Monday, January 12, 2009

We Know Time! Or, Do We?

One of my favourite passages in literature is this bit from the end of Jack Kerouac's classic, The Dharma Bums:

"... Now comes the sadness of coming back to cities and I've grown two months older and there's all that humanity of bars and burlesque shows and gritty love, all upsidedown in the void God bless them, but Japhy you and me forever we know, O ever youthful, O ever weeping." Down on the lake rosy reflections of celestial vapor appeared, and I said "God, I love you" and looked up to the sky and really meant it. "I have fallen in love with you, God. Take care of us all, one way or the other."

My wife recently asked me to comment about my view of the city as Kerouac describes it here (
all that humanity of bars and burlesque shows and gritty love, all upsidedown in the void). I tend to be drawn to that sort of gritty humanity, with all of its particolored enthusiasms, its misspent energies, it "raging glory" (to borrow a phrase from Bob Dylan). So that is why she asked.

Her question reminded me of a time we took a Reformed Episcopal friend (who is now a presbyter in the REC) to Venice Beach, California. After soaking up those crazy vibes for a while, he asked me: In your dream of the realized Millennium (for I was a Postmillennialist then), how much different would Venice Beach be?

My reply then was the same as it would be today: Not much different. Most of this can be redeemed.

But, how did it get so gritty? Why is it all upsidedown in the void?

I submit to you that much of it has to do with our poor inability to master time. Because we do not "know time" properly, we get ahead of ourselves, and in trying to get ahead of God, we find ourselves falling behind Him. Much of what happens in a typical bar (even a gritty one) is probably pretty good: images of God interact with other images of God, while partaking of those liquids that "make glad the heart of man."

But often the drinking, for instance, is a grasping of things (pleasure, relief, peace, creative inspiration) ahead of the appointed time. That is, God wishes to give us many of the same things we would seek in drink, but not yet.1

Like King David, we underestimate what God is willing to give us, in His good time, through the righteous channels.
2 And so, like David, we grasp for what we want now.3

In Kerouac's most famous work, On The Road, the characters are frequently heard to repeat the mantra: We know time. But I think that it was all talk. Neither the author nor the characters knew time in the sense in which we must know it if we are to
pass through things temporal that we finally lose not the things eternal.

Though the demons denied it4, Jesus Christ knew (and knows) time5. Of course, He has the advantage of having created time. It seems trite to say it, but let us wait on the Lord, and we will not spend so much time upsidedown in the void.

The eyes of all wait upon thee; and thou givest them their meat in due season.

And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.

1 c.f. Luke 22:18, Matthew 27:34

2 2 Samuel 12:8

3 2 Samuel 11

4 Matthew 8:29

5 John 2:4, John 7:6