Finding the essence of eternity – now

Sometimes I wonder about eternity. It tends to happen when the present reality is overwhelming.  A war in Ukraine that we learn more and more is about money plus politics plus religion.  With those three in the mix, reasonable resolution is less likely.  With Ann Weems I continue to pray for a miracle.  The already stirrings from a shouldn’t have been leaked document from the Supreme Court in relation to Roe v. Wade.  I dread the conflict and the continuing hurt and hate moving toward destruction of people from every perspective.  Maybe beyond that my naïve idea that finally the Supreme Court was beyond political chicanery.  Evidently not. And the UM denomination being part of the divisiveness of our current socio-political culture rather than finding a way to witness a way through it.  We add to the name-calling where somehow the words “traditional” and “progressive” have been hijacked as natural enemies by definition . . . but whose definition?  I must confess, I’m quite traditional in relation to a fair amount of life, and I’m quite progressive in relation to a fair amount of life, and I’m quite peculiar and quirky in relation to all of life.  Is the need for labels simply our desire to not have to spend time getting to know one another beyond categorization?

So eternity, am I right?  The late Frederick Buechner in his book, “Wishful Thinking: A Theological ABC” shares these thoughts: “We think of Eternal Life, if we think of it at all, as what happens when life ends.  We would do better to think of it as what happens when life begins . . . Eternity is not endless time or the opposite of time.  It is the essence of time . . . Inhabitants of time that we are, we stand on such occasions with one foot in eternity. God, as Isaiah says (57:15) ‘inhabiteth eternity’ but stands with one foot in time.  The part of time where God stands most particularly is Christ, and thus in Christ we catch a glimpse of what eternity is all about, what God is all about, and what we ourselves are all about too.”

From the beginning of the beginning, humans have wondered and wandered and reflected and written deep thoughts about eternity.  We had to read a bunch of it in seminary, and after all and out of all of that, Buechner’s thoughts are the ones that stay with me.  “Not endless time, or the opposite of time, but the essence of time.”  I cannot explain how much I love that.  What is the essence of time for you?  Buechner talks about when you’re with someone you love, when you’re doing something you love, when you have little if any sense of the passage of time because you’re so in whatever moment you’re living, that’s what the “essence” of time is and thereby a glimpse of eternity. 

Can you remember the last time that happened for you?  Fully present in the present – cessation of worry about the past or the future; release of self-criticism or worry about what others are thinking about your “self”.  Do I believe Jesus was self-reflective?  Absolutely.  I also very much believe when he was living and teaching and healing and praying, he was so fully in the moment that each person he was with, beyond labels of male or female, gentile or Jew, slave or free, experienced the fullness of God. From the criminals who hung beside him on the cross, to the man living in the tombs with ‘demons’, to the lawyer who wanted to know what he needed to do to inherit eternal life and after responding to Jesus’ question about what the law says in loving God and neighbor, Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan to define who a neighbor was.  No distance or space or awkward pauses for composure; no over-explaining or under-reporting; no defensiveness of position or arrogance of being right; simple, complete, and wholly (Holy?) presence.

I don’t think any of us can do that completely all the time, that whole Jesus is Jesus and we’re not thing. And yet, I believe we can “stand on such occasions with one foot in eternity.”  I think that’s why I’m drawn to think about eternity when things in life seem overwhelming.  It’s not about some future escape into a golden-streeted harp-playing cloud-hopping place above the sky. O.k., the last part sounds a little fun.  Rather it’s more about the moments now that can remind me that we are not facing into this journey of life alone, and can I/we keep ourselves open and vulnerable enough to those moments that we don’t miss the grace-filled glimpses that are there?

I was at Petsmart, what better place to catch of glimpse of grace and a little bit of eternity?  Anyway, I was standing and watching the puppy training that was happening inside the round enclosure in the middle of the store. If you haven’t watched, it’s pretty entertaining. Puppies are a challenge, but nothing can make you feel better than their exuberance, at least from outside the enclosure.  And this little girl, probly about 3, comes up beside me, looks up and says quite excitedly, “Grandma!”  I looked over at her mom who was in a state of not exactly fear, but the look a parent gets when their child says something they aren’t sure how to recover. Let’s simply say I saw that look a lot on my parents’ faces, so I easily recognize it.  I look at the mom then at the little girl and said that of course I’d be happier than a peach to be her grandma.  The mom smiled and said, “she does look a little like grandma, doesn’t she? I’ll bet she has grandkids of her own.”  My throat constricted a bit, then I remembered that I AM 60!  So I said that while I don’t have grandkids, I have some grand-nephews that are pretty sweet. And after we adults got done adulting, the little girl looks at me and says, “Grandma!” The mom looked at me shaking her head so I knelt down and said that her grandma must be the luckiest person in the world to have a granddaughter like her.  We shared a little hug and they left for the front door and I turned toward the cat litter.

Two things hit me 1) I am, in fact, way more than old enough to be a grandma, which shouldn’t really be shocking, but whaaaaat??? And 2) moments like that give me hope. Somehow and some way we have a future.  In the midst of our lack of openness to new friends and family members around corners in pet stores, our children may yet lead the way.  Between the puppies and my unexpected yet newly-minted grandma status, I never once thought about all the reasons the world doesn’t seem to be working very well right now.  ”Not endless time, or the opposite of time, but the essence of time.”

What if the way we treat each other does impact wars in Ukraine, verbal battles over Supreme Court decisions, and religious splintering?  What if being, even momentarily, fully present with other humans creates the space for grace to happen?  While I’m kinda hoping cloud-hopping is part of the deal, until then, keeping my spirit open and my biases at bay to meet people where they are may help me focus on the essence of eternity now.  The harsh realities don’t disappear, but our hearts may stay softer in relation to one another, and maybe that’s enough.

I’m using the video below of the Judd’s singing “Love Can Build a Bridge” which Naomi Judd wrote many years ago.  The words fit the spirit of the blog, AND it’s mental health awareness month and as her daughters have shared, Naomi died of mental health disease last week.  The words and her journey with what, for her, was a terminal illness, reminds me that we simply don’t know what battles everyone else is fighting. Let’s be gentle with one another.

(link to video)