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DOORS – Chapter Thirteen

February 21, 2018

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Time

Wonder beyond time’s wonders
Eternity shut in a span;
Summer in winter;
Day in night,
Heaven in earth,
And God in man

The words of an old Christmas song that speak of how Being, with a capital B, became human. The focus is particularly on the aspect of time and eternity. So how does eternity fit in the space of a hand, the day in the night, heaven in earth and God in man?

And how can the kingdom be within us, here and now, and yet to come? How can eternal life be ours now and yet to come? I’ve read many possible answers, but it is a mystery that can’t really be explained, because it isn’t rationally understandable.

For us, these things are either now or later, more likely at the “end of time” or the “last day”, meaning way off into the future. We do the same when speaking of eternal life; we usually mean everlasting life, in other words a very very long time. Since this life has an expiry date, we then think of it coming after that. Can you see the paradox?

Whether you do or not, that’s the best that most of us can do, because our rational minds derive their perception of time from memory, and the shadows that it casts on an imaginary future. So, we cannot mentally grasp infinity or eternity, but only things that have a beginning and an end, a past and a future.

The problem is that neither past nor future really exist. One is gone and the other is not here yet. The only reality that truly ever exists is the present. This moment is the only time in which we are ever truly alive, right here and now.

For eternally and always there is only now, one and the same now; the present is the only thing that has no end”. – Erwin Schroedinger

Here and Now

Eternity isn’t some later time. Eternity isn’t even a long time. Eternity has nothing to do with time. Eternity is that dimension of here and now that all thinking in temporal terms cuts off”Joseph Campbell

Being that our thinking is always in temporal terms, it always prevents us from experiencing the eternal. Unless we are taught, we do not know how to stop running back and forth in time and be here and now. If you don’t believe it I invite you to do a little experiment.

Just close your eyes and focus only on the present moment. As any thoughts come up about the past, even just a few moments ago, drop them. Do the same for any thoughts going into the future, even a few moments from now. Do this for five to ten minutes.

If you’ve tried, perhaps you’ve had some brief moments in which you managed to do it. If so, you might have noticed a particular quality to those moments. That was the present, and you might have just peaked at its door.

Most of the time, however, you’ve had to drop thought after thoughts about the past or the future. That’s because the mind, with the ego that it creates, does not know how to be still and enter the narrow door of the now.

The mental being of our minds and thoughts is so spread out over past and future that it cannot see what’s right before it, hidden in plain sight, which is the now and everything connected to it, which is everything.

Our problem is that we think we are our thoughts, and our thoughts are our minds and our minds cannot be still; which is why we cannot know God with our minds nor be our true self in it.

“Nothing hinders the soul so much in attaining to the knowledge of God as time… If the soul is to see God, it must look at nothing in time; for while the soul is occupied with time… it cannot recognize God.” – Meister Eckhart

“Occupied with time”, and it often is a compulsive occupation and state of mind. So, “be still, and know that I am God” (Psalms 46:10), wrote the psalmist, and he was right. But how to be still, get off time and know what can only be known here and now?

There are many ways in which this art of stillness can be learned and cultivated, though they are usually hard to find before exhausting our own means. In any case, it is doable. We can learn to get off our frantic perception of time and meet the present.

But the now is a very narrow door, which we cannot cross with the bulky baggage of what we think we are, we have or we know. It would keep our minds and egos in charge, and they are too big to get through that gap. Only our naked self can pass.

That’s why we have to stop, get off from what we think, undress of all judgment and go through it by faith alone. That’s how doing the moment becomes a forsaking all, an act of trust and surrender, and nothing that the mind or “correct” beliefs can do.

We have to truly stop, look and listen; not only stop talking but also stop our endless inner chattering and the running commentary that we do about everything. In short, we have to make inner silence, be still and make our hearts a temple.

But perhaps I forgot something, because the starting point is not merely the now, but our reasons for seeking it. If there isn’t first a desire to find that ground of being that we were speaking of, then our search could be in vain.

All the mystics of all ages, from the Cappadocian, Greek and Desert Fathers, to the author of The Cloud of Unknowing and on to the present, have all stressed this primary necessity of the heart’s longing for ultimate reality.

The commencement of union is an inclination towards God… this tendency is the commencement” – Jeanne Guyon, “Prayer is the Spiritual longing of a finite being to return to its origin” – Paul Tillich, “As we enter the path of transformation, the most valuable thing we have working in our favor is our yearning.” – Cynthia Borgeault

Without this vacuum of the heart, the mind remains in control and, thought it tries to do the now and thinks it may be getting somewhere, it actually creates substitutes of what we are looking for. This is the “apparent” religiosity that we are seeking to get over.

I do not mean to say that the mind cannot do anything good. To the contrary we needed it for every useful purpose, and even its positive meditation can help us succeed on many fronts, reduce stress, improve our health and give us other desirable benefits.

That’s all good and well, but to find what the mystics were speaking of, the mind must take a back seat altogether. It’s not that it won’t also be rewarded, later on, but it must first give way to the heart’s desire for contact with the infinite and eternal.

As the author of The Cloud of Unknowing taught, every thought has to be “trodden down under the cloud of forgetting” so that “nothing lives in the working mind but a naked intent stretching to God”.

There is no search for spiritual achievement here, nor for enlightenment, salvation, knowledge or anything else that would boost our fearful egos. Here, the ego is seen for what it is, weak and naked, but it is neither judged nor rejected.

It is what it is and by seeing it for what it is it also matures and understands its proper role. So it is not an ego driven ascent, but a descent into inner poverty, nakedness and simplicity. It is the essence of the old adage “God’s way up is down”.

It is the relinquishing of personal opinion and judgment, a falling into a rest that transcends our ability to even think about it, and it is of such simplicity that even a child can do it. It is often called abandonment.

“Abandonment is the key… forgetting the past, leaving the future to Providence… satisfied with the present moment, which brings with it God’s eternal order.” – Jeanne Guyon

Symbols revisited

So past and future only exist in our thoughts, memories, hopes and fears, while the present is all that we truly have. Since now is the only time in which we are ever alive, it would not be too far-fetched to call it the tree of life or the narrow gate where life is found.

Since anything truly existing, exists only and always in the now, the now is the end of time, the fullness of time, where times ends and eternity meets our lives. It is the eschatological fulfillment of prophetic symbols, where we find salvation and the kingdom of God.

“The kingdom of God will not come with observable signs. Nor will people say, ‘Look, here it is,’ or ‘There it is.’ For you see, the kingdom of God is within you.(Luke 17:20, 21) “Before Abraham was I am(John 8:58) “He that believes in me has eternal life(John 6:47) Take no thought for tomorrow… look at the lilies… let not your heart be troubled… My peace I give unto you… not as the world (time) gives…

That’s the pearl of great price, the treasure hid in the field, and once we find it, then we know where it is and we reorder our lives accordingly. We can then go to it whenever we wish to, in and out, and can actually live of it and from it.

It becomes a tower, a shield, an armor and a light in the darkness, a shelter from the storm, the peace in the tempest, the healing of our broken lives and the bread of life. All that we faintly glimpsed at, through religious symbols and myths, becomes real through that door, which is what the symbols were pointing to all the time.

Because eternity, God, Jesus and heaven have no time, we can never know them in our minds. Our minds can only do time, but as the apostle said, we can have “the mind of Christ” and be there, actually be it, “not I but Christ”.

To be in that mind we have to get off our own and sort of be like children, who have no thought of time, no accumulated memories and resentments about the past or excessive expectations and fears about the future (which is why forgiveness is so crucial. It is a resetting, a freeing of ourselves from the bondage of time).

So little children are naturally in the now, therefore the kingdom is theirs, which is why we are so often amazed by what comes out of their mouths.

Out of the mouth of babes and sucklings hast thou ordained strength” – “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children” (Psalm 8:2 – Matthew 11:25).

But it takes time for us grownups to learn to do that, because we have so much to unlearn and let go of, but it can be done. That’s what the mystics tried to teach us, how to find the door, the treasure, the pearl, and which tools to use and which not to.

Reason is not it, they said, but stillness, silence, contemplation and participation in the mystery. They always called it a mystery, to make it clear that the door was not in the mind and that we could not think our way into it.

God is not what you imagine or what you think you understand. If you understand, you have failed.” – St. Augustine

That’s what they meant when they said that God was three and one, that Christ was two and one and that he was in the three and in the one. Clear? Of course not! It wasn’t meant to be, and none is as confused as those who presume to understand it, as I was when I tried to.

The Church Fathers called it a “perichoresis”, meaning choreography or circle dance, and we can only know it by joining in, through faith, letting go and surrendering into participation with it, through “the sacrament of the present moment”, as Jean Pierre de Caussade called it.

The first thing we must let go of is the idea that we can somehow figure it out. We cannot, we can only “taste and see that the LORD is good” (Psalm 34:8), but how do we do that? In a way we have already done it, but didn’t recognize it for what it was.

Our hearts have already tasted and partaken of the Trinitarian flow. It has crossed our lives many times before, when children, later on in life, in moments of great awe, love, sex, beauty, prayer, intoxication or suffering.

They were moments in which time stood still, as we experienced something of such intensity that, even if only for a moment, there was no thought of self, of past or future, but only the pure taking in of the experience.

Then, we’ve also heard the expressions “my whole life passed before my eyes” and that’s another things that truly happens. That also, a windows that opens for a moment and we are there, in eternity, before our normal thinking takes over again.

Eternity and the Infinite

After tasting the infinite, we always wonder how to get back to it, how to have that experience again. We think it was this, that or the other and we spend money, take courses, travel, meet new people and look for it everywhere.

For most of our lives we go after it but do not find it, because we don’t even know what it is, so we go about it the wrong way and in the wrong places. The fact is that we cannot recreate it, because we do not understand it; it just happened to us.

For some strange combination that we cannot understand, we were there. It happened that time when we were so in love and looked into each other’s eyes, as we were making love, and there we saw it.

It was cosmic, eternal and beyond form, and we felt it again when we saw our first child being born. Then again on top of that mountain, then under that starry sky in that summer night by the seashore.

Not to mention in that moment of danger, when we almost died, then while standing by that loved one as she was dying. Then when terribly sick, weak and intoxicated, when sickness and drugs altered our state of consciousness.

Then when age took away what we used to be, and had no more words to explain what we were seeing now, neither was there anyone listening, so it became our secret. These are some of the moments in which we experienced the now, when eternal and cosmic realities waved at us and reminded us we were part of it.

While the dying, the drunk, the intoxicated of romance or LSD, the artist, the extreme sportsman and the adventurer, all experience such things in a sort of casual and sometimes overpowering way, the mystic is the one who has learned to swim and live in it safely.

Tasting the absolute can be overpowering, as it was for me after my near death experience. It can throw us of balance, and into a psychotic mode. Like electricity, reality cannot be handled directly, but must be channeled, for “no one can see God and live” (Exodus 33:20).

So religion has channeled it and brought it to a manageable level, through myths, parables, symbols, illustrative rituals and art. Those who desire, when ready, can gradually move past these and experience what they are pointing to.

But not everyone does. Many are prevented from it by religion itself, by what was meant to help them find it, but how? By the deification of the symbols themselves (otherwise known as idolatry), in those forms of religion that we usually call fundamentalism.

So I wrote hoping to help you, who are at the threshold of seeing it, to recognize the door and walk in without fear. I hope it gave you courage, answered some of your questions or simply gave you a traveling companion, someone to compare notes with.

I’ll close now with a little recap. Though we live in a world of past and future, of humans that think they are their past, while fretting about an imaginary future, we can get off the broad way of time and enter the needle’s eye of the now. We can learn to be present to what is.

Heaven, salvation, eternity, the kingdom of God or reality itself, all of them are but abstract concepts until we learn to be present to them, here and now. They are here already and we don’t have to wait till the very end to partake of them, for the end of time is the now.

We’ve all had glimpses of it, all through our lives, but we just didn’t know what to call it or how to find it. Those glimpses were our invitation to it, and we can all join the feast if we simply stop, drop the outer shell (self) of time and walk right in, through the now.

Not that I care to defend myself, but this one is not a heresy. It is at the heart of the very gospel of John. It is in the teachings of the Fathers of the earliest tradition, and it is in the contemplative practices taught by Christian mystics throughout all ages.

Before Abraham was I am– Jesus. “Embrace the present moment as an ever-flowing source of holiness”, – Jean Pierre de Caussade.Time is what keeps the light from reaching us. There is no greater obstacle to God than time.” – Meister Eckhart, and let me also add a Persian poet,Past and future veil God from our sight; burn up both of them with fire.” – Rumi

May you find the narrow way (Matthew 7:14) and through it the peace that passes all understandings (Philippians 4:7), which is not as the world (of time) gives, and which it cannot take away (John 14:27).

“What should salvation mean to us? … certainly not, what popular imagination has made of it, escaping from hell and being received in heaven, in what is badly called “the life hereafter.” The New Testament speaks of eternal life, and eternal life is not continuation of life after death. Eternal life is beyond past, present, and future: we come from it, we live in its presence, we return to it. It is never absent.” – Paul Tillich


 

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