On the Mystery at the End of Time
The cosmologists tell me that if I look outwards in space I look backwards in time. So the beginning of time is the outermost shell of the universe I observe. Not only has that, but the further out I look, the slower time run. So time spreads outwards in space like ripples on the surface of a pool after a stone has entered the water. The wavelength of the ripples gets longer the further they are from the centre. The wavelength of time gets longer the further away it is from the centre. If I look across to the person walking on the other side of the road, they are behind me in time. Not only that, but their watch runs slower than mine. Conversely, if they look across to me, I am behind them in time and my watch runs slower than theirs. That is not logical, it is a mystery. Time is a great mystery; St Augustine said he knew what it was until someone asked him about it. A mystery can be known, but it cannot be told by one person to another. This kind of knowledge comes from within and can only be known directly.
At the scale of people on opposite sides of the road, this curious phenomenon is imperceptible. But the phenomenon is so real that the GPS system has to make a daily correction for it. Time in the satellites is behind and runs slower than time on earth, and time on earth is behind and runs slower than time in the satellites. If a daily correction were not made, the coordinates given by GPS would slowly drift and the system would become useless. So time in the universe is not absolute; it is relative to the observer. The universe I see is relative to me. I seem to be the centre of the universe.
The realisation that everything is relative was the great discovery of the 20th Century, not only in cosmology but also in the person centred therapies pioneered by Carl Rogers. These therapies are based on the art of empathy. Empathy is the ability to be real and to see the world though another person’s eyes at the same time. In therapy, if the therapist is real, this process makes it easy for the client to become real. When that happens, both realise that each sees reality differently, but there is only one reality. In an empathic relationship a reality can be seen that is beyond the reality either person can see on their own. Our ability to perceive reality depends on our ability to be real and on the quality of our relationships with one another.
The realisation that everything is relative poses a huge challenge for Christianity. In the time of Ptolemy the centre of the known universe was the earth. By the time of Galileo the centre of the known universe had shifted to the sun. This shift was such a challenge to Christianity that it took the hierarchy of my own Church until 1996 for to formally acknowledge the work of Galileo. By that time, the next shift had already taken place. And this shift is even more challenging. We have discovered that the centre of the known universe is not a physical place, it is within the knower. That means that the centre of the known universe is subjective. It is these discoveries that have given rise to the intellectual free for all of post modernism. Is there anything beyond post modernism? I believe there is.
If I turn my back on the outer universe in which I live, and look deep within my own heart, I am looking forward in time. The future is within me; the way ahead is the way within. The world within and the world without are like reflections in a mirror. Outwardly the universe is expanding in space, I am looking backwards in time, and time is slowing down. Inwardly space is contracting, I am looking forwards in time, and time is speeding up. The end of time is the centre, the tiny point of nothingness where the time that divides disappears and things happen in no time at all. This tiny point of nothingness at the end of time is the tiny point of nothingness from which the universe emerged in the beginning. It is the point at which the universe is continually being renewed. This is the mystery at the centre of everyone of which the mystics speak. It is the mystery at the end of time.
My most intense experience of the end of time occurred on a Christian/Buddhist retreat at Turvey Abbey in 2006. I have had close encounters before and since but that particular encounter was a direct hit. In the days leading up to the retreat I had been feeling particularly fragmented. Events in the day did not seem to be connecting up. Driving to Turvey I got lost three times, which is very unusual for me; I usually have an excellent sense of direction. We spent most of the weekend in silence contemplating the beatitude: ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’ Matt 5.3: On the first evening we gathered in a circle to introduce ourselves. When it was my turn to speak, I didn’t know what to say. While I was sitting there not knowing what to say about myself, I was surprised to hear myself speak. I spoke of the call of Christ and the presence of Christ in my life. The call is a call to be one with a presence that is always present. Normally I know what I am going to say before I speak, but this time I spoke before I knew what I was going to say. Normally I see things coming before they arrive, but this time something arrived before I saw it coming. Imagine I could approach you faster than the speed of light, I would be with you before you saw me coming. It was like that. The normal sequence of events seemed to reverse. Then something strange happened. I seemed to stumble across and fall through a gap in time. In the gap nothing existed but God. Even I did not exist, I disappeared into God. Everything that exists seemed to implode into the gap and disappear into God. Even time disappeared into God. It was the end of time, but not in the conventional sense. Then everyting exploded out the other side and began again. And time began again.
Philip’s Sharing November 2008
Looking back over 2008 I see five trends that all emanate from what happened to me on the Christian Buddhist retreat at Turvey Abbey in 2006. On that retreat I seemed to stumble across and fall through a gap in time. In the gap nothing existed but God. Even I was not there – I ceased to exist and then began again. It was a new beginning. Everything that exists in time imploded into the gap then exploded out the other side. It was the end of time, but not in the conventional sense. No-one has ever seen time, but we can imagine it. And there are many different ways of imagining time. In Western Culture we are addicted to one particular way of imagining time. We are linear thinkers and we imagine time in a linear way, as if it were the horizontal axis of a simple Cartesian coordinate system. The end of time is the end of the line. At the end of time there is no future, but there is a past. The end of time to which I refer was more profound than that. Not only was there no future, but there was also no past. The whole of time disappeared and then began again. It was a new beginning. Eckhart Tolle says of the gap in time: “Nothing truly new and creative can come into this world except through that gap, that clear space of infinite possibility.” This is the origin of the universe, the centre of the big bang, where time itself is always beginning. The gap into which time disappears at the end of time is the gap from which time emerges in the beginning. And the gap is now.
Looking back over my life in 2008 I see these five trends:
- The older I grow the more I enjoy life. The closer I come to death, the more I love life.
- The less I do the more happens. I work part time as a counselor and supervisor and in the work I seem to increasingly just sit and watch miracles unfold before my eyes. It is not my doing, but I am allowing it to happen. Healing is a natural process that happens all by itself. The paradox is that if I try to make it happen, I sabotage it. My role is to be present and give permission to a natural process. We live in a culture that is addicted to the notion of cause and effect. Without a cause, nothing would happen. But this is not true. Things are happening all by themselves all the time. Trying to make things happen, or change things, blinds us to this natural process and actually impedes it.
- Serendipity is increasing. There are more happy coincidences. Things are connecting up. Here is an example. In September Philomena and I went on holiday to the Cotswolds. The landlady, Margery, was a woman in her late 70s. She asked us how long we had lived in Chandlers Ford. When we said since 1960 her eyes lit up and she asked if we knew anyone named Marilyn. There are about 20,000 people living in Chandlers Ford, but Philomena had worked in a charity shop with a woman named Marilyn. It turned out to be the right person. They had been in teacher training college together in London and had lost touch when they left college. All Margery knew was that Marilyn had moved to Chandlers Ford. They are now back in touch and planning to go for a meal and to the theatre together.
- The religion that was handed down to me as a child seems increasingly like a cruel hoax. It is not just nonsense, it is cruel nonsense. Looking back on my life from the age of 74 I increasingly see it as a string of blessings. Conception is the original blessing, death is the final blessing, and now is the present blessing. In reality it is always now so we are permanently blessed. My childhood religion did not teach me about the present blessing. It was a fear motivated religion. It taught me about original sin and final judgment. It taught me to fear the end of time, that at the end of time is a great divide. But my experience at Turvey showed me that at the end of time is a great communion, all ends in God. All is consumed by the God from whom all originates in the beginning. All begins in love and ends in love. There is nothing for anyone to fear at the end of time.
- The Good News is increasingly self evident. I look at the world with all its’ failings and I see good news, I see the kingdom coming, I see the Lord answering the Lord’s Prayer, I see the Lord doing the Lord’s will. This is not our doing, it is beyond us. It is the Lord’s doing, and it is wonderful to see. So I think this is how Jesus saw the world. I think he looked at the world with all its’ failings and saw good news, he saw the kingdom coming. The vision of Jesus is not the vision of another world; it is another way of seeing this world. The way of Jesus is not the way to another world, it is another way of living in this world. We are not going to the kingdom; the kingdom is coming to us. And it is coming to us where we are here now. This is why we have to remain in the here and now. Otherwise we will miss it.
A Core Group Sharing
In recent months I have started to feel as if I have arrived at the end of the journey, which is
also the beginning. I seem to have arrived at the still centre of the universe, the centre of
balance of all things. The universe also seems to be self correcting and self healing.
A world with a single centre of power is unbalanced, all power needs a counterbalance. The world became unstable when the Soviet Union collapsed and we were left with one super
power. The system is unstable now but it will naturally correct itself. Whoever exalts
themselves is humbled, and whoever humbles themselves is exalted. This is not to reverse
the positions - which is no better than before - it is to restore balance. I am absolutely certain
that ultimately all will be well for all of us.
I have a growing sense that the Creator is within me. Therefore if I lost the whole of creation
it would not matter because it could be created all over again from within. This
understanding came as a result of going through a crisis in a personal relationship during
which I experienced what seems to be my fear of extinction. I wanted to be with a person
and it seemed to be impossible. It also seemed impossible to be without that same person, so
I felt trapped in an existential impasse. I wanted to be but it was impossible to be.This led
to a feeling of dread that lasted for several hours.
Nothing seemed able to shift it. I could not concentrate on anything. I tried relaxing,
meditating, going for a walk but nothing would shift the feeling of dread. The image that
came up was of my life as a flickering candle flame. If it blew out there would be no-one left
to re-light it. The fear was not of my own extinction, but of the extinction of the source of
my life. It was after this that I started to feel as if the source of my life was within me and is inseparable from me. This source is the source of all life in the universe and is the creator
acting from within creation.
I have also come to a new experience of time. The traditional way of thinking about time is
that it is a finite straight line with a beginning and an end. We are travelling through time
from the beginning to the end. The past is getting longer and the future is getting shorter.
Time is a finite resource that we are using up. Time can be divided into abutting segments;
years, days, hours, minutes etc. Now is the smallest segment of time (an atom of time) and
we live life one moment at time, passing from one moment to the next. That is how I used to
The way I experience time now is very different.
Imagine that you took the ends of linear time, folded them round so that they joined up. The
line becomes a circle. Imagine that now is the beginning and end of the circle. Now is not a
piece of time, it is an infinitely small gap in the circle of time. Now is after the end of past
time and before the beginning of future time. The past is complete and the future has not yet
begun.Now I am free from past and future.
Now I am free to imagine alternative futures and alternative pasts. Now is the centre of
balance of past and future. That is, past and future are like reflections in a mirror. If I want
to imagine an alternative future, I also have to imagine an alternative past. This is why
forgiveness is necessary for growth. Forgiving is imagining an alternative past so that an
alternative future can begin. Time is not a finite resource; it is expanding outwards from
now. Past and future are both increasing. The supply is limitless.
Past and future are like reflections in a mirror. The fall and the last judgement are reflections
of each other. The fall is when we start to judge, when we first attempt to separate good from
evil, the guilty from the innocent; when we start to blame others and to feel shame ourselves.
It is the beginning of dualism. The last judgement is the last time that we attempt this
division. The last judgement is the one in which we find the whole of creation innocent. We
start in the garden and end in the garden. We are back at the beginning, but things are not the
same. When we return to the beginning we are different and the garden is different. And all
this is happening now.