Age and Time

    If you write about getting older, you get replies with a lot of wit. One person wrote: It’s easier in France; everyone calls you mademoiselle until suddenly one day it’s madame. Another, claiming extra points for knowing where Poughkeepsie is (I may double those points since he’s a Texan), affirmed that time accelerates: slowly it goes—until it’s speeding by.
    There are good things about looking older. Before I went to seminary, I taught junior high math at a pueblo in New Mexico. During a test, one of the students loudly whispered “Austin, come here.” I went to his desk and leaned down. The student asked, “How old are you?” I was stunned. “Dominic, get to work; this is a test.” “No, really,” he said, “How old are you? She says you’re 30, and I say 35.”
    “Get to work and be quiet,” I said, leaving him and not about to cede my newly-found advantage. They were both wrong; I was 24.
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    “Do you sense she’s still with you?” I was speaking about Losing Susan, and the questioner wanted to know whether I experienced an on-going presence of my wife following her death.
    The answer is no, but for me there’s no lack of comfort in it. Susan has gone to be with Jesus; she is “sleeping in Jesus,” to use that special image. We don’t know what it means, but we do know that whatever it means, it has to be good.
    Still, we can think about it. We can ponder this biblical teaching: until the final resurrection of the dead, the departed lack a body. The “life after death” they have is to be distinguished from a future life still to come, what N. T. Wright calls “life after life after death.” In that “yet more glorious day” all the departed are given resurrected bodies.
    So for now, for the departed who lack their bodies, what might time mean? The answer is not at all clear. Time seems connected to space, to action and movement. It would seem odd for the departed to be occupying some sort of non-spatial universe that is parallel to ours, in sync with our time, able to “look down upon us” and share in our on-going life. Maybe they are connected through their being hid and held in Christ. In any event, one senses there are problems here of physics and metaphysics that are beyond our grasp.
    For what it’s worth (which may not be much), the sense I’ve had almost from the moment of her death is that Susan has gone off on a journey. She has gone off: our paths have diverged for now, and so they may remain until that future general resurrection, when all paths converge in the cosmic final assembly.
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    Is there a kind of time in which all at once we are young and old and timeless? Where vigor and wisdom and constancy are met together and kiss each other? And is this but another way of saying with Augustine that our hearts are restless until they rest in God?
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    Out & About. On Whitsunday, May 20, I’ll be preaching at the traditional services (7:30, 9, and 11:15 a.m.) at Incarnation, 3966 McKinney Ave., Dallas.
    June 4-6 (Monday evening to Wednesday noon) the CCET has a conference on “Hope Today” in Baltimore. We have a great line-up of speakers. More info here.

The Rev. Canon Dr. Victor Lee Austin is the Theologian-in-Residence for the diocese and is the author of several books including, "Losing Susan: Brain Disease, the Priest's Wife, and the God who Gives and Takes Away."