Passing Through Things Temporal
A prayer made famous by C. S. Lewis asks that God help us to ‘pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal’. Here is an active meditation that can help us to think about that.
You will need
- Large paper, such as a flip-chart pad or wallpaper
- Marker pens
- Sticky tack or masking tape
- A doorway that leads outwards, to a hall or outside.
What to do
- Make sure that your paper is wide enough to span the doorway. Tape sheets together if you need to.
- Draw a large labyrinth on the paper. Here are some suggested designs.
Note that a labyrinth is not the same as a maze. A maze is a puzzle that tries to confuse you and get you lost. A labyrinth is a winding path that always leads to the centre, although not always by the route you expect.
- Use the scissors to cut a small hole at the centre of the labyrinth.
- You can write the prayer around the labyrinth if you like, or ‘May we pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal.’
- Tape the paper over the doorway, with the centre at eye height, so that looking through the hole leads outwards (ie, not into a cupboard!)
Explain that the labyrinth represents things of this world, the Things Temporal. As we are born, we start the journey and we each proceed at different paces, lingering long in some sections and passing by others. When we reach the centre we are allowed to pass through to Things Eternal beyond the plane of our lives.
Have a selection of marker pens nearby and allow people to write or draw life events, past, present or future, along the path. Each person can trace their journey though life and consider their walk with God as they proceed towards the centre. Through the hole in the centre we can glimpse a little of the life beyond life.
I’m a free-lance writer and my children have developed an annoying habit of eating food. I’ve tried giving them kitty nibbles, but they keep saying they want human food. They won’t even eat the the herring-and-pilchard ones, and they’re right tasty!
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Yesterday evening there was an colossal noise outside, like a giant helicopter hovering just above the chimney. I went outside to find that, no I was not about to host a bring-your-own-Chinook party, (quite a relief!) but that combined harvesters were at work in the nearby fields. I stood for a while and watched them shaving the fields and pouring tonnes of grain in high-piled lorries.
I’m guessing that a similar sight, albeit less mechanised, was the backdrop to Jesus’ story of the farmer with copious crop. “Time to take it easy”, says the farmer to himself, “I have a decent stock portfolio, a private pension and a very handsome retirement package.” He could be a poster boy for those over-50 plans advertised by smiling couples who seriously can’t be a day over 35.
“Eat, drink and be merry”, he tells himself, “no need to worry about the future”. It’s a very biblical attitude. Jesus was quoting Ecclesiastes in this story (Ecc 8:15), after Solomon’s realises that everything he tries to accomplish is just chasing after the wind. Why bother stressing? Just enjoy life. After all, you can’t take it with you when you go. It’s a great sound-bite and it’s even spawned a yoof-culture equivalent – YOLO (you only live once).
So should that be our attitude as Christians: live for today and not worry about the future? Solomon thought so, evidently. And Jesus echoed the sentiment with his “do not worry about tomorrow” in Matthew 6.
But there’s a second bit to the sound-bite: “Eat, drink and be merry … for tomorrow we die”.
That’s from the Bible too. It’s in Isaiah (22:12-13), where the people of Jerusalem are enjoying the high life completely oblivious to the consequences of their actions: short-sighted focus on short-term goals.
Both they and the farmer had missed the point of ‘for tomorrow we die’. We can read it two ways: Either ‘for tomorrow we die and that’s it, so enjoy life ‘cos you’ll be dead soon enough’ (as Paul uses it ironically in 1 Cor 15:32); or ‘for tomorrow we die and then our real life begins, so remember that we are only visitors in this world’. (Phil 3:20, 1 Pet 2:11).
Jesus told us not to worry about tomorrow, but we still need to think about tomorrow. When I worry about the future, I am concerned with what I can do to fix it and, as Jesus pointed out, I can do nothing at all about the big stuff. I can’t change one hair of my head from grey to ‘dark honey blonde’, not really. I can’t determine when I or any of my loved ones will die. I can’t fix the huge amounts of stupid that seem to be dominating current politics. (But that does not allow us to be laissez-faire; we still need to struggle. “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.” D. Bonhoeffer)
Sure, there’s plenty to be worried about, but worrying about the future has the focus on me, and that’s not the right place. However, not thinking about the future is just as off-target. If I focus too much on the here-and-now I might forget that there is a there-and-then.
C. S. Lewis relates an amusing, but thought-provoking, slip of the tongue.
“Not long ago when I was using the collect for the fourth Sunday after Trinity in my private prayers I found that I had made a slip of the tongue. I had meant to pray that I might so pass through things temporal that I finally lost not the things eternal; I found I had prayed so to pass through things eternal that I finally lost not the things temporal. … I come into the presence of God with a great fear lest anything should happen to me within that presence which will prove too intolerably inconvenient when I have come out again into “ordinary” life. I don’t want to be carried away into any resolution which I shall afterwards regret.”
I wonder where I am in that.
BCP Collect for Proper 12 The Sunday closest to July 27
O God, the protector of all who trust in you, without whom nothing is strong, nothing is holy: Increase and multiply upon us your mercy; that, with you as our ruler and guide, we may so pass through things temporal, that we lose not the things eternal; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Luke 12:13-21 Easy-to-Read Version (ERV)
One of the men in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, our father just died and left some things for us. Tell my brother to share them with me.”
But Jesus said to him, “Who said I should be your judge or decide how to divide your father’s things between you two?” Then Jesus said to them, “Be careful and guard against all kinds of greed. People do not get life from the many things they own.”
Then Jesus used this story: “There was a rich man who had some land. His land grew a very good crop of food. He thought to himself, ‘What will I do? I have no place to keep all my crops.’
“Then he said, ‘I know what I will do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger barns! I will put all my wheat and good things together in my new barns. Then I can say to myself, I have many good things stored. I have saved enough for many years. Rest, eat, drink, and enjoy life!’
“But God said to that man, ‘Foolish man! Tonight you will die. So what about the things you prepared for yourself? Who will get those things now?’
“This is how it will be for anyone who saves things only for himself. To God that person is not rich.”
Easy-to-Read Version, Copyright © 2006 by Bible League International
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