Let us look at time. We live in time, our lives on earth have a beginning, a middle and an end. When we learn our own or a foreign language, one of the first things we learn is the tenses: past, present and future. So our lives are very quickly conditioned by the concept of yesterday, today and tomorrow. Everything in this sense is linear, and indeed the word ‘time’ is connected to ‘line’ by the phonetic pair m-n and by drawing a line through the letter l to make t (I call this a physical pair, because they look alike).
Teachers of English, of which I was one, teach the tenses by going up to the whiteboard and drawing a horizontal line with their marker. On the line, they mark three crosses to represent past, present and future, but the fact is the line is like a loose thread and it exists before the cross that stands for the past and continues after the cross that marks the future, because we cannot be certain about these things – when the past started, when the future will end. It hangs in the air, like a loose thread on our clothing, which we pick up and put in the bin.
I remember standing in Wandsworth, London, while teaching an English class, and having a revelation. I realized that the only way I could draw a timeline was by having a whiteboard, without the whiteboard it was impossible for me to draw the line. And while the black of my marker seemed to obliterate the white of the board underneath, the fact is the white of the board still existed beneath the black of the line. This meant that time exists – and can only exist – in the white space of eternity. Time is proof for the existence of eternity because without eternity time cannot exist. There is nowhere to draw it.
But what is its purpose? I have already said that I believe time exists to give us a chance to make meaning a two-way process, to offer ourselves to God in the same way that he has offered himself to us on the Cross.
Let us take out our toolkit and disassemble the word ‘time’. What do we find? Four letters: t – i – m – e. That is, ‘time’ is made up of a cross – the letter t, which we saw earlier resembles the letter l with a line drawn through it – and the words ‘I’ and ‘me’. So it seems the first thing about time is crucifying the self, our egotistical impulses. This is the meaning of the Greek word for ‘love’, agape – we overcome our own will, our own selfish inclinations, in order to love the other, however different he or she may be, because God has already loved that person and because, by loving them, we will learn to discern what it is in them that makes them worthy of God’s love and gives them value, something we may not have been able to see when our spiritual sight was obfuscated by our own concerns and ambitions. We have already seen that when we draw a line through the self and form a cross, the letter t, we also form a plus-sign, +: in laying down our life for the other, we find our true self, the one that is meant to live, the one that exists in the white space of the board and is not conditioned by the tenses (I am born, I live, I die).
But we can go further than this, because, by changing one of the vowels (remember that y corresponds to i) and applying the phonetic pairs d-t and m-n, we see that TIME is connected to two words: MEET and DENY. That is, our sole purpose in this life is to turn towards God or to turn away from him, to embrace him or to reject him, to enter into the personal relationship that is represented by the Holy Trinity or to turn in on ourselves and enter into a relationship that is inward-looking and ultimately futile. We can see a similarly stark choice in the word LIVE, because LIVE in reverse reads EVIL, but if we take the ego in LIVE – the letter I – treat it as a number (1) and count down, we get LOVE. So in LIVE we are faced with a similar choice: to do EVIL or to LOVE the other (God and our neighbour – they are one).
If we take steps in the alphabet, we will see that TIME is connected to LIVE (l-m, t-v), but it is also connected to DIE if we apply the phonetic pair d-t and take away the letter m. Again, the stark choice between allowing space for God in our lives or leaving him outside. The connection TIME-LIVE involves keeping the letter m, a letter which, when upended, resembles the number 3 (the Holy Trinity). If we keep the number 3, we live.
It is certainly true that from the point of view of this world our lives have a beginning and end, and time itself is no different. It came into existence and it will cease. We see this if we apply the phonetic pairs d-t and m-n, because ‘time’ is connected to ‘begin’ (here, the d has been reversed to make b, and we have added the letter g) and to ‘end’ (here, we have omitted the letter i and read the word in reverse).
Put simply, time is a space in which we are given the opportunity to grow. It cannot go on for ever, just as our childhood cannot go on for ever, because at some point we must become spiritually mature, realize our limits and seek another meaning that is not the simple gratification of our needs. Time is a teacher. It is like an enclosure in which the damage we can do may appear great, but it is limited. Take time away, and you have boundless space. Lift up the veil of time (I think those two words are connected), and you will reveal the twitching nose and arching whiskers of the white rabbit of eternity beneath, the one we have been grasping at, the one we knew was there all along, if only we could believe it. TIME, in short, is a MYTH (same three letters, addition of e/h), a story, the story we tell our children when we put them to bed, the story we read to ourselves as we get older. It is a myth, but we take it to be reality, and the one who is – namely, God – we take to be a myth.
There is another word connected to TIME, and that word is SIN (alphabetical pair s-t, phonetic pair m-n, addition of e). Time is an opportunity to sin – only God is without sin – but by sinning we learn from our mistakes and reach spiritual maturity. We take the opportunity to MEET God rather than to DENY him. We learn to LOVE rather than to do EVIL. We become a child of God – a SON – by taking the I in SIN and counting down, as we did before, from I to O.
We have learned to place too much emphasis on our reason, to make an effort and to expect the corresponding reward for our exertions, for everything to have a price (though how that price is fixed in this world is questionable, to say the least). Salvation, however, will not come to us through our own intellectual acceptance of God, our keeping our side of the bargain. It will not come to us through MERIT (a word that contains TIME). It will come to us when we open ourselves to the grace of God and participate in his energies, when we align our will to his.
We do not get to heaven by our own efforts, just as we cannot know God through an act of our own will. We can strain as hard as we like, bang our heads against a brick wall. God has to reveal himself to us. The ball is in the other’s court, I’m afraid. But we can invite this revelation, this participation in his energies, by showing mercy. MERCY is the counterpoint to MERIT – they are only a letter apart, but the connection is hidden so it won’t be immediately visible. The letter c is pronounced s, s-t is a jump in the alphabet, y corresponds to i. MERCY-MERIT. Two ways of viewing the world. MERIT: you get what you deserve (this is patently untrue). MERCY: we humble ourselves and – at this point, yes – by an act of will we do violence to ourselves and force ourselves to embrace our enemy, to understand him, to say a good word to him on the road instead of hurling abuse.
TIME, like a screen, a partition, a stage set, a loose thread, is whisked away, the board rubber comes out and eliminates the black line in time for the next lesson, the bell goes, people’s attention turns to other things, what lesson is next, what the other person thinks, and ETERNITY is revealed.
The letter y corresponds to i. Phonetic pair m-n. ETERNITY has TIME in it, just as the whiteboard showed us.
And the word ‘eternal’ – if we juggle the letters around, rotate or extend the letters (phonetic pair m-n, physical pairs f-t and i-l) – spells ‘I am free’.
Jonathan Dunne, http://www.stonesofithaca.com