Buried toward the back of his Confessions (Book XI), St. Augustine of Hippo (AD 354-430) shares his philosophical contemplations about the nature of Time and Eternity.
St Augustine wrote, “What about those two times, past and future: in what sense do they have real being, if the past no longer exists and the future does not exist yet? As for the present time, if that were always present and never slipped away into the past, it would not be time at all; it will be eternity.”
He ultimately concludes that time (as past, present and future) is a reality of the mind: the present is a fleeting awareness; our familiarity with the past is through a present remembrance of it; and our pondering of the future is through a current sense of expectation. He wrote: “It is inaccurate to say, “there are three tenses of time: past, present and future,” rather, “there are three tenses or times: the present of past things, the present of present things, the present of future things.”
Another way to think about this is to understand that the only time we live within and can be said to meaningfully possess is – now.
I am keeping this in mind on this New Year’s Eve day, as I reflect on the past and ponder the future. It’s easy to become lost or made fearful by either (or both) realms. Then I remember St. Augustine’s observation, and I realize that that there is no realm of loss or anxiety but the emotional landscape created within my own mind. And so, perhaps this is a good “time” and a good day to take a tour of that landscape and consider what terrain I want to cultivate therein – like a good mental gardener.
The first place I need to visit is the cemetery of my inward land. I am aware that some shadow of me stands loyally and most especially beside the grave of my father. Somehow, I can’t believe he’s in there, and I wish very deeply that he wasn’t. I have lots of existential belief and faith as well that the eternal aspect of him has gone on, but I have not. I am haunting him, I think. And I would like not to be a ghost in my own life.
The next stop on the tour is Roman amphitheater wherein I seem to spend much time as some kind of spiritual and intellectual gladiator. The truth is, I enjoy combat. There is something very satisfying about eviscerating bigots, misogynists, racists and harmful people. Yet, the quandary is always the same – if the spiritual “peaceful warrior” is to be anything more than an oxymoron and I am to be more than enslaved, I need to know less war and more peace – mentally stepping out the arena of conflict to choose freedom from it.
This next stop isn’t really a place, and yet I inhabit it – my body. St. Francis of Assisi used to refer to his body (with all it’s illnesses, frailties and needs) as his “ass” as in the relative of a donkey. My body is more like a Tazzy (Australian for Tasmanian Devil, and there’s me holding one at the Australia Zoo in 2010). Like a Tazzy, if I’m not zooming around like a crazy thing, I’m completely soporific. I do find body minding to be something of a nuisance, and so I suppose my attitude needs adjusting to re-appreciate the body as an aspect of God’s creation that requires good stewardship as a spiritual discipline. Eating well, staying fit, getting outside – all of it is part of the balance of the now, and I would like to regain that balance.
Then there is my home. It’s something of a rubbish heap and is not really at all conducive to fostering the peace I need. The word of the day there is “simplify,” which includes living where I don’t spend 3 – 4 hours in a car everyday getting to and from work. There is much stuff to sort through and an environment to create which will itself foster creativity. A creative spirit like mine loves wings, space to fly and a little branch to rest on at the end of the day.
Finally, the last stop I would share with you is a quiet, gentle place at the edge of a lake just as twilight settles and the moon rises, where stars reveal in darkness overhead and fireflies do love dances in the moving ether of soft mist. This is where I really live in the now and yet it is not a “here” at all. It is my best me, and it is where I promise myself to live within and from in every now I am.
Happy New Year, indeed!
In fact, I wish you bliss in your eternal now.
May your new year be filled with joy and peace, Hugs, bc
Blessings to you and yours in the new year. You are a blessing to so many.