Humankind cannot bear very much reality, wrote T.S. Eliot in Four Quartets. I doubt he was thinking here of some arcane, ineffable reality. I suppose he was thinking, ironically, of the ordinary passage of time. We avoid it. We can't bear it, the ineluctable wave-force of it. Great scientists and philosophers have constructed complex theoretical sand castles to evade the power of will be, is, was - all pretty much in vain (check out The Natural Philosophy of Time, by G.J. Whitrow, for an extremely incisive, erudite exploration - full of physics & math equations which I can't follow, but lots of other wonderful things too, in ordinary language).
It's why the Old Testament somewhere (Psalms?) calls out, Lord, teach us to number our days. It's why those strutting, arrogant Renaissance princes made sure to keep a skull in their private study, for a memento mori.
Passing time. We avoid the knife-edge of it, the "raven-knife" (Mandelstam), the voron-nozh (in exile, counting slow hours, in Voronezh). Quoth the Raven...
Old cantankerous literary exiles like me write screeds about it... young poets ignore us (all the time in the world). Number our days, says the word to the wise. We don't listen : too much reality.
& if someone comes to us & says : I am the Way, the Truth, the Life.... I am the sheep-door to eternal life.... we show them a short-cut to Golgotha : we don't want to hear about it. The impertinent suggestion that there are two separate dimensions of reality : earth & heaven, mortal time & eternity... no, no - we can't bear it. We crush our hands over our ears. Let me just get back to my favorite pastimes, please!
But then here is another dose of reality : feel it in your bones. Feel the knife-edge, Now, scraping your skin. Now. & meanwhile imagine there is this ineffable realm - some kind of soul-space, some "kingdom of heaven", where this death-bound world is abrogated, changed, redeemed - transfigured. Like that monarch butterfly, on the milkweed pod, drifting (nonchalant, inexorable) across America, toward death-haunted Mexico... that monarch only recently a silk-bound worm...
When I try to hold this doubleness, these two circles, this Venn diagram, in my mind - time & the Eternal - what comes sharply home to me is the so very strange (weird, uncanny) dramatic quality of our ordinary, mortal existence. We keep moving, in this play of Time : moving toward our own inevitable Golgotha. We hold the end of it all in our mind, our limbs, our bones : & we go on walking through the day, each day, as the seconds move along & pass.
We are all on stage in this mortal play together... so John Donne writes, with such eloquence : "No man
is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a
part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the
less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy
friend's or of thine own were; any man's death diminishes me, because I
am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the
bell tolls; it tolls for thee." (Meditation 17)
Or Shakespeare' s Prospero (in The Tempest), speaking of actors :
Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits, and
Are melted into air, into thin air;
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve,
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.
A strange dream it is. Life is a dream (the play, by Calderon). "A dream within a dream" (Poe). Time bearing all of us mortals, each bearing a Golgotha within, down the stream, toward... - & in the middle of this dream, say, an image of the Shroud of Turin : that ghostly-pale, naked, prophet-like, bearded carpenter, his eyes closed... or maybe just a "babe in a manger"...
What am I getting at? We carry this live coal around in our hearts : this flicker of mortal time, this spiritual thing. "You are the salt of the earth." And, "You shall all be salted with fire."
Teach us to number our days, the Psalmist says (Psalm 90). & lift this mortal gravity with a featherweight, or a butterfly wing. So we can dance a little. As old man Eliot, Old Possum, writes : "Where you must move in measure, like a dancer."
"There is indeed a profound connection between the reality of time and the existence of an incalculable element in the universe." (G.J. Whitrow)