Last time I was back in the family home, where Mum and Dad still live, I wandered into to study, browsing through Dad’s extensive book collection.
I took a bit of time to look at their wedding photographs. I’ve seen them before, of course. My favourite is the one that has been set into an old clock face.
They both look very young. He’s tall, thin faced – a bit skinny overall, perhaps. His smile looks a bit self conscious, but very genuine. Proud of the moment, of his new wife, but perhaps a touch embarrassed, perhaps a little nervous.
She is quite lovely, with thick dark hair striking against the white of her wedding dress. Her smile seems to me to show gentleness and strength. Or am I just reading that into the picture – based on what I know of her, rather than what’s actually there?
The problem is, of course, that I can’t be sure what either of them were like then.
Yet I would like to have known them. As I looked at the photograph, I thought that I would have liked to have known them, that bright young couple, just starting out on their married life together. I wish I could have met them that day, talked to them, wished them well and perhaps arranged to meet sometime. I would have talked trains to him, asked her about her nursing. Asked after their families. Talked about church, and preaching and worship.
I would have liked to talk to them about the things that they taught me. The values and attitudes and way of life that they instilled in me.
But of course, I can’t. I can never meet those people. They were already gone when I was born. In fact, my being born probably did a lot to change who they were!
It’s surprising, in retrospect, how little I actually thought about them, focused on them, as a child. To me, Mum and Dad were simply there. Such a solid, permanent part of my life that I perhaps treated them as part of the furniture! Not in a bad way. It was because of the security I had in home and parents that I could give my young minds thought and attention over to other things, assured on a deeper level than thought of my parents’ presence and of their love.
But I wish I could have seen them with adult eyes – seen and met that young family, shared more closely with them in their lives.
I still have my parents. But they are different people. Old, and grey and frail. Still the same people, with a continuity of memory and experience (and I do thank God for that) but different as well. Different because of that memory and experience. What they know now, they were still learning back then.
I thought of my own boys, and remembered the little babies that I got off to sleep with considerable effort but much love. I remembered the giggling toddlers I played with in the bath, the young lads in smart new school uniform off on their first day of education!
They are gone as well, slipped inexorably into the past. The boys I have now are different people. Still my lads, still Tom and Matt and Andy – but they are the Tom and Matt and Andy of today. I love the boys I have now – but I sometimes miss the ones they were then.
Time is inexorable. A juggernaught that rumbles on, unstoppable, uncaring, tearing us away from the past and dragging us into the future, without allowing us to stay and savour the moment.
Of course, that may not always be a bad thing. The old saying that ‘Time is a healer’ has some truth. Time can carry us away from the bad things as well as the good. It can put some distance between ourselves-now and ourselves-then, grant us a different perspective. Time allows us to learn from the past, and to hope for the future. If time did not move us always onwards those things would not be possible. Without time, there could be no growth.
But the point is, we have no choice in the matter. No matter if it is for good or bad, no matter if it heals or hurts – time moves on, inexorable.
The strangest thing though, is that we should ever imagine it otherwise, or complain of it or bless it. None of us – not one person alive now, not one person in the past – no one has ever been outside of time. From conception through birth and growth and old age to death, we are immersed in time, controlled by time. No matter if Time is a harsh tyrant or a benevolent master – we are utterly under its sway. We know nothing else, have never experienced anything else.
We think constantly in terms of time. We measure everything by it. We plan for the future, we recall the past. If there was no time, we would be in chaos.
Yet we are able to think outside of time. There is a whole sub-genre of Science Fiction devoted to time-travel, time-paradox stories. Stories about humans controlling Time, or at least challenging its rule. And even outside of fiction, in day to day life, we sometimes wish to be in the past or to stay in the present – or even wish to move on into the future, at a faster rate than the minute-per-minute speed we are confined to.
(Leaving aside, for the moment at least, the question of our perception of how time passes, which is not at all how the clock measures it. An hour of Maths always seemed longer to me than an hour of English, for example!)
Is that perhaps something in us time-bound creatures that yet yearns for an existence outside of time, beyond time, unfettered by time?
I said that no one has ever been outside of time. But there was one exception. Jesus Christ came from Eternity, and confined himself, not merely to the physical form of a man, but to the temporal restraints of humanity. In becoming one with us, he gave up both infinity and eternity. And so was able to grow, to share in our uni-directional journey from birth to death.
And then he came back again. Not just from beyond death, but from outside of Time. And thereby showed us that there are realms beyond the rule of Time, that existence outside of time, however difficult to conceive of, is possible.
Perhaps our longing for a wider experience than that which Time allows stems from this. Or perhaps it has always been there, something inherent in our souls, and the Resurrection confirmed and reinforced what part of us has always known – that the fourth dimension is neither the final one, nor the ultimate one. Perhaps humanity has always had eternity in its heart.
And the promise is that we will one day return to eternity. What form that will take we cannot know, time-bound as we are. But it may be that what we know see as the absolute rule of a Tyrant will then (and notice that we cannot even talk about it without using time laden concepts!) be seen as just one small facet of a much vaster existence.
We are not ready for that immensity as yet. We may need to grow more. And perhaps that is the true function of Time – not a healer, nor a tyrant, but a teacher - giving us opportunity to prepare for the immensity of reality beyond its borders. Perhaps, also Time is a guardian, protecting us from the sheer hugeness of what lies beyond.
The Bible doesn’t say much about Time. It hardly needs to, we live in it! Nor does it speak a great deal about the nature of Eternity – we perhaps could not comprehend it if it did. But it does tell us that there is an eternity, that lies beyond this life, and that someday we shall be there, whatever it’s like.
Perhaps I’ll get to meet that young couple there, after all.