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Column Beurskens: Time

Our verbal forms have got to do with time. They indicate past, present and future. The Hebrew also knows verbal forms, but they are not about time. This old language has a form in which you tell a story and a form which isn’t about story-telling. There is no need to indicate something else as the present. Jesus himself tells us we shouldn’t worry about tomorrow. Every day has enough of its own suffering. In ‘the our father’ we pray for the bread of today not already for that of tomorrow. The owner of a café in our town has on his door ‘tomorrow beer for free’, whereas Janis Joplin sang ‘there is no tomorrow’.

Often I see in my office people who plan for the future. They look forward to their retirement. Extra annuities provide for additional income. Yuppies strive for their next promotion. We work hard to make our life as long as possible. Much of medicine is directed to the effort to glue a little extra time to it at the end. That is what we fill the present with. We are always going to or coming from somewhere. We call on the phone to the place we just left or to the place we are just about to go. Often people cannot bear the present. Has the future become present it frequently disappoints or gives room to new fears about a new future.

We in the West live under the yoke of time. That is why we don=t have a present. African people don=t work for the future but for the present. We think he is lazy, but in fact he views time differently. The Western sense of time leads to a flight from the present. It provides us with the illusion that we can control existence, whereas Jesus teaches us that existence is not about control. And that in control there is no sense. The past with all its imperfections is forgotten and forgiven. Future doesn’t matter because it never stands in the way of reaching out to the purpose of existence. The future can never fail, so one doesn’t need to worry about it.

Living in the present without time doesn’t only spring forth from a philosophy of a ‘carpe diem’ a seize the day. A relation with God is only possible in the present. You can only pray in the present. Our difficulty with Eastern meditation or contemplative prayer, which are the same, is just this. Our problem is not that we don’t have time but that we do have time.