A Prayer in Time

A Prayer in Time

Laura K. Secor

Hello my friends,

Welcome to a winter wonderland!  What a crazy time of year, isn’t it?  I spent the last few weeks allowing myself to be buffeted by the demands of the season, purely reactive, not taking time to simply be.  So when it came time to write my monthly Nugget, I didn’t have a theme percolating in the back of my mind. I was at sea.

But the good news is that we don’t do this alone.  I don’t have to rely solely on my own imagination to explore spiritual matters.  I found this wonderful letter written by C.S. Lewis exploring his thoughts on prayer.  And as I read, I was enchanted to follow his turnings of thought, but also I felt like he was answering my question.  What should I do to slow down this season, and recapture my sense of ease? Take time for prayer.

Here is C.S. Lewis:

I had to touch on the subject of prayer, and while that is still fresh in your mind and my own, I should like to deal with a difficulty that some people find about the whole idea of prayer.  A man put it to me by saying “I can believe in God all right, but what I cannot swallow is the idea of Him attending to several hundred million human beings who are all addressing Him at the same moment.”  And I have found that quite a lot of people feel this.

            Now, the first thing to notice is that the whole sting of it comes in the words “at the same moment.”  Most of us can imagine God attending to any number of applicants if only they came one by one and He had an endless time to do it in.  So what is really at the back of this difficulty is the idea of God having to fit too many things into one moment of time.

            Well that is of course what happens to us.  Our life comes to us moment by moment. One moment disappears before the next comes along and there is room for very little in each.  That is what Time is like. And of course you and I tend to take it for granted that this Time series – this arrangement of past, present and future – is not simply the way life comes to us but the way all things really exist  We tend to assume that the whole universe and God Himself are always moving on from past to future just as we do. But many learned men do not agree with that. It was the Theologians who first started the idea that some things are not in Time at all: later the Philosophers took it over: and now some of the scientists are doing the same.

            Almost certainly God is not in Time.  His life does not consist of moments following one another.  If a million people are praying to Him at ten-thirty tonight, He need not listen to them all in that one little snippet which we call ten-thirty.  Ten-thirty – and every other moment from the beginning of the world – is always Present for Him. If you like to put it that way, He has all eternity in which to listen to the split second of prayer put up by a pilot as his plane crashes in flames.

From “Mere Christianity”

“… and now some of the scientists are doing the same”.  Did this phrase jump out at you? For me, it sparked a memory of a book by Carlo Rovelli.  Carlo is a theoretical physicist who wrote a book called “The Order of Time” which is an exploration, without equations, of the nature of time.

We inhabit time as fish live in water.  Our being is being in time. Its solemn music nurtures us, opens the world to us, troubles us, frightens and lulls us.  The universe unfolds into the future, dragged by time, and exists according to the order of time.

            In Hindu mythology, the river of the cosmos is portrayed with the sacred image of Shiva dancing: his dance supports the coursing of the universe; it is itself the flowing of time.  What could be more universal and obvious than this “flowing”?

            And yet the structure of time is not what it seems to be: it is different from this uniform, universal flowing.  One after another, the characteristic features of time have proved to be approximations, mistakes determined by our perspective, just like the flatness of the Earth or the revolving of the sun.  The growth of our knowledge has led to a slow disintegration of our notion of time. What we call “time Is a complex collection of structures, of layers. Under increasing scrutiny, in ever greater depth, time has lost layers one after another, until what we have left is an empty, windswept landscape almost devoid of all trace of temporality.  A world stripped to its essence, glittering with an arid and troubling beauty.  

            In a world without time, there must still be something that gives rise to the time that we are accustomed to, with its past that is different from the future, with its smooth flowing.  Somehow, our time must emerge around us, at least for us and at our scale. When we discover the constituent parts of the time that is familiar to us, they are useful approximations for the clumsy and bungling mortal creatures that we are: aspects of our perspective, and aspects, too, perhaps, that are decisive in determining what we are.  Because the mystery of time is ultimately, perhaps, more about ourselves than about the cosmos.

This is what Carlo and C.S. make me think – We humans live in a universe ordered by time, but that’s not the only option.

Happy Holidays!