On tapping into eternity
"What day is it?"
I remember as a child being completely mystified when my grandmother would ask that question. She did not suffer from dementia or Alzheimers or anything else of that sort. She had a memory as good as any other - particularly sharp at perceived slights which had been lobbed her way even fifty years previously - and yet she would ask me what day it was quite frequently.
"Grams!" I would respond, perhaps without the patience I hope I have subsequently developed, "It's Tuesday. How can you not know it's Tuesday?"
Thinking back, Tuesday for my grandmother looked an awful lot like Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Gramps went to work and she had a series of tasks and rituals as constant as a Latin Mass, which she performed with diligence and love: cooking, cleaning, laundry, phone calls, her "stories" (soap operas), a brief nap. Normally these things would take up the entirety of her day until Gramps got home from the mine, supper would be on the table, and a whole new series of tasks and rituals would take over until bedtime.
I am now beginning to understand my grandmother's question, as most of these lockdown days tend to look the same to me as well. Whilst it's true I have daily Zoom meetings and phone calls to make, the routine of a life in which I rarely go out has rendered grey a daily routine which was once coloured by the Medieval churches of the city, the budding trees, and the faces and clothes of people in cafés and shops. "What day is it?" has become a very valid question.
This confusion is further exacerbated by the second lesson today. In the first lesson we're still accompanying our Hebrew forebears along the rather exciting path of the Exodus, and today we've even got the pyrotechnics of the giving of the Ten Commandments. And since Easter is our Passover, continuing with Exodus fits nicely with Christ, our Passover Lamb.
But what do we hear about in our second lesson? The Annunciation. That's right, after weeks of reflecting on Jesus Christ's journey to the grave and beyond, now we're hearing about when he wasn't even born yet, about that moment when he went from being a twinkle in his Father's eye to someone like us.
Now, of course I know there aren't fifty days' worth of post-Resurrection narratives to read. At our Eucharistic services we're going through the Acts of the Apostles, and evening prayer gives us Paul's letters, but here at morning prayer we're just starting back over with Luke, giving us a rather Christmas-y feel. What day is it?
But, upon reflection, I think it's splendid having this seeming mix of times and stories. Because, being eternal, God is not bound to our linear understanding of time. We have seconds, minutes, hours, days, and years to mark on our line where we are, but with God there is no line. Every moment is every moment that ever was and every moment that ever will be. And, though this concept is hard for a finite being like me to wrap my head around, I like jumping from the Exodus through the Resurrection back to Jesus' birth because it gives me a taste of God's unique vantage point in time and history, and this can give an important context to my point on the line of time - especially when all my days seem to be the same.
It also offers, I think, a fantastic theology of communal prayer, which I like to think of as "tapping into eternity." Through praying together we who are finite - we who suffer and are joyful, we who are optimistic and pessimistic, we who are angry and resigned, we who are certain and who doubt - all of us get a chance to tap into the story of our salvation. In these moments of prayer we are also able to participate in every moment that ever was and every moment that will ever be.
This notion personally gives me great comfort. Because if I am experiencing a moment in which I am having difficulty with faith because of the circumstances of that moment, I know when I tap into eternity my voice is being united with everyone else who has ever suffered, and everyone else who ever will suffer; it's not my suffering I'm offering to God it's our suffering. And likewise, at the same time there are those who have managed to do what I cannot do in that moment - see God's love as clear as the wonder of a dewdrop - I know when they tap into eternity their voices are being united with everyone else who has ever been joyful, and everyone else who ever will be joyful; it's not their joy they're offering to God it's our joy.
So be strong and take courage, for you are definitely not alone. And though this awareness does not take away our suffering and confusion, and though we must obviously still endeavour to find ways to alleviate suffering where we see it, I believe there is a strength to be found when tapping into eternity. I am sure we and the world are the better for it.
I'm just not entirely sure what day it is.