Jan 9th, Living in Our Time Being, with Rev. Barry Heath
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Jan 9th: Living in Our Time Being, with Rev. Barry Heath. – powered by Happy Scribe
In 1941, WH Auden wrote a profound poem entitled for the Time Being. It was intended as an Advent and Christmas oratorio to be put to music which it never was. Although intended for Advent, its theme of waiting during Advent is really about waiting and living in the days after the celebrations and mystery of Christmas. In other words, it is really a poem about living and waiting for God’s fulfillment of the Christmas promises while we live in these days after Christmas.
The poem was written in 1941 and was penned two months after Auden’s mother died. About that, he wrote to a friend, When Mother dies, one is for the first time really alone in the world, and that is hard. The world was also in a time of waiting, as Auden wrote his poem as events in Europe with Hitler’s rise to power in Germany left everyone feeling uncertain of how to live in the uncertain times. The profound question Odin raises in his poem is one that has been raised since the writing of the story of the Garden of Eden.
How does one live in uncertain times?
And most importantly, how does one live when the God that seemed so real and so present in the mystery at the manger seems to be absent in the reality of life after in this New Year, we wait for God to be just as real as we thought God was in the manger. We wait for prayers for justice and peace to be answered. We wait for life to be fair. We wait for all those promises of Scripture to be fulfilled, and we live the uncomfortable doubt that maybe Christmas is just a time we rehearse every year, but that we don’t see its promises being experienced in the real life.
We live in what Auden calls for the time being.
Auden felt alone after his mother’s death. But he was not alone in raising this question. Our Scriptures tell us people of faith have wrestled with this question in the turmoil and uncertainty of their time, too. Habakkuk, an Old Testament Prophet writing in 600 BCE at the height of the Babylonian Empire, wrestles with how one can understand the ways of a just God when he says that God is silent when the wicked swallow those more righteous than they. Habakkuk writes this, O Lord, how long shall I cry for help?
And you will not listen or cry to you? Violence and you will not save. Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me. Strife and contention arise.
2000 years after this 2000 years later, the victims of the Holocaust in Germany raised the same question. How is God absent at such a time in history? How does a just God let the evildoers do what they do in our time? We may not be the victims of violence, but there are thousands in our world who are in our time. Innocence still suffer from a pandemic hunger, even in our own rich country, is still an epidemic, especially among the children and churches like this one must open our doors to help those who have no homes to keep them warm.
Didn’t we just celebrate the mystery of the birth of Emmanuel God with us? Didn’t we feel once again the mystery of God’s real presence as we lit Advent candles and then read the Christmas story? Even for a brief moment, the mystery was real. Our faith was validated. God was among us.
But then we put away the manger and the decorations and with it the mystery as we opened our daily newspapers or read them online and normal life returned. Now, how do we live in the time being? Where has the mystery of God’s presence gone? How is the just God our faith professes active in the injustices we see all around us in our time being. I would like to read the closing of Odin’s poem to you as he reflects on this time being after the mystery of Advent and Christmas.
Well, that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree and putting the decorations back in their boxes. Some have gotten broken and then carrying them up to the attic. The Holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt and the children got ready for school. There are enough leftovers to do warmed up for the rest of the week.
Not that we have much appetite. Having drunk such a lot and stayed up so late, attempted quite unsuccessfully to love all of our relatives and in general grossly overestimated our powers. Once again, as in previous years, we have seen the actual vision and failed to do more than entertain it as an agreeable possibility. Once again we have sent him away begging, though, to be his disobedient servant, the promising child who cannot keep his word for long. The Christmas feast is already a fading memory, and already the mind begins to be vaguely aware of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought of Lent and Good Friday, which cannot, after all, now be far off.
But for the time being here we all are back in the moderate Aristotelian city of Darning in the 815, where Euclid’s geometry and Newton’s mechanics would account for our experience, and the kitchen table exists because I scrub it, it seems to have shrunk during the holidays. The streets are much narrower than we remembered. We had forgotten how the office was as depressing as it is to those who have seen the child, however dimly, however incredulously the time being is in a sense the most trying time of all for the innocent children who whispered so excitedly outside the locked door when they knew the presence to be inside.
They grew up when it opened and now recollecting that moment we can repress the joy, but the guilt remains conscious, remembering the stable where, for once in our lives everything became a you and nothing, wasn’t it? And craving the sensation.
But ignoring the cause, we look around for something, no matter what, to inhibit our self reflection. And the obvious thing for that purpose would be some great suffering. So once we have met the Son, we are tempted ever after to pray to the Father, lead us into temptation and evil for our sake. Well, they will come all right. Don’t worry.
Probably in a form that we do not expect, and certainly with a force more dreadful than we can imagine. In the meantime, there are bills to be paid, machines to keep and repair irregular verbs, to learn the time being to redeem from insignificance. The happy morning is over. The night of agony still to come. The time is noon when the spirit must practice his scales of rejoicing without even a hostile audience.
And the soul endure a silence that is neither for nor against her faith, that God’s will will be done, that in spite of her prayers, God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph. And there is the paradox of living in the time being. God will cheat no one, not even the world of its triumph. So all of the realities of life, illness, hunger, violence, all continue. And we are left to ask the profound question once more.
Where is our just God? How do we live in the time being when the mystery of the manger has been replaced by the harsh realities of life? And so we once more must again learn to cope. How do we do that? How do we live in this time?
We want to know, when will God stop letting the world have its triumph and finally have justice, mercy, and peace prevail? Instead, the answer our faith gives to our question does not seem very satisfactory to me. Our faith says we must wait. Habakkuk put it this way. When he wrote this answer to his own question, I will stand at my WatchPost and station myself on the Rampart.
I will keep watch to see what he will say to me and what he will answer concerning my complaint. And then the Lord answered me and said, Write the vision and write it plain on tablets so that even a runner may read it, for there is still a vision for the appointed time. It speaks of the end and does not lie. If it seems to carry wait for it, it will surely come. It will not delay, wait for it.
Is God’s answer to Habakkuk? If I am honest, I’m frustrated, maybe even a little angry with that answer. I don’t think it would have soothed the victims of the concentration camps during the Holocaust. It does not feed the hungry today or bring about justice or peace. Surely our Earth must offer us more than this.
And our faith does give us more Henry now and helps me here, he wrote, There is no passively waiting in Scripture, those who are waiting are waiting very actively. They know that what they are waiting for is growing from the ground on which they are standing. Right here is a secret for us about waiting. If we wait in the conviction that a seed has been planted and that something has already begun, it changes the way we wait. Active waiting implies being fully present to the moment with the conviction that something is happening where we are and that we want to be present to it.
A waiting person is someone who is present to the moment, believing that this moment is the moment I will get to what active waiting looks like in a moment. But first we must Orient ourselves in time. This time we can call the time being. The time we are living in right now requires us to live in two time realities, one called Chronos time and the other. Kairos time.
Chronos time is the time that autonomy called living in the Aristotelian city of Darning in the 815, Kronos time is the time of physical reality and daily events in which we live by physical laws in which, as Auden says, even the world has its triumph. Chronos time is the world where we convince ourselves that what we see, what we touch, what we know with our brains is the only reality of life. We live life professing. If I can’t prove something, it doesn’t exist. This is the life in the reality of Kronos time.
But we also live in Kairos time. God’s time. It is the time that we glimpsed in Advent and Christmas. But importantly, it is a time that we can’t put away with the decorations. Jesus proclaimed the arrival of the Kingdom of God, not in the future but in our midst in our time being.
So we live in both Chronos time and Cairos time. Our physical eyes behold Kronos time. Our five senses experience Chronos time. Our minds analyze rationalize and categorize Chronos time. Perhaps 95% to even 100% of our experience is focused on Chronos time.
It’s no wonder we think that Chronos time is all there is. It is all we mostly focus on, but active waiting. Scriptural Waiting Faith waiting is focused on Kairos time. To live in Earth. In our time being, to actively wait requires us to make a choice, a radical choice, a choice to see time, our time with eyes of faith where we behold in our time the Kingdom of God.
If we wait as now and says in the conviction that a seed has been planted and that something has already begun, it changes the way we wait. We wait, knowing that the reality of the mystery and fulfillment that we entertained briefly at Advent and Christmas has already begun and we make the choice not to pack the vision of it away this year. The choice is to accept that we live in two realities at the same time, the reality of our physical and limited life, where understanding of mystery is never explained by sight and touch and fact.
But we also live in the spiritual reality made known to us through Jesus the Christ, the same child who was born in a manger and whose power over the physical realities of life and even over all Chronos time was shown to us in His crucifixion death and resurrection. Living in our time being through faith.
We have the perspective to know that the innocence we beheld in the manger wasn’t innocence at all, but the gift of the presence and the power of God and God’s love, a gift that provides a new life to us to live and show us an eternal power that still lives in and through us. And this is part of the reason that we are frustrated and even get angry when our daily life seems out of control and that God is insensitive to the struggles of life. It is because when we see Chronos Time, we see only the reality of physical and political and human power, which so often does not solve or resolve our human predicament but only repeats the same limited and unsatisfactory answers to our cries for justice and mercy.
But we have a choice. While we live in Chronos time, we can choose to know Kairos time where God is active.
Even now, we can choose to see to have this perspective. This vision of the reality of our time being as now and again says we wait in the conviction that the seed has been planted and that something has already begun. You know, I’m struck by something that has become a regular part of the national nightly newscasts. At the end of reporting all the news of tragedy and violence, disease and death, there is usually a segment reporting that something happened where people helped others or organized for some good, a story of kindness, of justice, of mercy, of compassion, a story that would have gone unnoticed to most of the country.
And yet, because it was a story on the national news, the good news story became known.
I’m pretty sure that the national news Editors don’t realize it, but they are presenting to us a story of Kairos time in our time being. They’re presenting us with a feel good story after all, the bad news that preceded it. But if we have eyes of faith to see, we can see God moving in these stories, we can see the Kingdom of God and the values that are expressed of mercy, justice, equality and neighborly love. We have a choice to make in this season of life that we live now.
We can be the visible reality of the Kingdom of God in the world if we choose to be.
Paul said this to the Galatians about their time of waiting and their time being. Their problem wasn’t that they couldn’t even see the Kingdom of God in the world, but they couldn’t even see it in the Church, let alone the world to them. Paul wrote this. So let us not grow weary in doing what is right for. We will reap at harvest time if we do not give up.
So then whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all and especially for those of the family of faith. So here it is how to live in our time being. First, we are to know that we live in two realities at the same time, Chronos time and also Kairos time. Second, we are to see the actions of God in the reality of our daily lives. God is not passive in our time, even when the world has its victories.
As Auden says, God’s, mercy and justice are real and present in the actions of the faithful who live their time being in the faith and reality of Kairos time. And third, we are to act in our time being with acts of kindness, mercy, justice and peace. In other words, we are to act as the living embodiment of the Kingdom of God.
Did you get that? We are to be the embodiment of the Kingdom of God? We just may be what God is waiting for. While we think we are waiting for God. After we have observed the mercy and justice of the Kingdom of God in a manger and on a cross and in an empty tomb, we are to be as best we can, even in our limited and maybe seemingly small way, the love and justice of God in our relationships, in our politics, in our community, in every aspect of life.
And if we will live and act this way, God will take what we do and work miracles and mysteries just as God did with the human beings in the reality of Christmas thousands of years ago. Do not be discouraged by Chronos time. For our time is the time being where God lives and works in us in the reality that is Kairos time, the fulfillment that was made known to us in Jesus the Christ lives in the reality realities of the world as God lives and works through us.