In the light of eternity
Updated: Apr 27, 2019
In the 1980s, I used to keep scrapbooks. (Look, we didn’t have iPads or mobile phones.) I’d glue in postcards, spare photos, magazine clippings, and above all quotations I’d come across. Sometimes I’d beg friends to contribute their favourites, and they’d faithfully write them out for me.
I have ambitions to revive the habit, but it’s pretty hard to get started again in this era, when it seems so counterintuitive and (technically) unnecessary. I can e-file all the quotations and pictures I want nowadays. And the scrapbooks did sit in the bottom of the bookcase gathering dust for years. But now, in my reflective middle age, there’s something exquisite about leafing through them and rediscovering words that once thrilled me with their profundity, in the handwriting of long-lost folk who profoundly shaped my life.
Occasionally, I’d compose and photocopy a questionnaire for a friend or family member. The sort of thing you see under magazine Q & As. I was touched to come across one I’d imposed on my mother at the time.
My final question: What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever had?
‘Look at things “sub specie aeternitatis”’.
She’d studied Latin at school, you see. What did she mean? ‘In the light of eternity’, according to some translations. If you’re interested in philosophy, you can find out more about it here.
And then, as these things do, the phrase turned up again a few days later. In the quest for something to get me through the treadmill session at the gym, curiosity made me follow up a podcast recommended by columnist Oliver Burkeman: On Being with Krista Tippett, in which she interviews a Franciscan priest called Father Richard Rohr. He’s one of those mystics who somehow appeal to the ‘definitely not religious’ but potentially a little bit spiritual. And he spoke about this concept of being in ’Deep Time’ - not chronological time (which tends to enslave us and make us panic) - and of looking at things ‘sub specie aeternitatis’, or under the aspect of eternity, rather than reacting in the light of shallow, short-term values.
“In deep time, everybody matters and has his or her influence, and is even somehow ‘present’ and not just past.” - Richard Rohr
I think maybe we form, follow or reinvent rituals for ourselves (even if we are absolutely not religious) in some unconscious awareness of that deep time, of that eternity in which our lives and loves have a permanent significance. That way, we are still connected with all those who’ve been part of our lives - no matter how small we may feel in the middle of the night. So if I am a celebrant helping you with a funeral, a wedding, a naming day or any other celebration, it’s my job to help you find and express that connection symbolically. That helps us to live in Deep Time - and reconnects me to my mother’s modestly-expressed wisdom.
Iona Abbey, Argyll, Scotland