The year 2022 is already almost two months old. God created the world and with it time. We are temporal beings. I have difficulty comprehending the enormous time spans geologists and astronomers speak of. When a geologist tells me that the earth is 4.5 billion years old, or an astronomer that a star is ten million light years away, I think of how my life is bounded by hours, days, weeks and months. A million or a billion years have little meaning.
Lately, I frequently recall my boyhood time, those lost days never to be relived. There was all the dreaming and hopes of those days, so many hopes which have lost their wings. There was the boyhood sense of time. Time stood still for a while. A day could seem endless. June and summer seemed an infinity of time.
With aging, days seem so brief and slip away so easily. The realization that the early hours of a morning are already spent saddens me. The afternoon slipping away brings a gloom, and the evening advancing into the moat of lost time brings melancholy. The days are used up so quickly one by one. In his Ode, The Wreck of the Deutschland, Gerard Manley Hopkins compares the transitoriness of life with the sand slipping inevitably through an hourglass (stanza 4). Shakespeare put it this way: “like the waves make towards the pebbled shore, so do our minutes hasten to their end.”
I grow more and more conscious of our earthly span of time. “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be” (Psalm 139:16). How many more chances will I have to welcome the Spring? We can’t dam the flow of time. I think of all the years passed, with their thousands of days and hundreds of thousands of hours. Sometimes I wonder about the rains and snows of my years. How many were there? How many drifting clouds have passed above me; how many winter winds have pounded me; how many gardens have flowered and faded around me?
We are given the gift of years, but as we grow older time can become an enemy. Our infirmities make us notice that part of our substance has been spoiled and engulfed—an end product deposited by time.
Life involves the destruction of much that is close to one and most dear. I think of all the people I loved who are gone. Family and friends die, while children flower, etching time and mortality even more sharply. Time steals that which we love. I want to keep everyone I love from leaving. But time keeps slipping them away.
The Second Vatican Council stated that God’s Spirit directs the unfolding of time (Gaudium Et Spes, 26). It also says that we are made for God, made to move to all that God is: the fullness of love, faith, peace and joy.”
There is a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins titled That Nature is a Heraclitean fire.
It was one of the last poems Hopkins wrote, shortly before his death at age 44 in 1889.
The poem begins with a description of clouds; the movement of clouds across the sky is described. The poem pictures cloud shadows on the walls and buildings, sunlight through trees. Hopkins then moves on to a description of the winds. He gives a description of a cloudy, windy day after a rainstorm. The opening lines convey a delight in the world of nature.
Then Hopkins writes of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus (535- 475 BC). Heraclitus wrote about fire being an essential element in the world. What he meant by that was the idea that everything was in a state of flux, continually changing. More specifically, “fire” was Heraclitus’ way of indicating that everything which had been created would eventually be destroyed. He spoke of “Nature’s bonfire.”
Heraclitus observed that nothing is stable. All things are subject to time and annihilation. It is a world where nothing lasts. Everything, no matter how beautiful, must die. This includes human impermanence. Humans, too, must suffer obliteration like everything else. Humans too are destined to be put out like a candle.
Hopkins’ reflections continue to spiral downward. But then, with the dramatic word “Enough,” he turns to ideas about the Resurrection, which counters the darkness of human extinction. Hopkins declares humans to be “immortal diamonds.” A diamond is something that was previously buried in the earth but is as permanent and immutable as anything we know. It is something solid and everlasting. A diamond is something that can reflect and sparkle with a light that shines on and through it. A diamond suggests something permanent and unchanging. Hopkins is saying that we humans have eternal worth. We shall rise and bloom to fade no more.
There is the resounding affirmation of the last lines of the poem:
“In a flash, at a trumpet crash, I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am, and this Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, is immortal diamond.
Is Immortal Diamond.”
(Jack—workday, ordinary human; joke—foolish person; poor potsherd—shard of broken pottery; matchwood—something that spends itself in a short, temporal flame, short lived)
Hopkins also wrote: “All life death does end and each day dies with sleep. Now it is all death life does end, and each day lives forever.”
(In Westminster Abbey, the most notable religious building in England, the traditional place of coronations, there is the “Poet’s Corner.” This is a wide wall where slabs of stone are embedded. The stones contain the names of famous poets and a few words most associated with the poet. In 1976, Hopkins was established in Poet’s Corner. The slab bearing Hopkins’ name also has the words “Immortal Diamond.”)