The measurement of time is so ingrained in our society that we take it for granted. On a daily basis we have schedules that mark the beginning and ending of assigned or chosen tasks. On a larger scale, we track the progress of each week, month, or year. Our annual celebration of the transition from one calendar year to another invites a summary and evaluation of what has been accomplished or merely taken place in the past year. In a more personal way, we celebrate birthdays as milestones in the progress of our lives. Underlying all of this measurement of time is an awareness that we humans, along with our social and political institutions, have limited lifespans. We are all on the path to death.
It has not always been so. When God created the Earth to be an environment for living things, especially for his ultimate creation, human beings, there was no sense of limited life, and so no need to measure time. But all of that changed when Adam and Eve chose to disobey God, thereby incurring the promised penalty of death. Very quickly after the two of them were banished from the timeless Garden of Eden, the narrative about their offspring began to be marked by the passage of time: how many years between the births of their children and how old each person was when he died. How different the human and divine perspectives on the passage of time had become.
I have imagined in “Adam’s first New Year” how he might have ruminated about his new perception of the passage of time on the anniversary of his and Eve’s expulsion from Paradise. In this monologue, Adam, though keenly aware of the sad new world he and Eve have brought about, realizes that God is still with him, transcending His own edict of judgment, just as He had done earlier when He clothed the just-realized, sin-conscious nakedness of the pair.
Adam's First New Year
Adam paced the field
Made rough by tilling,
Unwilling ground since God
Withdrew His Presence from it.
The sun itself, now cyclic,
Gave only partial beams
To warm the stubborn soil.
"No need in Eden's bounds
To think of ebb and flow,
Of patterned change
Which gives us markers
For the progress of decay;
But now each day reveals
That something more of what we were
And nights accumulate
Until the sun comes back
To mark the point where death began.
"That day, I made a world
Where beginnings add up to ends,
And cycles are incremental.
Can God be heard in such a place?
Can timeless Love be found
Where time feeds hateful death?
I know only that breath,
Though shortened now,
Is still from Him;
And though I sweat for bread,
He feeds me yet."
The next two poems show the same paradoxical way that God goes beyond our
time-limited understanding of the flow of events. He sees without the restrictions of past, present, and future.
Tying Up Loose Ends
Accumulating year-ends is a purely human occupation:
Piling up tinsel monuments
And stacking shards of shattered plans.
Only the illusion
That things which matter have beginning or end
Spurs mortals to wrap up one year
And open another.
But gently urges us not to mistake
Our clocks for absolute.
We will accept, then,
The fragmentation of experience,
And search for the splices of God
By which the worst of the past
And the promise of the future
Are always joined.
Finally, I offer a poem that reflects the perversity of our fallen wills in opting so often for the immediate, but temporal, pleasures of our mortal world, rather than the eternally significant treasures of God’s grace.
Is what we all live on.
We purchase the gauds and trinkets
Of Vanity Fair.
We prefer our own
To the gift of suffering
Which is beyond our means;
Our own indebtedness
To the solvency of Grace.
Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy! Grant us the eyes of eternity.