The Gifts of Time and Space
It is increasing difficult for those of us immersed in consumerist, technological Western culture to perceive the givens of space and time as positive gifts. In an ever more complex, fragmented, information-saturated world, our sense of the sacred, the set-apart, or the holy endures constant challenge. We are tempted to identify “space” as signifying confinement and “time” as a scarcity. Constrained, stressful living spaces and work places, as well as modes of travel – all experienced in a milieu of diminishing available time – hamper our pursuit of wellbeing and meaning.
I want to invite you to consider these words from chapter 6, “The Spirit of Poverty” in The Rule of SSJE, which offer us a different truth and a renewed vision of hope: “When God made room for the existence of space and time and shaped a world filled with glory, this act of creation was one of pure self-emptying.”
This image of God “making room” invites us to the humble reception of space and time as open and free gifts of the creating God. Proclaimed afresh as the context of God’s imparting of being to the entire natural world – animate and inanimate creatures alike – space and time enter again the realm of sacred significance. Here is our awed acknowledgement of the mystery of existence itself: only in space (Cosmic and terrestrial), and in time (Eternal and chronological), are being and materiality manifested and known. Birth, growth, development, decay, death, re-birth, renewal, transformation, and new life are only possible through the interdependent, divine gifts of space and time. Together, these two form the matrix for human creaturely-ness in God’s image and likeness, and for our place within a wider glory. Through the created gifts of space and time, God consecrates sacred places, material and spiritual, and sets apart holy lives in the “now” and in the “always” – a wondrous whole.
From its infancy, humankind has shaped meaning through its divinely-guided embrace of space and time, “making room” (and making meaning) in the hallowing of places and occasions. Inspired human intuition and insight have perceived holy spaces in the midst of nature. Prehistoric standing stones and stone circles were set up as framing devices for particular locales in which people had encountered the immanence of the divine. High hills, commanding mountains and grassy rises; springs and streams of flowing water, great rivers and swelling oceans; vast canyons, deep-cut caverns, and caves beneath the earth came to be revered as meeting places with divinity and portals into transcendence. The dome of the sky, the spectacle of the starlit heavens, the blazing sun, cool moon, and circling planets, provoked humankind to awe and wonder, and to the desire to know what and Who is beyond the ordinary (and behind these extraordinary sights).
A developing religious instinct sparked the desire for set-apart, permanent places of sacrifice and prayer, spaces in which the ineffable beauty of the divine could be reflected. Temples and sanctuaries, oracular and healing shrines, and houses of prayer, were constructed in the anciently-honored liminal spaces of the natural world, employing and adorned with the very stuff of the created world.
So also, humanity wakened to an awareness of the mystery of time, its dimensions of finitude and infinity, its qualities experienced both linearly and cyclically. The round of nature’s seasons; the daily, nightly, monthly, and annual journey of celestial bodies; times of planting, harvest and fields lying fallow; the inevitable and unending process of birth and death became the impetus for religious festivals, personal and social rites of passage, as well as prayer and meditation practices.
Another aspect of the “making room” image in the SSJE Rule asks us to contemplate the paradoxical nature of God’s gifts: the realm of existence flows from and has its origin in the self-emptying or “poverty” of God. God whose being knows no bounds, no beginning, no end – the God of space and time – is the One whose essence is sacrificial self-offering and loving relationship. The eternal union of the Holy Trinity, in mutuality and complementarity, is the living source and sublime pattern for all communities of living creatures. The Rule goes on to recall God’s making room in sharing our creaturely existence in space and time through Jesus, the Eternally-begotten One through whom we are drawn to experience and live God’s nature as our very own. Space and time are revealed as effectual signs (sacraments) of the fullness of life in Christ. They are the divine means through which creation enters into the “mutual self-giving and receiving” of God: Creator, Christ, and Spirit. God is forever making room in human hearts by pouring into them the fullness of God’s own self-offering divinity.
The ultimate locus and temporality of God’s making room is the community of worship, remembrance, and transformation which followers of Jesus have come to call “Church.” For Church is a sacrament of the divine gifts of space and time, as they are realized in the birth, life, ministry, death, resurrection, and glorification of Jesus – in the here and the now. Church is the incarnation of Christ’s mystical Body. In Church, every person, place, and era becomes the locus and occasion for sacred space and sacred time. Church is the place of gathering to be in relationship with God and with one another in God, the place to live in God’s eternal now (Kairos) in every moment of existence. Through the Word proclaimed and preached, the sharing of the sacramental mysteries of Baptism and of Christ’s Body and Blood, and our participation in God’s own desire to draw the whole world to divine Love, Church does indeed matter, for it is itself a mediator of sacred space and time.
God is ever making room. God is still creating – even amidst our present chaos and stress – a fullness of existence within a fullness of time beyond human imagining, when “All shall be well and, all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well” (Dame Julian of Norwich, 14th century).