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Auferstehungskirche Fürth  (Photo by Susanne Schuberth)

Auferstehungskirche Fürth
(Photo by Susanne Schuberth)

I do hope that the excerpt by Dorothy L. Sayers below gives you some food for thought as to rethinking those concepts of youth and age our current culture proclaims, and which, in my view, have infiltrated the Church more than she is aware of. We read about “senior pastors” who are in their 40s (at most) and about training the next generation of church leaders, pastors, and elders, by simply teaching them tradition, theological theories, and doctrines. Indeed, the amount of books one has read does not make him spiritually mature. And the number of years we have believed in Jesus does not make us any more mature than a newborn child (speaking spiritually here). Actually, it is all about experiencing God in our own life and knowing that He can be trusted in every given situation. This kind of faith is nothing that can be taught and nothing we can soak in by reading about it only. Testimonies from others might point us in the right direction if they whet our appetite for experiencing God’s love and His kingdom first-hand. Yet they cannot provide the meat we only get when we leave the area of being fed by men and their different views of Christianity far behind. We need to feed on Christ who alone is our true food and drink.

And now, here are Dorothy L. Sayers’s thoughts about youth and aging, about time and eternity, and then some. 😉

STRONG MEAT

It is over twenty years since I first read the words, in some forgotten book. I remember neither the name of the author, nor that of the Saint from whose meditations he was quoting. [1] Only the statement itself has survived the accidents of transmission: “Cibus sum grandium; cresce, et manducabis Me”—“I am the food of the full-grown; become a man, and thou shalt feed on Me.”

Here is a robust assertion of the claim of Christianity to be a religion for adult minds. I am glad to think, now, that it impressed me so forcibly then, when I was still comparatively young. To protest, when one has left one’s youth behind, against the prevalent assumption that there is no salvation for the middle-aged is all very well; but it is apt to provoke a mocking reference to the fox who lost his tail. One is in a stronger position if one can show that one had already registered the protest before circumstances rendered it expedient.

There is a popular school of thought (or, more strictly, of feeling) which violently resents the operation of Time upon the human spirit. It looks upon age as something between a crime and an insult. Its prophets have banished from their savage vocabulary all such words as “adult,” “mature,” “experienced,” “venerable”; they know only snarling and sneering epithets, like “middle-aged,” “elderly,” “stuffy,” “senile” and “decrepit.” With these they flagellate that which they themselves are, or must shortly become, as though abuse were an incantation to exorcise the inexorable. Theirs is neither the thoughtless courage that “makes mouths at the invisible event,” nor the reasoned courage that foresees the event and endures it; still less is it the ecstatic courage that embraces and subdues the event. It is the vicious and desperate fury of a trapped beast; and it is not a pretty sight.

Such men, finding no value for the world as it is, proclaim very loudly their faith in the future, “which is in the hands of the young.” With this flattery, they bind their own burden on the shoulders of the next generation. For their own failures, Time alone is to blame—not Sin, which is expiable, but Time, which is irreparable. From the relentless reality of age they seek escape into a fantasy of youth—their own or other people’s. First love, boyhood ideals, childish dreams, the song at the mother’s breast, the blind security of the womb—from these they construct a monstrous fabric of pretence, to be their hiding-place from the tempest. Their faith is not really in the future, but in the past. Paradoxical as it may seem, to believe in youth is to look backward; to look forward, we must believe in age. “Except,” said Christ, “ye become as little children”—and the words are sometimes quoted to justify the flight into infantilism. Now, children differ in many ways, but they have one thing in common. Peter Pan—if indeed he exists otherwise than in the nostalgic imagination of an adult—is a case for the pathologist. All normal children (however much we discourage them) look forward to growing up. “Except ye become as little children,” except you can wake on your fiftieth birthday with the same forward-looking excitement and interest in life that you enjoyed when you were five, “ye cannot see the Kingdom of God.” One must not only die daily, but every day one must be born again.

“How can a man be born when he is old?” asked Nicodemus. His question has been ridiculed; but it is very reasonable and even profound. “Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Can he escape from Time, creep back into the comfortable pre-natal darkness, renounce the values of experience? The answer makes short work of all such fantasies. “That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.” The spirit alone is eternal youth; the mind and the body must learn to make terms with Time.

Time is a difficult subject for thought, because in a sense we know too much about it. It is perhaps the only phenomenon of which we have direct apprehension; if all our senses were destroyed, we should still remain aware of duration. Moreover, all conscious thought is a process in time; so that to think consciously about Time is like trying to use a foot-rule to measure its own length. The awareness of timelessness, which some people have, does not belong to the order of conscious thought and cannot be directly expressed in the language of conscious thought, which is temporal. For every conscious human purpose (including thought) we are compelled to reckon (in every sense of the word) with Time.

Now, the Christian Church has always taken a thoroughly realistic view of Time, and has been very particular to distinguish between Time and Eternity. In her view of the matter, Time is not an aspect or a fragment of Eternity, nor is Eternity an endless extension of Time; the two concepts belong to different categories. Both have a divine reality: God is the Ancient of Days and also the I AM: the Everlasting, and also the Eternal Present; the Logos and also the Father; the Creeds, with their usual practicality, issue a sharp warning that we shall get into a nasty mess if we confuse the two or deny the reality of either. Moreover, the mystics—those rare spirits who are simultaneously aware of Time and Eternity—support the doctrine by their knowledge and example. They are never vague, woolly-minded people to whom Time means nothing; on the contrary, they insist more than anybody upon the validity of Time and the actuality of human experience.

The reality of Time is not affected by considering it as a dimension in a space-time continuum or as a solid having dimensions of its own. “There’s a great devil in the universe,” says Kay in Time and the Conways (Note: by J. B. Priestley, 1937), “and we call it Time…. If things were merely mixed—good and bad—that would be all right, but they get worse…. Time’s beating us.” Her brother replies that Time is “only a kind of dream,” and that the “happy young Conways of the past” are still real and existing. “We’re seeing another bit of the view—a bad bit if you like—but the whole landscape’s still there…. At this moment, or any moment, we’re only a cross-section of our real selves. What we really are is the whole stretch of ourselves, all our time, and when we come to the end of this life, all our time will be us—the real you, the real me.”
[…]
In contending with the problem of evil it is useless to try to escape either from the bad past or into the good past. The only way to deal with the past is to accept the whole past, and by accepting it, to change its meaning. The hero of T. S. Eliot’s The Family Reunion, haunted by the guilt of a hereditary evil, seeks at first “To creep back through the little door” into the shelter of the unaltered past, and finds no refuge there from the pursuing hounds of heaven. “Now I know That the last apparent refuge, the safe shelter, That is where one meets them; that is the way of spectres….” So long as he flees from Time and Evil he is thrall to them, not till he welcomes them does he find strength to transmute them. “And now I know That my business is not to run away, but to pursue, Not to avoid being found, but to seek…. It is at once the hardest thing, and the only thing possible. Now they will lead me; I shall be safe with them. I am not safe here…. I must follow the bright angels.” Then, and only then, is he enabled to apprehend the good in the evil and to see the terrible hunters of the soul in their true angelic shape. “I feel quite happy, as if happiness Did not consist in getting what one wanted, Or in getting rid of what can’t be got rid of, But in a different vision.” It is the release, not from, but into, Reality.

This is the great way of Christian acceptance—a very different thing from so-called “Christian” resignation, which merely submits without ecstasy. “Repentance,” says a Christian writer [2], “is no more than a passionate intention to know all things after the mode of Heaven, and it is impossible to know evil as good if you insist on knowing it as evil.” For man’s evil knowledge, “there could be but one perfect remedy—to know the evil of the past itself as good, and to be free from the necessity of evil in the future—to find right knowledge and perfect freedom together; to know all things as occasions of love.”

The story of Passion-Tide and Easter is the story of the winning of that freedom and of that victory over the evils of Time. The burden of the guilt is accepted (“He was made Sin”) the last agony of alienation from God is passed through (Eloi, lama sabachthani); the temporal Body is broken and remade; and Time and Eternity are reconciled in a Single Person. There is no retreat here to the Paradise of primal ignorance; the new Kingdom of God is built upon the foundations of spiritual experience. Time is not denied; it is fulfilled. “I am the food of the full-grown.”


[Footnote 1] But I would have laid any odds, from the style, that it was Augustine of Hippo; and so, indeed, it proves to be (Confessions: vii.10).
[Footnote 2] Charles Williams: He Came Down from Heaven.

If you like, read more here http://www.gutenberg.ca/ebooks/sayers-strong/sayers-strong-00-h.html.

[Bold letter emphasis in continuous text mine]

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