A New Sort of Time

By H. Boone Porter

For creatures like ourselves, to be created, to come into being, is in fact to enter the world of time and space. To exist is to be here and now. We at least think we know what place is, because we can see it and feel it, and sometimes smell it and hear it as well. To say what time is is not so easy, although we experience it in and about us every instant. 

We do know time involves past, present, and future. There is a very great deal of past. There is really only a split second of present, a mere razor’s edge, relentlessly slipping over from future into past. And all of the future is expectations, projections, hopes, fears, and dreams which may never come to be. 

During these past weeks, to move from Kansas City to Milwaukee has been, fo my wife Violet and myself, a drastic movement both in time and space. We are now living thirty miles west of downtown Milwaukee, not far from Nashotah House, the theological seminary where I taught during the 1950’s. So we find ourselves happily reestablishing life among friends and neighbors of 20 years ago. Some of the past is being recaptured, but it is also a leap into the future. It has meant leaving friends in Kansas City, leaving the green fields and familiar surroundings of Roanridge, and entering new duties, new associations, and new experiences, some of which are more or less predictable and some of which will not be known until the future washes upon us, becomes present, and flows on into the past. 

Yet as an experience in the complexity of time, all of this is nothing compared with the operation of this magazine. On a typical week, say the first week in a month, we are dealing with the proofs (the samples of the material set in type) of the issue of the magazine which will be printed and mailed out next week, and which the typical subscriber will receive after the middle of the month (the exact time will depend on how far you are from Milwaukee). We are also, during the same week, preparing for the typesetter the material which will be finally printed and mailed out the week after next, which the subscriber will receive during the latter part of the month. We are also receiving articles, letters, and reviews which may not be printed, in many cases, for several weeks. Then on Wednesday we will receive the first copies of the newly printed issue which we worked on during the previous weeks, but which you will probably not receive in the mail or buy at your church door until next week! In the office of a magazine, time is vividly experienced as an inexorable flow of leaves of paper, a variation of the older and more universal image of time as the leaves of trees, budding, flourishing, and falling to decay.

As Christians we look forward to that heavenly country where earthly time will be no more. We cannot imagine eternity as timeless in the sense of everything being frozen in ice, but rather as a new sort of time, a time free of mortality. The last chapter of our Bibles, Revelation 22, is closely linked with the beginning of Genesis. This chapter begins

Then he [the angel] showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing form the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; alson, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of th tree were for the healing of the nations. 

The last clause of course refers primarily to the medicinal leaves of certain plants, here made perfect in the leaves of the tree of life. Christian piety has also been reminded at this point of the other kind of leaves, in particular the leaves of that one book which is indeed the prescription for the illness of all mankind. May all of us who write and read so many things never lose sight of the words of that one book which does, already in this life, transcend the ravages of time. 

The Rev. H. Boone Porter was editor of The Living Church from 1977-1990. This article was published in our October 30, 1977 issue.

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