I wake up feeling cramped. The feeling stays with me all day while I work to meet a tight deadline. The project manager rushes me. When I hit send I’m at a loss. What’s been accomplished here? The work is anonymous and I don’t know who’s going to read it, if anyone. Too tired for my real work. And now the day is passing like so many others, like smoke in the wind.
I want a drink. Walking to the pub I think of those words by Burroughs that sometimes come back to me, from the book with the corny slang: ‘Kick is seeing things from a special angle. Kick is momentary freedom from the claims of the aging, cautious, nagging, frightened flesh.’ Seductive words. He was talking about drugs, about escaping the prison of the body, the sensory world – until you drop back down and want some more.
As seductive as a preacher, I think as I try to catch the bartender’s eye. Gnostic salvation from the flesh. Irreconcilable duality of elements. Spirit and matter. Soma-sema, body as tomb. Most clear perhaps in Jainism with its separation of body and soul. The body weighs the soul down, roots it in the cycle of birth and death. Most souls stay and are reborn over and over, but through severe ascetic practices some can shed the karmic matter that’s stuck to them from the beginning of time and at the moment of death fly to the top of the universe to live in eternal bliss.
Enough of that. Finish your pint, go home and say something nice to S., feed Rookie, make a good dinner. Don’t let the day pass without a trace.
The moment as a sudden gathering of dispersed time, happening for no good reason, part of no plot.
Bachelard described the poetic instant as a ‘simultaneity in which the most scattered and disunited being achieves unity’. He saw it as an ambivalent moment, both ‘astonishing and familiar’, that breaks up everyday time and gathers its contradictory events: an ecstatic ‘vertical time’ in which ‘being rises or descends without accepting world time, which would inevitably turn ambivalence back into antithesis, simultaneity into succession’. In the instant, he says, ‘flat horizontality suddenly vanishes. Time no longer flows. It spouts’. He also used the image of a sailboat held in balance by the opposing forces of the waves against its hull and the wind in its sail – when this happens, the hull is said to hum.
In amazement we beheld the great horse. It broke through the roof of our room. The cloudy sky was drifting faintly along its mighty outline, and its mane flew, rustling, in the wind.
The hot sun draws all the life out of the earth under a cloudless sky: every weed, grass, flower, insect… The closer you look at this quiet fold of country, the richer and more detailed in life and death it is. The other day S. told me even a biologist probably wouldn’t be able to catalogue in a lifetime all that’s happening even in a small patch of these woods.
Kierkegaard described the moment (øjeblikket, or ‘the glance of an eye’, that is, the moment of seeing) as:
‘not properly an atom of time but an atom of eternity … It is the first reflection of eternity in time, its first attempt, as it were, at stopping time … The moment is that ambiguity in which time and eternity touch each other, and with this the concept of temporality is posited, whereby time constantly intersects eternity and eternity constantly pervades time … The fullness of time is the moment as the eternal, and yet this eternal is also the future and the past.’
Isn’t he right that the eternal can only come into the world through the moment? But what do we know of the eternal?
The moment as both homecoming and an opening to something unthinkable. No matter how often you turn from it, it’s there, at the heart of time – isn’t it first of all the revelation of time itself? And on the other side of the moment, touching its edges? Something infinitely greater, perhaps – the first and last God, which makes the moment, so vast to you, seem like a speck.
If the moment is the fullness of time, it can’t be in time. It can’t simply be a series of nows between past and future, but rather the instant in which time itself is revealed to us, only to withdraw. How to hold this moment as it emerges, as it lets us emerge with it? It’s bigger than us, holds itself in itself, can’t be commanded. How to find it then? How to remain in it? Endure it?
At last a sunny day. Boundless blue sky. The sun no longer ripening anything seems to shine for the sake of it. Quiet happiness again, like an advent.
Some days there seem to be hints of a hidden God everywhere. When I do the dishes, when I walk to the shops, even when I talk to S. A God of intimations, a last God which may or may not come, when all the other gods have passed away… It’s hard to write about.
We can talk about being with some boldness, even stake some claim in it, but how to dare talk about God? Beyond the word God, even beyond being, God withdraws – into God.
Eckhart: ‘Whatever one says that God is, he is not; he is what one does not say of him, rather than what one says he is.’ And: ‘God is a being beyond being and a nothingness beyond being. God is nothing. No thing. God is nothingness. And yet God is something.’
We stand before the opacity of the world and the nothingness of God and see that we’re not at home. We can say nothing worthy of God – if we deign to believe – but we can try however clumsily with the words that are given to us and some truth may be given to us in our approach.
I remember those summer afternoons in the dim musty chapel. The impersonal light through the stained-glass window. I felt an overfacing power and I felt it withdraw. What they used to call faith, blooming out of nothing.