Time: the final frontier.
Or wibbly-wobbly, timey-wimey stuff, as The Doctor described it (in Doctor Who, for the uninitiated). Time is not as constant as we think. Time is relative, it bends and warps, its consistency a perpetual illusion.
Take this example…
On holiday on the Isle of Wight recently, we visited Luccombe Chine, an incredible woodland ravine lacerated through sheer rock faces. As we stopped the car in a small parking area by the footpath to the Chine, I noticed a hilly field opposite, bursting with buddleia bushes and wildflowers, and knew it had to be an amazing habitat for butterflies. Being a bit of a lepidopterist (I collected butterflies till my conscience kicked in during my mid-teens – now I like to photograph them), I had to go over the road with my camera to investigate, while my family waited for me by the car.
So I told Janine I’d be 2 minutes – I confess, I didn’t really believe it!
When I eventually returned to the car, my family, who for some reason (???) were growing impatient, reckoned I’d been in the field for ages – maybe 20 minutes.
I felt as if I’d been there for 2 minutes, as promised.
But I reckoned objectively I’d been there for as long as 5.
The reality was probably in between: about 10 minutes. Time is relative.
The field, as it turned out, was bustling with butterflies, with at least 14 different species that I counted in just a few minutes. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen so many species in such a short space of time in England, even on the Purbeck Hills or South Downs.
For those that are interested, the list included: Clouded Yellows, Marbled Whites, Chalkhill Blues, Painted Ladies and Small Tortoiseshells.
I was in my element, and time was very different for me than it was for Janine and the kids waiting for me. In that moment after returning to the car, a lightbulb flicked on in my head, answering a question I’d read just the day before in Rob Bell’s Love Wins:
So when people ask, “What will we do in heaven?” one possible answer is to ask: “What do you love to do now that will go on in the world to come?”
What is it that when you do it, you lose track of time, because you get lost in it? What do you do that makes you think, “I could do this forever”? What is it that makes you think, “I was made for this”?
If you ask these kinds of questions long enough, you will find some impulse related to creation. Some way to be, something to do. Heaven is both the peace, stillness, serenity, and calm that come from having everything in its right place – the state in which nothing is required, needed or missing – and the endless joy that comes from participating in the ongoing creation of the world 1.
As I read it, I thought of…
Running: at least, when I’m fitter than I am now. The freedom of running, like flying. The creativity, even, of running – like a dance. An opportunity to clear my head, pray and reflect. And more. ‘Born to Run’ is my all-time favourite running song, the title reflecting how I feel. But much of the time these days I’m battling against injuries, lack of fitness and too-warm weather. So, at the moment at least, I don’t feel ‘lost in’ running. Then I thought of…
Blogging. Yes, I also believe I’m born to write. I may not be an amazing writer, yet putting words to screen is undoubtedly something God has given me. A way to express myself – and hopefully reflect his grace to others (see ‘Why a Blog…?’). I don’t only enjoy writing – I need to write. And time does fly when I’m writing. But it doesn’t always flow that easily. So then I thought about…
My work – a nurse, with homeless people. More than a job – a calling, a vocation. I couldn’t be doing anything else, at least for now. But it has many demands and stresses, and more than its fair share of admin. On the Isle of Wight, I was glad to be on vacation from my vocation.
So I wasn’t that sure of my answer to Bell’s question, until…
That day in the field of butterflies. Not just butterflies. Being alone with nature. This is where I find sanity. Where I pray most easily. Where I can be truly me and lose track of time.
But actually all these activities: running, writing, nursing, being with nature, contain some element of creation: whether creating bridges with others, inspiring hope, bringing healing and self-worth, or simply restoring my own sanity.
As a friend once described this kind of busyness: ‘engaging with life’.
And I experience God is some way, different ways, in all those activities – a reflection, a taste, of how heaven is.
And you – you will answer that question, probably, in an entirely different way again.
Over the summer I read two books by Rob Bell: Love Wins and What We Talk About When We Talk About God (WWTA). I referred to WWTA in my last blog post Misnomers. I have to confess, I’m a bit of a Rob Bell fan. Big time. In fact, I think Time magazine may be right that “he could be one of the most important 21st century Christian thinkers”.
These two books have helped to re-open my eyes to the bigness of God and his love. The trouble with us Christians, sometimes, is that we claim a monopoly on God – when our ideas of God are just so small in comparison with his reality.
In Love Wins Rob Bell expresses in his characteristically, poetically articulate way, many of the questions and objections that Christians and agnostics alike raise against the well-worn evangelical views on God, heaven and hell. Questions which Christians are sometimes afraid to ask or admit to.
Unapologetically and fearlessly, Bell presents a broader view. Different and yet based squarely and surely on the words of Jesus and the Bible writers, and on the extravagantly gracious, loving and merciful character of God as portrayed in the Bible. He offers a wide picture of God’s love. We’re talking high-definition, 3D, widescreen view here, as opposed to cathode ray.
He maintains that the gospel is so much better news than simply about who will and who won’t “get into heaven”:
When the gospel is understood primarily in terms of entrance rather than joyous participation, it can actually serve to cut people off from the explosive, liberating experience of the God who is an endless giving circle of joy and creativity 2.
In What We Talk About, Rob Bell makes it clear at the outset that this is not one of those books out to prove the existence of God, as if that were even possible, but is…
…about seeing, about becoming more and more alive and aware, orienting ourselves around the God who I believe is the ground of our being, the electricity that lights up the whole house, the transcendent presence in our tastes, sights, and sensations of the depth and dimension and fullness of life, from joy to agony to everything else3.
In WWTA Bell touches on topics as wide-ranging as the expanding universe, red shift, the weird and unreliable nature of time, quantum physics with the way subatomic particles are impossible to pin down, the bizzareness of light that sometimes thinks it’s particles and other times thinks it’s waves, the hazards of skateboarding, and much more. All enabling us to perceive the pervasive vastness of God in our universe.
One of the reviews on the sleeve declares:
Time and again, Bell challenges the reader to be open to surprise, mystery, and all of the unanswerables contained within the ‘wide stream’ called Christianity.
I would say that both books are aimed at anyone and everyone, but most pertinently to Christians and to open-minded agnostics and anyone who’s been disillusioned with what they’ve experienced of Christianity.
Personally I found What We Talk About When We Talk About God, in particular, the most refreshing and illuminating book I’ve read for years.
So much so, that I’m going to put my money where my blog is and make an offer…
If you’d call yourself an agnostic or atheist, or your views on life aren’t what you’d define as ‘Christian’, and you have an open mind, I would be very happy to send you (via Amazon) a copy of What We Talk About When We Talk About God, free of charge to you. A gift out of my own pocket.
No catches – honestly. Simply because I think it’s a great book that you might enjoy and which may answer some questions and longings.
I’ll do this for the first 5 people who contact me in response to this. Simply email me and we’ll take it from there.
Bell has a distinctive style of writing, often using one-line paragraphs and one-word lines, in order to emphasise a point, and it’s very tempting to copy his style, especially
But I won’t do that.
Instead, here are some butterfly photos taken in a field across the road from Luccombe Chine on the Isle of Wight, for your enjoyment……
1 Rob Bell’s Love Wins: Pages 47-48
2 Rob Bell’s Love Wins: Page 17
3 Rob Bell’s What We Talk About When We Talk About God: Page 15