the serendipity I wasn’t expecting.
Taylor talks about songwriting as being “like a musical puzzle or a math problem” that needs time to solve:
One of the troubling aspects of modern life is that attention has been shattered into smaller and smaller pieces. I grew up in the woods of North Carolina, and we had long stretches of uninterrupted-I suppose you’d call it ‘boring’-time.’ Time to make long thoughts. And be uninterrupted. But I see kids today. They’ll be watching television and doing their homework at the same time, and someone will text them and they’ll be interrupted by a phone call. It’s all smithereens now. And our music starts to be delivered that way too.
When asked if this puts art in peril, Taylor’s answer is wider than the question:
… more than art, it puts politics in peril. Noam Chomsky says that shortening the pieces of information is a type of very effective censorship. You just have enough time to restate what someone already knows. More and more, that’s what news is: just reconfirming someone’s existing point of view. How can you present an argument to an established consensus belief if all you got is a minute and a half?… the information technological revolution has robbed us of those long thoughts. I crave empty time.
Craving Empty Time?
I suspect the artist craving of time is the canary in the coal mine of our era. We all crave time – for we were created with this sense of timelessness – we call eternity. Notice Ecclesiastes 3:11.
He has set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end.
In C.S. Lewis’ fun little “Srewtape Letters: Letters from a Senior to a Junior Devil,” we are to imagine we are looking into the apprehended devious intentions of a force working against us. Uncle Screwtape is a senior devil mentoring his hapless nephew, Wormwood, with insights on human nature and God’s nature:
The humans live in time but our Enemy [God] destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself, and to that point of time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity…
Our business is to get them away from the eternal, and from the Present. With this in view, we sometimes tempt a human to live in the Past. But this is of limited value… it is far better to make them live in the Future… the Future is, of all things, the thing least like eternity. It is the most completely temporal part of time – for the Past is frozen and no longer flows, and the Present is all lit up with eternal rays. Hence… fix men’s affections on the Future, on the very core of temporality… nearly all good vices are rooted in the future… fear, avarice, lust, and ambition look ahead.
Fixed Affections on the Future?
It was Mark Twain who quipped, “I am very interested in the future… because that’s where I’m going to spend the rest of my life.”
With the future coming at moderns with increasing speed and with fractured attention, we are being distracted into an unforgiving intersection. Like distracted drivers, we can expect a higher likelihood of collision at the core of temporality.
You are being beckoned to the here & now – to be in the Presence of the One who is ever Present, or as Augustine called Him, “O Beauty, so ancient and so new.” Christians are invited to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” This is not a future task, or an action looking to the future. It is to fix our affections now on the Lord who is presently with us.
But more: coming to this One ever ancient and new – is to be restored from our fractured tendencies and our distracted lives. It is to be rescued from the information technological revolution robbing us of those long thoughts – so that we would find ourselves in sacred journey with and to the One who made us for Himself.
God eternally makes space for time. Temporality is not eternity’s polar opposite… in God’s time, the past is not lost nor the future unreachable… God’s being is in becoming.
Between Cross and Resurrection, Alan E. Lewis summarizing Eberhard Jungel and Karl Barth
Craving Empty Time or Holy Timelessness?
James Taylor said he craves empty time; how else could he describe it?
We crave a holy timelessness inside the One who made us for Himself. A space where our attention is not being shattered into smaller and smaller pieces – time to make long thoughts. And be uninterrupted. We crave time and space to create – for creativity is an expression of the DNA of our Creator.
Oscar Wilde defined the artist as a “maker of beautiful things, and the beautiful as that which is wholly useless.” Such cynicism betrays a lack of insight to our essential nature: to create; to create beauty; and this is holy useful.