“The Eternal Now and Social Concern” is a chapter in Thomas Kelly’s book A Testament of Devotion, discussing the tension between concern with eternity versus concern for the temporal. I imagine this is a point of discussion in all religions. Quakers have a long history of working for peace and justice. I have tried many times to express my efforts to pay attention to the spirit as a basis for my activism. I’ve spoken publicly about the intersection of mysticism and activism.
The Eternal Now and Social Concern
There is an experience of the Eternal breaking into time which transforms all life into a miracle of faith and action. Unspeakable, profound, and full of glory as an inward experience, it is the root of concern for all creation, the true ground of social endeavor. This inward Life and the outward Concern are truly one whole, and, were it possible, ought to be described simultaneously. But linear sequence and succession of words is our inevitable lot and compels us to treat separately what is not separate: first, the Eternal Now and the Temporal Now, and second, the Nature and Ground of Social Concern.
1. The Eternal Now and the Temporal Now
There is a tendency today, in this generation, to suppose that the religious life must prove its worth because it changes the social order. The test of the importance of any supposed dealing with Eternity is the benefits it may possibly bring to affairs in time. Time, and the enrichment of events in time, are supposed to pass a judgment upon the worth of fellowship with the Eternal.
…We are in an era of This-sidedness, with a passionate anxiety about economics and political organization. And the church itself has largely gone “this-sided,” and large areas of the Society of Friends seem to be predominantly concerned with this world, with time, and with the temporal order. And the test of worthwhileness of any experience of Eternity has become: “Does it change things in time? If so, let us keep it, if not, let us discard it.”
I submit that this is a lamentable reversal of the true order of dependence. Time is no judge of Eternity. It is the Eternal who is the judge and tester of time.
But I am persuaded that in the Quaker experience of Divine Presence there is a serious retention of both time and the timeless, with the final value and significance located in the Eternal, who is the creative root of time itself.
The possibility of this experience of Divine Presence, as a repeatedly realized and present fact, and its transforming and transfiguring effect upon all life–this is the central message of Friends. Once discovered this glorious secret, this new dimension of life, and we no longer live merely in time but we live also in the Eternal. The world of time is no longer the sole reality of which we are aware.
Thomas Kelly, A Testament of Devotion
As I began to spend more time writing for this blog, this resulted in a more disciplined practice of listening to the Inner Light. I finally realized I was beginning each day asking God, “what are we going to do today?” I would try start from a place of worship, listening for what I was meant to write or do that day. I am not always successful, but I believe this discipline has made me more attuned to the Eternal. I often find when I finish writing for the day, that I have lost track of time.
There’s this profound (perhaps fertile?) “yes-but” misconception about the relation of Creator and Creation that afflicts some mystics: They fall into the the Eternal Meow and think that all they need do is to curl up on the Divine Lap.
I’ve been reading JD Crossan’s _The Greatest Prayer_ aloud to Anne and finding it (like some of his other writings a good antidote to that orientation.
Yes, what’s Spiritual & eternal is what ultimately matters. But That permeates us and this Earth. Spirit is embodied here, in us and in the midst of this finite Earth.
Crossan says that in the Greek of the Lord’s Prayer, the literal word order is: “as in heaven, so in earth.” It’s not about the place we’re going; it’s about how this place is meant to become.
Meanwhile, the sufferings of this Earth are inconvenient gifts… consequences of human alienation from God and each other — serving to draw people back into intimacy with God. And that state is what we need to find before we can make any lasting difference. But in such a state, we [sometimes] find ourselves working with God on what Crossan calls the Great Divine Cleanup of the World.
“The eschaton is not about the destruction of the world, but about its transformation into a place of justice and nonviolence. It is not about the annihilation of the earth, but about its transformation into a location of freedom and peace.”
Interesting. Thanks Forrest. I like “the Great Divine Cleanup of the World”