Monday, December 10, 2007

Advent: Holy Time

Here's something by the great Jewish theologian, Abraham Heschel:

Technical civilization is man's conquest of space. It is a triumph frequently achieved by sacrificing an essential ingredient of existence, namely, time...To enhance our power in the world of space is our main objective. Yet to have more does not mean to be more. The power we attain in the world of space terminates abruptly at the borderline of time. But time is the heart of existence.
...There is a realm of time where the goal is not to have but to be, not to own but to give, not to control but to share, not to subdue but to be in accord. Life goes wrong when the control of space, the acquisition of things of space, becomes our sole concern.
...Our intention here is not to deprecate the world of space. To disparage space and the blessing of things of space, is to disparage the works of creation, the works which God beheld and saw "it was good." ...Time and space are interrelated. To overlook either of them is to be partially blind. What we plead against is man's unconditional surrender to space, his enslavement to things. We must not forget that it is not a thing that lends significance to a moment; it is the moment that lends significance to things.
One of the most distinguished words in the Bible is the word qadosh, holy; a word which more than any other is representative of the mystery and majesty of the divine. Now what was the first holy object in the history of the world? Was it a mountain? Was it an altar?
It is, indeed, a unique occasion at which the distinguished word qadosh is used for the first time...How extremely significant is the fact that it is applied to time: "And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy." There is no reference in the record of creation to any object in space that would be endowed with the quality of holiness.
For where shall the likeness of God be found? There is no quality that space has in common with the essence of God. There is not enough freedom on the top of the mountain; there is not enough glory in the silence of the sea. Yet the likeness of God can be found in time, which is eternity in disguise. (Sabbath, by Abraham Heschel)

Well, I didn't mean to quote quite so much of Rabbi Abraham's work! He is speaking here of the seventh day, the Jewish Sabbath, and its meaning. In The Bible and the Liturgy, Jean Danielou quotes St Paul: "Let no one, then call you to account for what you eat or drink, or in regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of things to come, but the substance is of Christ" (Collosians 2:16). He then comments, "Here is the statement which will be the guiding principle of our whole study: the substance, the reality of the Sabbath is Christ. We need, then, to discover the religious reality of the Sabbath, for when it is thus set alongside the other types, it will show one aspect of what Christ is...Christ is the true rest...the true seventh day. And this shows us at once what is peculiar to the typology of the Sabbath, -- that it is a typology of time" (page 223).

We can see also that Christ is "eternity in disguise" or eternity veiled under the appearance of a man. Okay, so what does all this have to do with Advent? Advent is a time, a holy season, not a place. It is a time when the Church calls us to live a particular tension that is present throughout the year, in every moment of our lives -- the tension between two converging truths: that Christ has come toward me and that Christ continues to come toward me (ad-vent). And we are called to live this tension in time, which flows on toward fulfillment and already carries fulfillment (as Heschel points out: “Time, however, is beyond our reach, beyond our power. It is both near and far, intrinsic to all experience and transcending all experience. It belongs exclusively to God.”).

We can see the wisdom in this if we pay attention. God only comes to meet me in the present moment. "God with us," Emmanuel, has pitched his tent in time. I must give my full attention to the present moment, if I wish to meet him. It is only in the now that I can taste eternity and thus string together all moments, live memory and desire as present realities, brimming with Love. The extent to which I can savor this moment, live this moment with intensity and honesty, is the extent to which I know that he is with me, even to the end of the age.

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Dumbstruck by the Mystery

...our temptation is always to impose our prejudices or our measure on reality -- except when we are faced with a fact that leaves us dumbstruck, and instead of dominating the fact ourselves, we are dominated, overcome by it. If there were no moments of this kind, the Mystery could do anything, but in the end, we would reduce everything to the usual explanation. But not even a Nobel Prize winner can stop himself from being dumbstruck before an absolutely gratuitous gesture. If there were not these moments, we would find answers, explanations, and interpretations to avoid being struck by anything. It is good that some things happen that we cannot dominate, then we have to take them seriously, and this is the great question of philosophy. If the conditions for the possibility of knowledge (see Kant) impose themselves on reality or if there is something that is so powerfully disproportionate that it does not let itself be "grasped" by the conditions of possibility, then the horizon opens. If this were not the case, then we could dominate everything and be in peace, or at least without drama. Instead, not even the intelligence of a Nobel Prize winner could prevent him from coming face-to-face with a fact that made him dumbstruck -- instead of dominating, it was he who was dominated. Here begins the drama, because I am called to answer. It is the drama that unfolds between us and the Mystery, through certain facts, certain moments, in which the Mystery imposes itself with this evidence. These are facts that we cannot put in our pocket, which we cannot reduce to antecedent factors.
-- Julian Carron in "Friends, that is, Witnesses."