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Forever and eternal

Forever and eternal

Psalm 146, 147 (Morning)

Psalm 111, 112, 113 (Evening)

Isaiah 40:1-11

Hebrews 1:1-12

John 1:1-7, 19-20, 29-34

Today’s readings speak to the eternal nature of God, but the truth is, we have no concept of “forever.”

We use the word “forever” in a lot of situations but they are almost always a far cry from forever. “I’ll love you forever,” becomes, at best, “I’ll love you till I die,” and usually it doesn’t make it that long. Teens text “BFF” for “Best Friend Forever,” but good luck if those two kids recognize each other at their 25th high school reunion. Five minutes seems like forever to a four year old in the Time Out Corner.

The concept of finite time permeates almost everything we do–so much that it defines who we are. In fact, one of the very first senses of our own selves is that day we are able to hold up three fingers and announce, “I am three years old.” So how in the world can we really grasp the word of God standing forever, or the beautiful opening to the Gospel of John, “In the beginning was the Word?”

Interestingly, a few cultures exist that don’t hitch their wagon to the concept of time in quite the way we do. One such tribe, the Amondawa, in Brazil, has no words in their language that correspond to many of the common mile markers of time, such as months or years, nor do they have a calendar. Even their names are not a permanent part of their sense of self. As people in the Amondawa tribe grow up, they are given a new name every time they reach a developmental milestone or new social position, and the old name is discarded, with no looking back. The name they are born with is not the name they will take to their grave. Nobody in that culture knows how old they are. Yet they still have a sense of self, and a sense of being–and perhaps this is what lies at the heart of this paradox of an eternal God and a relationship with God that transcends the finite span of a human life.

What strikes me about the Amondawan culture is that a way of life relatively devoid of time-based markers of self is a way of life that trusts in the power of transformation (and the transformation of those around us) to give us our sense of being. We would never be too attached to the name we had, because we knew we would be getting another one someday and would be comfortable with that. A way of life with fewer time-based markers might free us from some of those expectations we place on ourselves about what we ought to be doing at a particular time in our lives. We might focus more on who we are becoming instead of being focused on who we’ve always been. It might cast some light on the shadows in that place that Henri Nouwen refers to as “the twilight zone of our hearts,” where we never fully understand or feel the grace of who we are in the light of the reality of how God sees us.

Perhaps the question is not, “What does forever mean?” but, “When we are bold enough to abandon those pieces of ourselves that are dependent on time, and our expectations of ourselves in a particular time frame, how does that bring us closer to the eternal nature of God?”

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid. Dr. Evans recently returned from a mission trip from the Diocese of Missouri to the Episcopal Diocese of Lui, South Sudan. http://luinetwork.diocesemo.org

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Maria L. Evans

Thanks, Jane for your comments. I agree that icons, as well as some of the other ancient practices, are certainly a window to "eternal." I wonder--(and this is purely a hypothetical question)--is it because in these practices it is that we at least temporarily set aside that sense of self that seems attached to time? It's a good question, I think, but probably an unanswerable one.

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Many of us can gain a greater understanding of God and the eternal by passing through the gates of icons in meditation.

Jane Pelz [added by ~ed.]

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