Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Swiftly Tilting

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.


alfonso said...

Please, pardon me for trying to say in English something when I haven't even understood at all your struggles. But reading this, it came to my mind something I've read about time from Tarkovski (the russian film-maker). It was something like that the past is always present, "is" in the present, like a mother is always present in a son. The past is cause for the present, "this" present should have been impossible in any other way.
Well, this is what I am able to say translating into English some things I barely remember, read in Spanish long time ago. But, maybe the book I've read can be interesting for you. The title in Spanish was "Esculpir en el tiempo" (To sculpt in time) and it was a collection of articles about art, cinema poetry and music. One of my favorite ever readings.

Pentimento said...

Thanks for your comment, Alfonso, and for the book recommendation. I searched on Amazon, and it's almost the same in English: Sculpting in Time: Tarkovsky Discusses His Art. I have a long list of things to read, but this will be added to it.

It's a theological mystery, too, that we have free will, and yet God knows our future: so we can change the outcome, but it will never be an outcome that's not been set into place by God. I'm not sure I understand this, but it's strangely comforting.

Anonymous said...

I was told by someone more literate in biblical languages than I that in Hebrew salvation is essentially tenseless: I am saved. I am being saved. I was saved. I will be saved.

Everything made of God is redeemable. The only things we own are our sins. God owns the rest and can transform them for His glory.

If you get a chance, read Faulkner's short story "Shall Not Perish" on the 4th of July.

Viola said...

Thank you very much for this post. You've given your readers much to think about. I read the first book a long time ago but I will probably read it again now! I will also look up the other two books.

Karen E. said...

Great post -- I think about the same things often ... reconciling past self, present self, future self, the nature of that integration, and how it plays out.

Pentimento said...

I missed my July 4th reading assignment, TQ, but will pick it up as soon as I can. Thanks, Viola and Karen E., for your kind words.