Rapture: In Other Words, Impatience and Distraction

I would be lying if I said the recent silliness of Harold Camping’s Rapture predictions and the subsequent commentary which followed before and after had not caused an interior restlessness and conflict within me.  Not that for one moment I believed any of Camping’s nonsense, but the fact that I am Christian put me, unfortunately, under the big tent of Christianity which Camping chose to turn into a circus.  And, I felt, once the circus lights went out and the event was over, there would be a lot of crap to clean up.

Predictions like Camping’s do not adhere to orthodox Christianity, as N.T. Wright explains here.    Rather, “end of times” scenarios follow more the politics of distraction and impatience than Christian doctrine.  One only has to point to words of Jesus in the gospel of Matthew (“No one, not even the son, knows the day or hour…”) to render Camping’s predictions moot.

However, I, like many Christians, found myself defending my faith as a whole, for many chose to paint the entirety of Christianity with Camping’s brush.  My unfortunate fascination with comments left on various news stories, such as I find on CNN.com or NPR.org, found this tendency in abundance.  Many were vitriolic dismissals of faith in the “invisible man in the sky,” or at its worst, a secular call for the eradication of all religions (at which I wondered what the implementation of their plan would be like should they have their way).  A shared agreement with the ridiculousness of Camping’s assertions was secondary to a general bashing of religion.

On both sides, as mentioned before, this event followed more the politics of distractions and impatience than Christian doctrine.  Our sound bite culture thrives on the new gossip, the new product, and the new conflict; distractions are embedded into our culture.  Why settle for what you have now?  Here’s what’s next.  Yesterday was old news, and this story is just breaking.  And what better stories are there than the odd, the weird, the sensational?  Therefore, it is no surprise that the news jumped on this fringe group.

In the realm of Christianity, talk of Rapture and End Times distracts us from who we are called to be in Christ, in the here and now.  CS Lewis uses his demon Screwtape to drive this point home in letter 15 of The Screwtape Letters:

“He [God] does not want men to give the Future their hearts, to place their treasure in it.  We do.  His ideal is a man who, having worked all day for the good of posterity (if that is his vocation), washes his mind of the whole subject, commits the issue to Heaven, and returns at once to the patience or gratitude demanded by the moment that is passing over him.  But we want a man hag-ridden by the Future- haunted by visions of an imminent heaven or hell upon earth- ready to break the Enemy’s commands in the present if by doing so we make him think he can attain the one or avert the other- dependent for his faith on the success or failure of schemes who end he will not live to see.  We want a whole race perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow’s end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present.”

This is the position Camping and other end-time theorists put themselves in when divining supposed Rapture scenarios.  Does it not also follow that a notion of impatience is built into this as well?  In my Anglican tradition, we are called within the liturgy of the holy Eucharist to proclaim the mystery of faith: “Christ has died.  Christ has risen.  Christ will come again.”  We live in anticipation of a new creation initiated by Jesus in his death and resurrection.  Wright notes in After You Believe that this is not a waiting room mentality but a “call[ing] to be genuine, image-bearing, God-reflecting human beings.  That works out in a million ways, not least in a passion for justice and an eagerness to create and celebrate beauty.”  Wright also notes that this anticipation is not one of destruction for “the vision of Revelation 5 is not a vision of the ultimate end…but of the heavenly dimension of the present earthly reality.”  What we see in Camping’s world-view, then, is less a joyful anticipation of this reality than a forced demand for some event of finality, a drawing up of borders and walls rather than a participation in the infusion of God’s love into the world.  The latter allows God to work as He will, and to join Him in that work, the former is an impatient stomping of a child not getting his way.  A metaphysical tantrum, if you will.

Small wonder then that the culture as a whole gets impatient as well.  “This is what you say you stand for, but what we see is something completely different.”  A valid and truthful observation and the honest vitriol are usually pointed to this hypocrisy.

Our gospel reading today from John redirects the Christian to what should be the focus of his/her faith: Christ himself.  “Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; or else believe me for the sake of the works themselves.  Truly, truly I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do.”  And what works are we talking about here?

Heal.

Love.

Give life.

Feed the poor.

Reach out.

Bless.

Judge Not.

Tell stories.

Offer yourself.

Give thanks.

Raise up.

We announce the kingdom in these ways.

I get caught up in theoretical arguments and theological debates, mostly as an observer.  And this week was no exception.  However, as one of my fellow congregants as Ascension Church stated, “You always look for something redemptive out of crazy.”

Situations like Camping’s false predictions force us as Christians to ask “What are we really all about?’ or more to the point “WHO should we really be about?”  Because God works through, regardless.  And my attention was thankfully redirected back to this.

Someone asked a nun this week on her blog what she thought about all this Rapture talk, with the impending end of the world on Saturday.  She gave a prompt, Spirit-inspired reply:

“Ask me about it on Monday.”

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The Monks Are Back…to stay? Pondering Monasticism and Oblation

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A personal goal I made at Oxford centered on not allowing myself to get sucked into the demands of school and be spit out like so much exhausted gristle at the end of the year, panting and gasping for breath.

Part of this goal involved a re-appraisal of my interest and connection to monasticism, particularly of Benedictine Monasticism.  I am now aspiring to be an oblate at St. Leo Abbey.  After a couple of monthly meetings, I will be able to announce my intention to be a novice oblate, and then after a year of spiritual formation, formerly dedicate myself to the Abbey.

Yes, the monks are back, as I stated in a blog post over a year ago.  And now I look at the month-plus absence of words on this blog as a bit of a blessing, especially given the vitriol of mid-term election politics.  At least I can say I haven’t added to the din.  But, before this quickly turns into a self-righteous pat on the back, I have to admit, during my lunch hour at school, I’ve been addicted to reading nasty remarks people leave each other when commenting on news stories or op-eds.

I don’t know what specific article initially triggered this, but I was reading some political article from either NPR or CNN, and after I had finished scrolling down to the bottom of the article I noticed a virtual bar fight commencing between others who had read the article and who wanted to throw their two cents in.  Republicans were referred “repukelicans,” and Democrats were called “demorats” or “democraps.”  Liberals were cited for their weakness and a claimed socialistic takeover of America.  Conservatives were derided for close-mindedness and a desire to return to days of slavery where white men ruled over all.  I never commented, but joined in anyway, scrolling down to find the most vicious and outrageous comments and fervently hoping they would have to deal with an equally vicious comeback.

Such was my front row seat to what was the shock and awe-no-he-DIDNT of the midterm elections.

“Really?” I could hear the Holy Spirit and Communion of Saints saying.  “Really?  THIS is what you are enjoying and contemplating?  After having read all of THAT?” (pointing accusingly at my wall of books on monasticism, contemplative prayer, lectio divina, Benedictine spirituality, the Divine Hours, etc. to which I walked sheepishly past every morning).

I was immersed in the cacophony of divisiveness, punditry, and political nastiness and forgot that God more often than not is found in the silence of our being, in the structured ordering of ourselves focused on God, to the banishment of all else.

So in the midst of this political free for all, I took up once again my books on St. Benedict, St. Bruno, and the Desert Fathers, read over my Merton, pondered the hazelnut with Julian of Norwich, structured my prayers to the Daily Office, and visited St. Leo Abbey in Florida to experience prayer and Mass with the brothers.

We look, in our own lives and in our society, for stability.  We look for depth and meaning as well.  We shake our heads at the television or radio every night, wondering how things got so messed up.  How can we get it right?  And when?  What do we look to?

I firmly believe that the examples of today’s monasteries all over the world, be they Benedictine, Carthusian, Trappist, or Buddhist, or any other variant of monastic community focused on living together in peace and harmony in a life of prayer and hospitality, can offer to the world a model to live by which would alleviate half the suffering in the world.  They are not bastions of perfection by any means, but the striving toward this perfection to tantamount to their life together.  They are not utopias, but in a better sense they shatter the illusion of utopias by recognizing the realities of human existence and suffering.

“The monastery is a school,” wrote Thomas Merton, “A school in which we learn from God how to be happy.  Our happiness consists in sharing the happiness of God, the perfection of His unlimited freedom, the perfection of His love.  What has to be healed in us is our true nature, made in the likeness of God.  What we have to learn is love.”

I keep going back and forth, interest waning and waxing in my studies and practices in Christian monasticism.  I think it is time for this to stop.  If the lives of monks and nuns throughout the Church’s history has truly open doors and created paths in my journey toward God, then so be it.  It is useless to ask or wish for more.  I have never come across a more wondrous and varied group of saints and would-be-saints for spiritual guides, who urge, above all things, to “listen with the ear of [the] heart.”

Therefore, I will continue to focus on monastic formation through oblation, a novice once again stumbling through the gates to hear the holy silence of God.

Hopefully lunch hour will be a bit different from now on…

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Christian in Solitude

The Last Anchorite, a documentary by Remigiusz Sowa,  focuses on Father Lazarus, a Coptic monk living at St. Anthony of the Desert Monastery in Egypt.  An Australian, former university professor, atheist, and Marxist, F. Lazarus left his comfortable life in his homeland to seek God in the Desert.

I have come across more than a few commentaries on the need for community in the church, and what that entails, for good or bad.  Rarer still is the commentary on being alone with God, and riches possible in a solitary life.  Not all are called to live as monks, but for those who are, we as the body of Christ should be more than willing to hear of their experiences and insight.  We use the term “monk” or “nun,” to describe these men and women, but above all they are Christian, and followers, to the fullest extent, of the Way.

RamblePost: The Church Calendar, Divine Hours, Oxford, and Chesterton

Bit of a lag in blog posting lately, thought much is on my mind, so I will proceed here with a “ramble post,” which invites to the dinner table both connected and disconnected thoughts which have merrily jumped around my head lately.

Great post on Internet Monk by Chaplain Mike on the Church calendar as we in the faith enter into “ordinary time.”  It was this sense of liturgical time which has given an enormous sigh of relief to me in my journey with Christ.  The ecclesiastical idea that there is a “time for everything,” really resonates here.  Instead of the need for a single spiritual high from one Sunday to the next, the recognition of a steady ebb and flow to the life story of our faith, much more conducive to reflection and spiritual growth, is sought after and lived on a month to month, year to year basis.  We have our Christian Spring, Summer, Fall, and Winter.

This is complemented by the “infinity of little hours:” the Divine Hours, which pattern our reflection and prayer for the day.  Lest one begin to think, with typical American indignation, that this hampers our “freedom” in faith, it is worth noting the number of monks, among them Thomas Merton, who relay, from practical experience, the tendency for this daily pattern to free, rather than quell, our spiritual growth.  More on that can be found here.

BTW, a great online resource for the daily office can be found at Brother Stendhal-Rast’s site here.

I tried to post a “Vlog” on Youtube, but the audio is completely out of sync, apparently a widespread problem for Youtubers.

Off to Oxford in (yikes) 22 days.  Currently reading (sporadically, even though I set myself up with a schedule) Bleak House by Charles Dickens, of which I am enjoying.  He has such a democracy of characters- we are all allowed, with our innocence, quirks, faults, and hopes to be in his novels in one form or another.  Next up, Middlemarch.  Then Return of the Native.  Why oh why did I sign up for Victorian Literature?

Reading and listening about GK Chesterton thanks to this little hidden site.  Here’s a little gem from Chesterton:

“When it comes to the World, we have to hate it enough to want to change it, but love it enough to think it worth changing.”

Here endeth the Ramblepost.

Wright Thinking for Pentecost

Currently reading N.T. Wright’s After You Believe, which is the perfect book for Pentecost.  I’m about 70 pages in, so I can’t give a complete review of the book.  However, I have  reached what I think is the crux of his argument, which he plans to develop over the course of the book, the “heart of the book,” as he calls it, which gives a “fresh reading of the moral thrust of the New Testament:”

1. The goal is the new heaven and new earth, with human beings raised from the dead to be the renewed world’s rulers and priests.

2. This goal is achieved through the kingdom-establishing work of Jesus and the Spirit, which we grasp by faith, participate in by baptism, and live out in love.

3. Christian living in the present consists of anticipating this ultimate reality through the Spirit-led, habit-forming, truly human practice of faith, hope, and love, sustaining Christians in their calling to worship God and reflect his glory into the world.

(Sidenote: I think it is kind of fun that I’m listening to “Alive Again” by Trey Anastasio– a very Pentecostal song as well- wonder if we could get this one played in service tomorrow?  And then “Run Like an Antelope”?  Hmmm…maybe not).

Wright’s book, and others which have come out I recent years, give me hope that those who follow Christ, by taking a long look in the mirror, are beginning to react to what they have seen in positive and refreshing ways, recognizing the inherent beauty of who we are in Christ, but still recognizing the need for a good splash of water on the face to start a new day.  To start the new “kingdom work” here on the earth of which God has blessed and declared “good.”

I consider myself a part of this as well, not least by the need to take that look in the mirror.

Sometimes what I see isn’t that great.

But then, through grace, the realization of renewal.

“A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will take out of your flesh the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. “ (Ezekiel 36:26)

And is not Pentecost the perfect time to do this?  This yearly renewal of the goal and purpose of the Church- of its very identity- comes down in a fire not meant to burn but cleanse, to clear away any “dead brush” in our lives and ready a new forest.

The Choice to Be Narnian

We have a choice on how we live each day, and our choices include our influences as well.  For some, this is an intense and challenging struggle.  Caught in addiction, violence, or other outside force, the choice to succumb or give up is palpable.  But ultimately there is a choice to be made.

But choice and the reshaping of reality are two different things.  A single choice, let’s say a choice of faith, can lead to a lifetime struggle to mold that reality.  From the Christian perspective, this entails allowing God, through Christ, to recreate your life anew.  And the process may take a very long time, a lifetime, and be very painful.  As CS Lewis stated in Mere Christianity, if we were houses, then we are not going to get simple repairs to the drains or leaks in the roof: the whole house might be knocked down, a la Extreme Makeover, and rebuilt.  Our Dragon skin could be torn off us quickly, or it may take a long voyage out at sea.

Here, I think, is where fiction comes in, as our choices of story affect our choices of reality.  What story would you want to be a part of if given the choice?  One can presume my answer by the title of this post.  I was led to consider this when I stumbled across a wonderful blog.

This was a wonderful meditation by Emily Riley, on her blog named (what else?) Live Like a Narnian.  She bases her reflection on this excerpt from The Silver Chair, Puddleglum’s famous speech to Queen Jadis:

. . .Suppose we have only dreamed, or made up, all those things–trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that’s a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We’re just babies playing a game, if you’re right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which licks your real world hollow. That’s why I’m going to stand by the play-world. I’m on Aslan’s side even if there isn’t any Aslan to lead it. I’m going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn’t any Narnia.
~Puddleglum the Marshwiggle

This insistence by Puddleglum is the very essence of choice I am arguing.  To me, distinctly Narnian, and by default, distinctly Christian.

Now what?

A true choice must not be considered a passing phase or fad- merely part of a growth period involving recognition of various perceptions.  Rather, it is one to be made, and then…

lived.

In every aspect of life, it must be lived.  In humor, in darkness, in despair, in joy, in doubt, in certainty, on the peaks of mountains, in the valleys down below.

Consider the list below created, in part, by Stanley Anderson, from the old MereLewis site, and reposted by John, aka Dr. Zeus, on the Into the Wardrobe forums.  Have a laugh or two, then consider: the person who gives a nod or a “yes,” to most if not all of these may be certifiable, but oh, what a quirky, joy-filled life has been made by this choice!

You Might Be a Narnian If…

1. Your car has a bumpersticker that says “I brake for Marshwiggles.”
2. Your fishing license has a stamp for Pavenders.
3. You have wading pools in your back yard that you periodically jump in to.
4. You taste water samples from lily ponds to see if they’re sweet.
5. Christmas seems to take FOREVER to get here.
6. You examine every lamp-post you see for signs of root damage.
7. When you hear the word fau(w)n, you think not of Bambi, but of parcels and umbrellas.
8. You have a keen respect for mice.
9. You secretly breathe on statues in parks and whisper, “In the name of Aslan…”
10. You always reach inside wardrobes and touch the back…just in case.
11. When referring to your boss, you say “May He Live Forever.”
12. You are always polite to animals.
13. You talk to animals.
14. Animals talk to you and you understand them!
15. You are a bit suspicious of middle-aged men wearing yellow and green rings.
16. Your preferred holiday destination is Archenland.
17. You know that the collective term for owls is “parliament.”
18. You float, rather than fall, off cliffs.
19. You sometimes wonder if humans are a myth.
20. You have a tendency to suck your paws at inopportune times.
21. You have ever been beaten silly by a mouse.
22. You have ever set off fireworks underground for fun.
23. Your interest in astronomy was sparked by studying the Ship, the Hammer, and the Leopard.
24. You’ve ever had history lessons about the Jackdaw and the First Joke.
25. Bullies at school threaten that they know the Deplorable Word.
26. The ultimate insult you give to people is calling them “a second Rabadash.”
27. You’ve ever sat around with several owls trying to impersonate Trumpkin.
28. You’ve ever mistaken a magician for an animal, vegetable, or mineral.
29. You are determined to live like a Narnian, even if there isn’t any Narnia.
30. You always inquire at restaurants if it was a talking beast when you order venison.
31. You always clean your sword after battle.
32. The first time you ever heard the name Aslan, a curious feeling awoke inside you.
33. You know what a serious thing, a very serious thing indeed, it is to ask a centuar to stay for the weekend.
34. You like your sausages fat and piping hot and just the tiniest bit burnt.
35. You have conversations with your horse.
36. You have a strange approach/avoidance reaction to Lions.
37. You believe the stars in the heavens are people you have personally met.
38. You know that fireberries are a food.
39. You believe that a Lion can change a dragon into a boy by “peeling” him.
40. You enjoy having tea parties with fauns and beavers.
41. You know dwarves exist, but you are never sure which side they’re on.
42. Your closet contains fur coats and pine boughs.
43. You carry an umbrella in the snow.
44. You look to see if a lone bird is carrying a red berry in its mouth.
45. You have a picture of a lion on prominent display in your home or office.
46. You hear the words “further up and further in” in the sound of every waterfall.

This is the Morning.

“The term is over: The holidays have begun.  The dream is ended: this is the morning.”

So states Aslan at the end of the Narnia series, in The Last Battle.  I have been listening to the series via audiobook for the past couple of months in my car, as I drive to work, church, run errands, etc. and I find it wonderful divine coincidence that I should finish the series on Easter Sunday.  Many Lewis fans may allude to the scene at the Stone Table in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe today, given it is the strongest resurrection parable in the Chronicles of NarniaBut somehow the last passage of Last Battle evokes that Easter feeling of a New Beginning, of a Great Story just beginning to unfold.  A story of life after life, a rolling back of stone to release empty space, a recalibration of reality, of everlasting Spring.

Now, I suppose the irony of going back to school tomorrow should taint this a bit, but it doesn’t.  It did at times over the course of my Spring Break; a sort of looming dread of settling back to grade papers, discipline students, getting up before the sun, the weariness of a teacher just trying to make it to the end of the school year.  I felt I was procrastinating on my lesson plans.  There were times to buckle down which, through my laziness, I simply allowed to drift by.  But now, in the late morning of Easter Sunday, as the glorious ringing of the bells during the Sunday liturgy at Ascension still echo in my ears, and a warm blue sky lights up my room, and the knowledge that this world was meant for goodness and love, no matter how we conspire to twist things to the contrary, I feel I am ready.  Ready to lead my seniors to their own new beginning, to lead them to their transition from high school students to the world beyond my classroom.

And the wonderful thing is this feeling is only a mere part of the joy.  Things are certainly put into perspective on this day.  Responsibilities still remain, the mundane chores of maintaining house and home and preparing for work go on, but these things are under a light: by grace I am moved forward, rather than pulled down by the weight of despair or worry.

So the term is not quite over yet, but it is a new morning.  Christ has risen.  He has risen indeed.

Episcopancakes

Shrove Tuesday has ended, and Lent officially begins tomorrow.  I spent the night flipping pancakes and at Ascension, and enjoying the fellowship of new friends in Christ.  I came home smelling startlingly like a slab of bacon.

Tonight was my last night of coffee, my requisite sacrifice for Lent :-(.

On Shrove Tuesday:

Shrove Tuesday gets its name from the ritual of shriving, when the faithful confessed their sins to the local priest and recieved forgiveness before the Lenten season began.

As far back as 1000 AD, “to shrive” meant to hear confessions. (Trivia note: the term survives today in the expression “short shrift” or giving little attention to anyone’s explanations or excuses).

Historically, Shrove Tuesday also marked the beginning of the 40-day Lenten fasting period when the faithful were forbidden by the church to consume meat, butter, eggs or milk. However, if a family had a store of these foods they all would go bad by the time the fast ended on Easter Sunday. What to do?

Solution: use up the milk, butter and eggs no later than Shrove Tuesday. And so, with the addition of a little flour, the solution quickly presented itself in… pancakes. And lots of ’em.

Today, the Shrove Tuesday pancake tradition lives on throughout Western Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia, but is most associated with the UK where it is simply known as Pancake Day with a traditional recipe, although these can be as varied in the UK as there are British households.

In France, (as well as here in the US – or more famously – in New Orleans) it’s known as Fat Tuesday which kicks off the Mardi Gras festival with wild celebrations just before the austere Lenten season.

In Sweden, Fat Tuesday translates to Fettisdagen, and in Lithuania it’s Uzgavens. In Poland, traditional celebrations take place on a Thursday a week before Ash Wednesday and so it’s Tlusty Czwartek, or Fat Thursday.

Christianity and Time: Or “Yeah, I’m Late for the Presentation”

The Feast of the Presentation, or The Presentation of Christ at the Temple, also known as Candlemas, comes 40 days after Christmas, and celebrates the presentation of the baby Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem by Mary and Joseph according to the Law of Moses, as described in Luke 2: 22-38.

At the temple, the child Jesus is honored by Simeon and Anna, the former “righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel,” the latter a prophetess, “of great age.”  Each is able to see the Messiah before they die.  Simeon was “inspired by the Spirit” to go to the Temple to meet up with Mary and Joseph; Anna was apparently already there, as it is written “she did not depart from the temple, worshipping with fasting and prayer night and day.”

Good timing.

I mean, to be there just at the moment Mary and Joseph enter the Temple, after, presumably, an 8 mile walk from Bethlehem- that’s a wonderful piece of directed serendipity.  Especially for Simeon, “directed by the Spirit.”  What must it have been like to feel pulled toward the Temple on that particular day?

Ever since I renewed my faith in Christ, and explored it in terms of the liturgy and monasticism, the issue of time has occupied much of my thoughts.

What exactly should be the Christian concept of time?

There are many facets to this question, including the warning of Christ that “it is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority,” the idea that God is “beyond time,”- that He is past, present, and future, and Christ’s admonishment “Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.”

In my studies of Christian monasticism, time is a prime feature, with the day divided into the Divine Hours: Vigils, Lauds, Prime, Terce, Sext, None, Vespers, and Compline.  This is meant to be a vigorous schedule with the primary goal of bringing the observant closer to God.  It is a rhythm, or pace of life contrary to our fast-paced American culture, with its emphasis on instant gratification and the self-centered now.

I know there is a contrast in emphasis in the Christian calendar vs. the secular.

But how to live in both?

How do I live with the notion of an Infinite (never ending) Love, and when it is time to take the trash out?

I want desperately to integrate myself into a more Christ-like outlook on life, and this includes how I deal with time, of which I never seem to have enough.  If I inserted myself into the feast of the Presentation, it would be a day later, after Mary and Joseph have left Jerusalem, and I would be wandering around the city with a half empty cup of cold coffee, looking at my watch, and wondering by how many hours I probably missed the Holy Child.  Dejected at having missed them, I would proceed to get drunk at some Irish bar (do they have Irish bars in Jerusalem?).

An old Carthusian monk, in an interview featured in Into Great Silence, said “The past, present, future are only human terms.  In God, there is solely the present.”

I long to live in that present.