Eternity in the Midst of Time
God created time so that we can change and develop to love him back.
In Eternity in the Midst of Time, Fr. Wilfrid Stinissen, a discalced Carmelite, explains how Christ gave every Christian the power to change the past.
“Back to the Future” was one of my first exposures to sci-fi. Probably, everyone who contemplated the possibility of time travel thought about how they would change their own lives. Time, however, remains stubbornly unalterable in the past and inevitably deadly in the future. Why then would God create this temporal prison for his children?
Fr. Wilfrid starts this aptly-titled book with a discussion on why the Lord created time for us to toil and change and eventually die within its confines. In the perfection of the Holy Trinity, there is constant giving and receiving of love. Since man is created in the image of God, we also are capable of receiving this divine love, but giving it back to the Creator must be a choice. God created time so that we can change and develop to love him back.
Time is a gift.
Thankfully, time is not the flat, boring, linear line we imagine. On the contrary, because the eternal Triune God created time for us to know him better, there is eternity hidden in every moment. Because of this eternity, God became man in order to bring time to its climax. In Christ, the purpose of time is fulfilled:
Just as he rules over the past, he also rules over the future. He is ‘the fullness of time.’ When he says: ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30), in a certain sense, time reaches its climax. That for which time had been created, to give man opportunity to mature and reach his final destiny, had already found its perfection in Jesus.
Our understanding of time is challenged in this book as the author goes deeply into what it means to live in the Christian time that requires a conversion. The past is not a big heap of mistakes we must avoid at all costs. The future is not a land undiscovered that we long for. It is the present when and where we commune with the One who created time. Since the Incarnation, God has touched time so intimately that “history now touches God’s own life.”
The musings of Fr. Wilfrid, thankfully, lead us to discovering God in the present moment. As a culture that adores constant entertainment and distraction, what this Carmelite suggests is radical, but most needed. His prescription of our entering eternity in the midst of time is a journey that has simple and easy steps for the willing heart to follow.
The first step is prayer, namely contemplative prayer, where “we ourselves are filled with eternity, and we discover eternity’s dimension in everything.” He continues to teach the reader how to pray contemplatively through relaxation and holy repetition.
The title of the next chapter is “Stop!” — which is an inner command we all need to learn to give ourselves when stress, not the peace of Christ, overwhelms our lives. Fr. Wilfrid explains how we need to learn to combine prayer and work by letting God enter in everything we do, while recognizing that things we do are not as important as we think they are.
The next step is one of the most helpful for the modern man. The lie of “I do not have time” brings us so much stress that we lose our eternal perspective. But there is always enough time: “When God gives us a mission, he also creates the time needed for it. If there is no time for it, then it is not a task that comes from him but, rather, a work that we have arbitrarily taken upon ourselves, a job that falls outside of his plan for our life.” What a wonderfully freeing thought!
One of the greatest gifts of this book is the two chapters on holy forgetfulness and redeeming time. Memory is a gift and a curse. Fr. Wilfrid explains how we can use our own memories willfully so that we do not have to become slaves to our pasts. Of course, the biggest challenge of changing the past is true forgiveness: “Instead of letting the present and the future be a repetition of old experiences, you take your past in your own hands and give it a new meaning out of the present. It is the present that decides what the past means.”
There are few books that has affected me spiritually so much that they changed my prayer life. Fr Wilfrid’s book is one of them. His insistence on placing oneself in the present moment instead of thinking about what comes next took away much self-inflicted stress from my life, even though on the outside nothing changed. His thoughts on favoring fidelity instead of spontaneity made me grateful for every single gift and the cross in my life.
Eternity in the Midst of Time is a practical and deep book for our times, where the present is nothing but a nuisance. If you struggle with prayer, stress or unforgiveness, read this Carmelite’s easy-to-follow little book, and bring eternity to your own time.