Tuesday, June 23, 2009
I have some writing assignments due soon, so I've been procrastinating as much as possible by reading lots of juvenile literature. I just finished A Swiftly Tilting Planet, the third in Madeleine L'Engle's Wrinkle in Time series, which (like her other books) was, for me, like a long, cool, delicious drink of some marvelous beverage on the most wiltingly hot summer day. The book concerns time travel undertaken to save the planet from nuclear conflagration, which, contrary to the outcome you would expect if you'd read a lot of comic books or watched a lot of the original Star Trek, in this case actually works.
This blog and its comboxes have featured some previous discussions of time travel, and sometmes I think in fact that time travel is the main theme of my writing here -- the notion of a continual traveling back and forth between the past and the present, and the implications of such journeying. As Faulkner wrote, "The past is never dead. It's not even past." This is a tricky conundrum for the convert: without the suffering and sin of the past, there would have been no conversion (as the "Exsultet" sung at the Easter Vigil says, "O happy fault that merited such and so great a Redeemer"), but in embarking upon a new life we would like to travel as lightly as possible, leaving much of the past behind. I think perhaps the main themes of this blog are 1) the fact that such leaving-behind is not possible, and 2) my struggles to weave the past into my present and future in a way that will not degrade or undermine any of these three states -- states which, if you accept the proposition that time is non-linear, can sometimes seem arbitrarily defined. In Matthew 9:16, Christ noted the folly of patching an old garment with new, unshrunk cloth, and Saint Paul explained to the Corinthians that "whoever is in Christ is a new creation; the old things have passed away; behold, new things have come." So, in turning to Christ, we are made new; but, as I've often asked in this blog, what do we do with the past?
As the historian of conversion Karl F. Morrison has written (I've quoted him here before):
Conversion is often portrayed as a positive event, a turning toward. It also has a negative aspect, a turning away. The event of formal adhesion [to the new faith] may consist of this flight toward the future and from the past. But . . . . the old life overshadows the understanding of the new. The event may produce a transformation; but something resistant to change informs understanding it, and retention of the old may indeed have been a condition without which there could have been no change.
This came to my mind the other morning, when I turned on the radio and heard the opening strains of Ravel's String Quartet, which I've also written about here before. I wondered if I would be able to hear it without breaking down or resorting to the destructive dodge of replacing the present with the tantalizing memories of the past for which that evocative music was the soundtrack. While I never in my wildest dreams imagined I'd hear the quartet while clipping coupons at my kitchen table in Appalachia, I managed to get through it all right somehow.