Auden on Time and God

“‘I’ve learned a little in my life,’ he said. ‘Not much. But I will share with you what I do know. I hope it will help.’ He lit a cigarette, looked at the ceiling, then said, ‘I know only two things. The first is this: There is no such thing as time.’ He explained that time was an illusion: past, present, future. Eternity was “without a beginning or an end,’ and we must come to terms with what underlies time, or exists around its edges. He quoted the Gospel of John, where Jesus said: ‘Before Abraham was, I am.’ That disjunctive remark upends our notions of chronology once and for all, he told me.

I listened, a bit puzzled, then asked: ‘So what’s the second thing?’ ‘Ah, that,’ he said. ‘The second thing is simply advice. Rest in God, dear boy. Rest in God.’

Auden’s two points of wisdom have taken decades to absorb. He was telling me, I think, that our frantic search for meaning in the calendar and clock — the race against time — is foolish in the context of a larger universe or God’s eternity (one can define ‘God’ in so many different ways). ‘Ridiculous the waste sad time,’ wrote T. S. Eliot, urging us toward ‘the still point of the turning world.’

The advice to rest in God seems more and more relevant to me. It invites us to relax into the power of the universe that sustains us, that holds us up, embraces us — even to the point of death. This is, I think, the Easter message in a nutshell: trusting in God’s power to transform our lives into something better.”

-Jay Parini, “What W.H. Auden taught me about Easter, God and surviving a season of Covid-19.” CNN. April 9, 2020.

h/t Alan Jacobs.