Let's think about time, history ... and hope.
How do you know when a person is reaching the limits of his patience and endurance? One indication: He answers the phone with an exasperated, “Now what?!?”
A few weeks into 2021 finds us already tempted to start our day with, “Now what?!?” After narrowly escaping the clutches of 2020, we had hoped that the new year would be a gentler companion. So far, it doesn’t look good. People have (half-) joked that “the year 2020 was the longest century in history.” We might wonder how long 2021 will (seem to) last; we would also do well to wonder where the new year is taking us.
Recently, I stumbled upon a few aphorisms that got me to thinking about time, history, and hope. Let’s look at them in order:
“Old age begins when you realize that forever is not as long as it used to be.” (John Prescott)
When I was a little boy, summer seemed to span on almost indefinitely. It always took me by surprise that the school year had the wherewithal to come back and interrupt the eternal flow of summer. Nowadays, it seems that if I blink a week will pass, and I have no idea how I arrived at where I’m standing. Getting older brings with it the awareness of increasing pace of time; getting old means recognizing that time is running out.
“The feeling of being hurried is not usually the result of living a full life and having no time. It is on the contrary born of a vague fear that we are wasting our life. When we do not do the one thing we ought to do, we have no time for anything else.” (Eric Hoffer)
Observing my students in the library, I would often see them plugged into a device, while using a handheld device, while interacting with a laptop in front of them. They were busy, they ended up exhausted, but they weren’t productive. They weren’t working, they were “multi-slacking”; that is, they were thoroughly distracted from their assigned task.
Why? Not because of laziness—they had expanded enormous energy. But they didn’t do what was asked of them, because they feared failing at what they might invest themselves in. The prospect of that failure was unbearable, so they kept themselves from it by busying themselves with everything else.
“You can sink so fast that you think you’re flying.” (Marie von Ebner-Eschenback)
This third quote brings the first two together. From our youth, we have a fear of failure; in old age, we have a fear of ultimate failure—of missing out on what our life could have and should have been. In our times, as individuals and as a culture, we can feel that we are moving faster and faster towards … nothing. Just nothing. Will our dying moment be the realization that we have not been significant and we will not be remembered?
The modern naturalist, denying the supernatural, would have to conclude that. The postmodern cynic, denying enduring meaning, could not avoid that conclusion. The Christian must firmly reject it. Consider this:
“I tell you again and again, my brethren, that in the Lord’s garden are to be found not only the roses of his martyrs. In it there are also the lilies of the virgins, the ivy of the wedded couples, and the violets of widows. On no account may any class of people despair, thinking that God has not called them. Christ suffered for all. What the Scriptures say of him is true: He desires all men to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.” (St. Augustine)
Our Lord came into the world to bring all people and communities to himself, he who is the way, the truth and life. Regardless of what any culture or civilization does or fails to do, regardless of what any individual or mass of men might choose, each human person is free to choose Christ. Each human person and community can find purification and perfection in Christ.
I do not know what will happen over the course of the year 2021. I do not know the outcome of all the world’s choices (even though I do not like much of what I see).
I do know that at every moment I can choose Christ. I do know that as a Christian I am called, marked and equipped to proclaim Christ and with him win souls for his kingdom. And I do know that Christians are more likely to be faithful when they have faithful Christian companions. This year, let’s live so as to make it easier for others to come to Christ.
When I write next, I’ll speak of a neglected aspect of the spiritual life. Until then, let’s keep each other in prayer.