The term ‘eternity past’ kept coming up on Sunday night and set me thinking. Why the adjective? And I think it is because we conceive of eternity somehow stretching endlessly back, an unimaginable distance out of which God comes.
Which may be. God could come out of an endless unbeginning we cannot fathom. It is hard at that stage to draw the line between the irrational and the super-rational. Still, for some reason to me it just doesn’t seem likely that eternity should have any relationship to time: that it is merely time stretched to the unmeasurable point. Though it could be. Perhaps time had no beginning, but that’s where I get the idea we are below, not above reason. No beginning to that which identifies beginning as a concept? I’m more inclined to think it did.
But I find also that I don’t think of time as a parenthesis in eternity. That strikes me as thinking of eternity in terms of time too: before and after said parenthesis. Or course, it may be that as temporal beings, we have to, and can’t really grasp anything above reason, at least not by reasoning. Which is obvious.
Which leaves the problem, doesn’t it, of what exactly eternity is. Is it an unchanging frozen endlessness of joy and splendor? Perhaps–how can we even know? But that is something else I do not think it is.
I think time is an external constraint, something that imposes beginnings and ends externally. I think eternity has change, has moments which reach their fullness and pass, but aren’t jostled by all the other moments. Everything has its perfection. Eternity is free of time, so that nothing is rushed and nothing every waits in boredom.
But what then, how does this take place?
Of course, I really have no clue, so I proceed by preferences and intimations. There are no doubt learned disquisitions for anyone who would rather. And maybe on these some handholds of certainty can be gained. There is the poem below that swerves into something good, but leaves the thing disappointingly unanswered. He was no fool.
Proceeding on my own, then, what is this idea of eternity as perfect moments bubbling up, maturing, and being somehow held in a brighter than present memory? Isn’t that time? It is not time because it is not externally regulated, but everything is regulated from within: each experience and situation grows to maturity uninterrupted, and is savored perfectly, unjostled by anything outside of it.
And then what? So our consciousness expands, taking in each perfection perfectly, and perhaps eventually simultaneous ones in harmony and counterpoint, like the mysterious music of the musician of heaven: Bach. And we are not ruled, like now we are, by spheres and motions within which we stand, but these things are inside us, not outside.
Art in some way is an intersection in time of eternity. You are absorbed into the thing, its rules and motions and experiences exist all independent of all other concerns. It creates a timeless moment that absorbs you so that you get the perfection of it.
Which is just to say that eternity is a differently measured time, isn’t it? Yeah, probably. I haven’t gone further.
By Henry Vaughan
I SAW Eternity the other night
Like a great Ring of pure and endless light,
All calm, as it was bright,
And round beneath it, Time in hours, days, years
Driv’n by the spheres
Like a vast shadow mov’d, In which the world
And all her train were hurl’d;
The doting Lover in his queintest strain
Did their Complain,
Neer him, his Lute, his fancy, and his flights,
Wits sour delights,
With gloves, and knots the silly snares of pleasure
Yet his dear Treasure
All scatter’d lay, while he his eys did pour
Upon a flowr.
The darksome States-man hung with weights and woe
Like a thick midnight-fog mov’d there so slow
He did nor stay, nor go;
Condemning thoughts (like sad Ecclipses) scowl
Upon his soul,
And Clouds of crying witnesses without
Pursued him with one shout.
Yet dig’d the Mole, and lest his ways be found
Workt under ground,
Where he did Clutch his prey, but one did see
Churches and altars fed him, Perjuries
Were gnats and flies,
It rain’d about him bloud and tears, but he
Drank them as free.
The fearfull miser on a heap of rust
Sate pining all his life there, did scarce trust
His own hands with the dust,
Yet would not place one peece above, but lives
In feare of theeves.
Thousands there were as frantick as himself
And hug’d each one his pelf,
The down-right Epicure plac’d heav’n in sense
And scornd pretence
While others slipt into a wide Excesse
Said little lesse;
The weaker sort slight, triviall wares Inslave
Who think them brave,
And poor, despised truth sate Counting by
Yet some, who all this while did weep and sing,
And sing, and weep, soar’d up into the Ring,
But most would use no wing.
O fools (said I,) thus to prefer dark night
Before true light,
To live in grots, and caves, and hate the day
Because it shews the way,
The way which from this dead and dark abode
Leads up to God,
A way where you might tread the Sun, and be
More bright than he.
But as I did their madnes so discusse
One whisper’d thus,
This Ring the Bride-groome did for none provide
But for his bride.