Category Archives: time

Walking in foggy time.

I did it – I went back to the beach all on my own, only about three weeks after that last trip. Because I didn’t arrive until the afternoon, and I could only afford to spend a couple of hours at the most, I thought that time pressure would make the minutes fly.

Sea Rocket

But somehow, the opposite happened. Time swelled to be as big as the ocean; it was as vague and undefined as the fog. I walked and walked, lost in it, and when I checked my phone, I couldn’t believe how little of my allotment I had used. So I walked some more….

Believe it or not, I have the plant above, with the whitish leaves, in my garden. I bought it a the native plant nursery years ago, and knew it was a beach plant, but I’d never seen it before in its natural habitat. I recognized it immediately. I won’t worry about my plant anymore. It looks more spindly than these but otherwise … yeah. And I don’t know its name.

The sun never came out, but the air was pleasant. I wore a thin linen shirt, and carried my Teva sandals so that my feet could get the full sand experience. A girl spun cartwheels in the fringes of the incoming waves. Fathers with their children dug holes to catch the water. Bodies huddled like seals in driftwood teepees.

Coyote Brush
Bull Thistle

On my favorite shortcut road home I stopped many times to take pictures, and wished I could take scents. The masses of eucalyptus trunks and leaves exuded their distinctive aroma, which mixed with that of the cypress trees and the drying grass. Probably the coyote brush contributed to the heady perfume that was part of the afternoon’s fog on that particular hill.

Orange Bush Monkeyflower
Coyote Brush surrounded by Poison Oak surrounded by Coyote Brush

My app said that the little tree below was in the rose family. It had fruit looking like cherries, but didn’t resemble a cherry plum tree. I guessed it was a volunteer/escapee from an old farm nearby.

From the top of the hill I could look back and see just a bit of the bay and the hill above, through the fog and mist — and the barbed wire.

A wind came up and whished the slender eucalyptus leaves into a loud whisper, and they were still telling their secrets when I had to drive away. So I must go back soon for the rest of the story, right?

The angel gave a clue.

One book that I ordered some time ago and that has been sitting on my shelf — I really should write down where I get these book ideas — is the children’s book Tom’s Midnight Garden by Philippa Pearce. My paperback copy says on the cover, “60th Anniversary Edition.”  I took to it bed the other night to accompany me instead of Ruth Prawer Jhabvala; it’s conveniently lightweight and small.

The story is about an English boy Tom who is quarantined (who knew?) at his aunt and uncle’s house for a couple of weeks when his brother gets the measles. Though he starts out terribly bored in the small flat, he soon begins to have experiences that take him back in history, in a vast garden with a charming playmate. He keeps his nighttime adventures secret, but wonders what is going on; is his friend a ghost?

Toward the end of the story she shows him a Biblical inscription on a grandfather clock, which prompts the children to find a Bible and read the quote in context. They read about a rainbow, angel feet like pillars of fire, and the voices of seven thunders. At the breakfast table next morning Tom asks, “What is time?” It was a gently progressing mystery until that point, when the metaphysical questions intensified:

“Of course,” said Uncle Alan, “it used to be thought…” and Tom listened attentively, and sometimes he seemed to understand, and then, sometimes he was sure he didn’t. “But modern theories of Time,” said Uncle Alan, “the most modern theories…” and Tom began wondering if theories went in and out of fashion, like ladies’ dresses, and then suddenly knew that he couldn’t be attending, and wrenched his mind back, and thought again that he was understanding… and then again was sure he wasn’t, and experienced a great depression.

“I’ve heard a theory, too,” said Tom, while his uncle paused to drink some more tea. “I know an angel — I know of an angel who said that, in the end, there would be Time no longer.”

“An angel!” His uncle’s shout was so explosive that a great deal of tea slopped down his tie, and he was made even angrier to have to mop it up. “What on earth have angels to do with scientific theories?” Tom trembled, and dared not explain that this was more than a theory; it was a blazing, angelic certitude.

More and more clues are added, as Tom’s desperation grows. He does not want to leave the house and go home again, and thinks at one point that he may have figured out Time enough to make it work the way he wants. I won’t tell you the happy ending to this fun story, but I will say it has a lot to do with an old lady’s dreams. And of course, the mystery of Time is not ever truly solved. It’s metaphysical!

Matthias Gerung, 1500-1570

Everything depends upon that moment.

Today is the beginning of our salvation;
the revelation of the eternal Mystery!
The Son of God becomes the Son of the Virgin
as Gabriel announces the coming of Grace.
Together with him let us cry to the Theotokos:
“Rejoice, O Full of Grace, the Lord is with you!”

I had wanted to continue my ruminations on The Lily of the Field and the Bird of the Air by further considering The Moment that Søren Kierkegaard refers to when, after waiting in silence, “…the silent lily understands that now is the moment, and makes use of it.”

I don’t know what that moment consists of for you, for me, for us as a world community, or in our cities or church communities or families. No doubt there are overlapping times and seasons containing infinite instants, and only by quiet listening can we make any sense of them. But this passage in particular I wanted to pass on, in which the writer discusses what is missed when we fail to make the proper, standing-before-God kind of preparation:

“Even though it is pregnant with rich significance, the moment does not send forth any herald in advance to announce its arrival; it comes too swiftly for that; indeed, there is not a moment’s time beforehand…. But of course everything depends upon “the moment.” And this is surely the misfortune in the lives of many, of far the greater part of humanity: that they never perceived ‘the moment,’ that in their lives the eternal and the temporal were exclusively separated.”

So many thoughts swirl in my own noisy mind and heart that I could not imagine how I might find a way to share even these few gleanings with you. Then, in God’s providence and the church calendar, appeared someone who is the supreme example for us of being ready for the moment, that time in history and that time in her life, in a particular moment of a day, when the Angel Gabriel appeared to her. Today we remember that event, when Mary listened, and responded, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”

The Word became flesh and came to live with us, taking on all our human experience, its weakness and suffering and  death. He defeated death, and opened the gates of Paradise. The Incarnation, the beginning of our salvation, is The Moment of history; our own “Yes” to God, echoing Mary’s willingness, can be the essence of our every prayer as well, as we wait on Him.

Kierkegaard exhorts us, in words that seem especially fitting for this time of uncertainty and change: “Would that in the silence you might forget yourself, forget what you yourself are called, your own name, the famous name, the lowly name, the insignificant name, in order in silence to pray to God, ‘Hallowed be your name!’ Would that in silence you might forget yourself, your plans, the great, all-encompassing plans, or the limited plans concerning your life and its future, in order in silence to pray to God, ‘Your kingdom come!’ Would that you might in silence forget your will, your willfulness, in order in silence to pray to God, ‘Your will be done.'”

We know that God’s will for us is good, now as ever. Our inability to see or understand that is due to our weakness or sin, or His hiding of His works. May He give us grace to wait and to pray, and eventually we will see the full salvation of the LORD.

Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God!
How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!
For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given a gift to him that he might be repaid?
For from him and through him and to him are all things.
To him be glory forever. Amen.

Romans 11

How knitting is like dying.

This month our parish women’s book club is reading Tolstoy’s “The Death of Ivan Ilyich.” I finished it this morning, in an old anthology from 1947 that I had kept from our homeschooling years, when twice my late husband and I taught a short story course to our children. That collection is A Treasury of Short Stories edited by Bernardine Kielty. When I closed that volume I opened The Norton Reader, Seventh Edition, to see if it included any Tolstoy stories, but when I saw the title “From Journal of a Solitude,” I continued reading the first few excerpts taken from the book by May Sarton.

Her musings in the first paragraphs were on topics that were also among those so powerfully treated in the story of Ivan Ilyich: depression, dying; the perceived absence or presence of God, both “too frightening.” I don’t have any comments on those themes, but I would very much recommend Tolstoy’s story to your own reading. I thought I had read it before, but maybe I only started once. It is powerful.

I don’t know anything about May Sarton except what I read just this morning, but I appreciated the thoughts below; these came just down the page, after she’d moved on from writing about her dying friend. They are not so obviously linked to the Tolstoy story, except perhaps by their highlighting the need for patience in every stage and situation in life, not least at its end. “By your patient endurance you will gain your souls.” (Luke 21:19)

“In the mail a letter from a twelve-year-old child, enclosing poems, her mother having pushed her to ask my opinion. The child does really look at things, and I can write something helpful, I think. But it is troubling how many people expect applause, recognition, when they have not even begun to learn an art or a craft. Instant success is the order of the day; ‘I want it now!’ I wonder whether this is not part of our corruption by machines. Machines do things very quickly and outside the natural rhythm of life, and we are indignant if a car doesn’t start on the first try. So the few things that we still do, such as cooking (though there are TV dinners!), knitting, gardening, anything at all that cannot be hurried, have a very particular value.”

-May Sarton, Journal of a Solitude