I learned recently from something I read -- although it would have been obvious, had I only thought about it -- that a primary difference between the Hebrews and other ancient tribes is that the Hebrews thought about time as linear. While other ancient peoples saw their gods acting cyclically, as the sun rose and set and the moon waxed and waned, the Hebrews saw God acting historically, linearly, in time. God's action can be told as a story with a beginning, the past, and a middle, the present, and, somewhere in the future, an end. Our story is part of God's story.
But the ancient Hebrews' neighbors didn't have it all wrong either. There are cycles in nature, and I find that they mirror the cycles of my life. Still, they're the smaller pattern inside the bigger pattern. The big pattern is clearly about birth, life, and death, one straight line. It's death that has been tripping me up.
In Waiting for Godot Samuel Beckett says, "They give birth astride of a grave, the light gleams an instant, then it's night once more."* There's something that is essentially true about this. We know that this mortal life will end. In cosmic time, it is barely an instant. We lose.
The first truth is that even as I lose as I walk this linear road from birth to death, beginning to end, I don't leave behind what I love. I realize that that's one thing that has left me feeling sad and afraid, the idea that I leave what I love behind. The truth is, I get to take it with me. It is me in a more real sense than the aging body I live in is me. It is eternal, starting now.
The second truth has to do with the seasons of my life. Certain periods of our lives have built-in time limits -- our childhoods or our children's childhoods; as women, our childbearing years. We know about how long these last and roughly when they will end. Other seasons of my life seem equally limited, although I don't know how long they'll last until they are over. Lately, two of those -- our homeschooling season and the season in which my husband has owned his business -- have been winding down. I recognize that their time is up. Whatever we had the chance to learn during those seasons we have learned or not learned. Either way, we need to move on. From the past and into the future.
The largest view of my life is the same. I get a limited time, and I don't know when it will be up. I have the chance to learn and do a lot of things. Some I will do and learn. Some I won't. Either way, eventually the time will be up.
Then there is the judgment. People think about that in a lot of different ways, I know. But if I extrapolate from what I experience when a season within my life ends, here's what I notice: I notice that I feel not judged, but loved. I have been tempted to look back with judgments of my own. I've been tempted to regret the things I've done and the things I've failed to do. And I have done wrong and I have failed, make no mistake. But when I hold the time in prayer, I don't experience judgment. I experience acceptance. I have lost what I have lost, but I also have gained what I have gained, measured in love. That love I gather up and take with me into the next season.
In the end, I will gather up all the love -- it will survive the refining fire (1 Corinthians 3:13) -- and I will carry it along into the age where there is no longer sun to rise and set or moon to wax and wane: "There will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light" (Revelation 22:5).
* Thanks to Jon Stewart (of all people) for quoting this a couple of nights ago to great comic effect.