When Does Eternity Begin?
I attended a retreat some years ago, and distinctly remember hearing the facilitator mention that baptism is not just a ritual to last a moment, but a passage into eternity.
He also said that, in spite of this, many Christians live life as though they are in a waiting room, counting the empty units of time one by one, hoping for eternity to suddenly interrupt the flow. We imagine this interruption to be a major life event that suddenly pops up, finishes, then disappears under the relentless flow of the mundane present.
To call this conception of eternity as a momentary interruption of the present unsatisfying would be an understatement. What is more, it is also untrue.
If eternity begins at baptism - if incorporation of the person into the Body of Christ, into the Divine Logos whose imprint is in all creation – then for the Christian, it is actually the inverse that should be true.
Rather than an empty day waiting to be interrupted by an eschaton, every single moment in this vale, when it is in the Divine Logos who is “the beginning and the end” (Rev 1:8), is the eschaton. The boundaries that clinically surround each moment and separates one moment from another are broken down. Every moment becomes what Jean Luc Marion calls a “saturated phenomenon”, a platform from which everyone is catapulted to the very ends of time.
We are, on the one hand, thrown forward into the very end of history, where we are pressed against the limitations of our temporal existence. And yet, these experiences are still intimately present to us. We experience this most acutely in our experience of disappointments, our relationship breakdowns, our defeats, and particularly the moments when we are made aware of our death or the death of others.
In these times we are made to come face to face, as St Augustine taught, of the vast chasm of desire within us that the things in this world, good though they might be, cannot ever satisfy. And it is at these moments when we desire more than what this time bounded world can offer that we come to what Luigi Giussani described as the beginnings of “the religious sense“.
On the other hand, each moment in the eschaton is also throwing us back to the beginning of history. Every moment is in this sense, edenic. We are given glimpses of this aspect of the eschaton when we are given material cues to be nostalgic, triggering our desire for our younger, perhaps happier days at the beginning of relationships or a change in our state in life, or when times were more innocent, when we were more innocent, blissfully unaware of the hardships to come in later years.
As Aaron Riches and Creston Davis tell us in an essay entitled “Metanoia: The Theological Praxis of Revolution“, we are in the wake of the Christ Event thrust into the beginning of materiality itself even as we live out our days in this mortal coil. Each new beginning strips each event in our lives, especially the most painful ones, of the finality that we often attribute to them, a sentiment that is affirmed in the psalms where we are reminded that the mercies of the Lord begin anew every single day.
In each moment – each eschaton – we are stretched to recognise each day as one of what the prophets called “the latter days” when the plans of man come to nothing and what reaches fulfilment are the works of the Divine artist. At the same time, we are invited to recognise every day as a neo-Genesis, that formless void through which the fertile and creative breath of God courses to grant new life.
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