"Thanks and thanks again to Him who offers to the man whom the sorrows of life have assaulted and left naked–offers to him the fig leaf of the Word with which he can cover his wretchedness." -Søren Kierkegaard

Passing Time

Posted in Day-To-Day, Philosophical, Theological by matt on Monday, May 31, 2010

There’s a story I love about a conversation between Alexander the Great and a man he called a “gymnosophist” (meaning wise, naked man). The conquerer arrives at the Indus river (now in Pakistan) with his army and finds the gymnosophist sitting buck-naked and staring up at the sky.

Alexander: “What are you doing?”

Gymnosophist: “I’m experiencing nothingness. What are you doing?”

Alexander: “I’m conquering the world.”

And they both laughed, thinking the other person foolish.

Gymnosophist: “Why is he conquering the world? It’s pointless.”

Alexander: “Why is he just sitting around doing nothing? It’s a waste of a life.”

These are the kinds of East-meets-West collision stories that have made me rethink the phrase, “time well-spent.” The two men had very different perspectives on life that were a direct result of the stories they told themselves, and that dictated how they spent their time.

So which is the right story? Which one was wasting his time?

In our transitions and travels between Thailand and America, I’ve found there’s a lot more to adapting in a new culture than just jet-lag (kind of a no-brainer, right?).

In Thailand it felt like we had all the time in the world. We were busy, for sure, but it didn’t feel that way. Everything was mai-pen-rai (the Thai equivalent of “hakuna matata”) and no worries.

It was frustrating because, to us, it looked like laziness, but we came around to it over time.

But now that we’re back in America it’s a totally different feel. You’d be lucky to score eye-contact with someone, much less spend unscheduled quality time with them. It makes me think of the Kenyan proverb, “All westerners have watches, no westerners have time.” We’re addicted to the busy feel. We are, in a sense, conquerers.

It’s been frustrating because it looks too hectic, but we’ll come around in time.

So, for me, this begs a lot of questions: how are the differing viewpoints on life and time reconciled? Are they? Is there a right or wrong here? Should we be “conquering the world” or “experiencing nothing?”

At what point am I staying too busy, pursuing efficiency and accomplishment at all costs? When am I slacking, wasting my own time and the time of others?

Or maybe it depends on the person. Maybe God just made some conquerers and others…naked ponderers? I’m not sure, but I do know that God made work and rest to be a part of our lives and that there’s a mandate on us to work and rest well (though the gymnosophist wasn’t exactly resting, you get my point).

The Bible has been helpful here – particularly passages in Proverbs and Ecclesiastes about work and the meaning of life, as well as the story about Martha in Luke 10. I’ll keep reading and processing all this! I thought I should post some profound resolution, but I’m just not there yet. It may be too much of a balancing act to ever ‘arrive’…

How about you? What are some things that have helped you with what you consider time well-spent? Any advice for me?

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About Time

Posted in Philosophical, Stuff I'm Reading by matt on Friday, February 29, 2008

After a few weeks of ‘required reading’ I’m finally back to enjoying Augustine’s Confessions. Right now I’m in book eleven and he’s considering the first few words of the Bible, “In the beginning…” The guy definitely majors on the minutia. What I usually skip over, Augustine muses on endlessly in a stream of rhetorical questions and densely-written paragraphs. He definitely knew how to use his free-time. In chapter XIV he focuses on the subject of time.

Now, in order for this to even make a little sense I need to recap another issue he focused on previously, namely, the origin of evil. Put simply, Augustine asked the question, “Where does evil come from?” He obsesses over this question because he believes that if God created evil then He cannot possibly be the good God of the Bible. Our philosopher finally concludes that evil is not created. In fact, he goes so far as to say that evil has no real being, but is actually non-being or non-existence – an absence of God (makes you wanna get all cheesy and sing ‘there’s a God-shaped hole in all of us’ doesn’t it?). So sinning actually removed us from the true form of existence; a perversion of God’s initially good creation.

So, that being said, back to time. Augustine writes, “You are the Maker of all time, and before all time You are, nor was there ever a time when there was no time!” Yeah…talk about a contradictory statement. The difficulty I have with this (apart from the apparent contradictions) is the idea that God created time. Now I don’t have much (uh…any) prior knowledge of the philosophical/theological ideas about time so I’m sure this has all been hammered out by someone already, but I would still like to externalize it.

What if God didn’t create time? What if time, like the origin of evil, can be understood as something uncreated. What if it’s a result of the fall? Death entered after the fall, but before eating the fruit Adam and Eve knew nothing of death. Here may be a logical leap, but I think the word death can also be understood as ‘an end’ or ‘finality’ – we lost the potential for an infinite, timeless existence with God. And, if this is true, then time’s control over creation began when sin entered the world. To put it bluntly, before Adam and Eve there was no need for watches or calenders because they were experiencing unending bliss. No thought of tomorrow or worries about the future; A complete trust in an infinite God within an atemporal creation.

I need to think more about this. The theological implications for this could be pretty ridiculous and I could quickly end up in heresy-land. Like, what does this mean for eschatology and apocalyptic Christianity? If the beginning of time really began this way then what does that say for the “middle” and the “end”?

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