In CS Lewis’s Screwtape Letters Screwtape continues to remind Wormwood that we humans living in time and that this has consequences for our lives, our perceptions and our relationships with each other. As with everything else in our lives there are layers to this. Our perceptions are deeply impacted by time. These youtubes of the plants show us that our perceptions of beauty and agency are impacted by our experience of time.
I also reflect on God’s huge gift of agency and our relationship with time. Choosing is about the future yet the future relates to our experience of time. What we seek is mastery. We have definite ideas of “the good” and what we desire is to see the consequences of our choices clearly enough so that our choices yield the outcomes we define as good. This power is not ours though we as a species strive for it.
Jesus plays with this choice/time/plants matrix in the Sermon on the Mount. Look at the flowers of the field. They do not worry yet they are clothed by the Father. We do know, however, that the flowers are in competition with one another though they have no faculty sufficient to elicit what we call anxiety.
Part of what I think Jesus was trying to communicate was that we are recipients, deeply. There is an irony in the climate change discussion. One side says “we can’t change the climate so why sacrifice financially for costly change in behavior for which there is no guarantee we can pursue the outcome we desire.” The other says “We know this and so must make the sacrifices and act now for your survival. We depend upon this natural order and if we wreck it we won’t like those outcomes.”
The difficulty both sides face is time and outcomes. Take the “wait and see” approach and it may be too late. Take the “act now” approach and you might discover that 1. the problem wasn’t exactly how you thought it was, a very valid position given science’s constant revisionism and 2. as a species we lack sufficient mastery over all of the layers (political, economic, religious, psychological, etc.) to deliver the outcome we desire, which is nebulous as well.
One side may simply be steeped in denial about the science, maybe. The truth is too inconvenient. The denial the other side may be steeped in is the radically recipients we are. Changes in the sun impact our world in ways we can’t compensate for. A meteor strike and we’re fossils. What we embrace is so incredibly fragile but more fragile still is our nerve and so we chase after these things like the Gentiles.
Is Freud and the atheists right that the reason we tell stories is that we’re too scared not to? On what bases do we define the supposed bold, unvarnished looking into the darkness of nihilism as noble? Do we sow a million flowers with the new agers rehearsing the mantra of our unassailable goodness, beauty, power, and eternity always living in the moment we don’t know what the next moment will bring? Drugs are quicker and in the end they are the same.
I don’t know the relationship between time and imperishability. Watching how adjusting my experience of time changes my understanding of what a plant is both tells me that I don’t know so much but also tells me of a larger world and that larger world must have a larger author and that larger author must have a talent and a desire for beauty, goodness, and courage.
If he is so lavish with flowers that are here today and gone tomorrow, that have no capacity to experience themselves the way we can experience them, then why do I fear? I guess that was the point of Jesus’ illustration.