Living In Eternity Now

In a recent post (Try To Remember) we were pondering and trying to absorb the fact that our very own souls were with Jesus during his Passion, accompanying and comforting Him. I was struck by the idea that it was “some sort of backwards in time sort of thing”, but as evidenced by the Scripture passages I quoted from Jeremiah and St. Paul, I was also reflecting on the mystery of when we were actually created by God (was it at the moment of our conception in our mothers’ wombs, or did we exist as souls with God prior to our conception?)

After doing a little (very little) research, I discovered that the pre-existence of souls is not accepted by the Catholic Church (not to be confused with reincarnation, also rejected by the Catholic Church), so what, I wondered, could those two Scripture passages actually mean? Did we exist in the mind of God from all eternity? Did God “know” us in some creative way before we were conceived?

Now tell me, o people:  What do you think you were when you were not yet in body and soul?  You truly do not know how you were created.  [From: Hildegard von Bingen’s, Mystical Visions, pg. 21]

Oh Hildegard, we truly don’t; at least, I do not, and your very first question is exactly what I’ve been thinking about.  Not yet having done the reading/research necessary to understand the Catholic Church’s rejection of the pre-existence of souls, I have nonetheless come to realize over the years that when the Church discards a suggested answer to a mystery one can be certain that there is an even greater underlying mystery and an even more astounding answer which has been revealed to Her.

I reached for Meister Eckhart (Sermons and Collations) and would like to share two things:

Firstly, something to reflect on as we ponder how it is possible we were with Jesus during His Passion:

…in eternity, exalted above time, man does one work with God. People sometimes ask how man can do the work that God was doing a thousand years ago and in a thousand years will be doing still. They cannot understand it. But in eternity is no before or after; the happenings of the past millenium and the future one and now, in eternity are all the same. God’s doings of a thousand years ago and now and a thousand years to come are but one single act. It follows that the man who is exalted above time into eternity will do with God what he did in the past and also what he does in the next thousand years. (pgs. 150-151)

Secondly, as wonderful as it is to ponder the mystery of our own creation – of how we were begotten of God – it is far more wondrous to ponder how God begets Jesus in us; not only wondrous, but of far more importance, for it is essential to our salvation and to our bringing Christ to others that this mysterious begetting occurs within us.

I had explored this subject in December 2008 here and here, but I love how the Lord keeps bringing back the same topics over time so that we can continue to deepen our understanding of them, and so that the truth of them may be reinforced in our souls. I will leave you with another quote from Meister Eckhart and a splendid little reflection on time from Arthur Young:

The Father ceaselessly endeavours to get us born in his Son so that we may be the same as his Son is.  The Father is begetting his Son, and in his begetting the Father finds so much peace and pleasure that his entire nature is expended in it… When the Father bears his Son in us we shall know the Father with the Son and the Holy Ghost in both of them and the holy Trinity… Then time and number are no more.  (pg. 151)


17 thoughts on “Living In Eternity Now

  1. There is a whole chapter about this in the Reed of God, altough I think it focusses more on our bearing Jesus into the world through our actions. Good to see you back!

  2. I fear that I will have to do some real reflection on this. I’m not sure I grasp this concept and I feel a little silly because I can’t grasp it. Thank you for this post because perhaps I am called to consider this right now in my life.

  3. Well, I was thinking that just as women carry many eggs (and men many sperm), perhaps Adam and Eve carried the physical seed of all of us for all time. So, our needing an Original-sin-free New Adam and New Eve, perhaps God the Begotten Son, and His equally sin-free Mother, carried the new spiritual seed of all of us.

    Were we a thought in God’s mind, once? Isn’t that what even the Baltimore Catechism tells us –(paraphrased) Who made you? God made you. Why did God make you? To know, love and serve Him in this life, and to be happy with Him in the next.

  4. Sharing this just becasue it came to mind…

    Somewhere along the line I heard the phrase “time is a measure of change”. After reading your posts (and watching the video) it occurred to me that God does not live in time because He does not change. And as long as we earthlings need to change we will have to live in time whether on this planet or in purgatory. Sooner or later, don’t we have to reach a point where we no longer change and only then do we enter into “eternity”?

    I’m not sure where the thought came from but felt it worth sharing, even if completely wrong!

    The bit with the soul is beyond my current ability to comprehend. Though reading “Interior Castle” is shedding light on it 😉

  5. Well, overall, I’m with Cathy and Ken –it is well beyond my current ability to comprehend, too, but in time, it’ll come… Ken, if there’s a painful purgatory beyond here, I’ll be surprised, but as I understand it, there’s no changing ourselves after this life. I believe the “narrow gate” He refers to is from-here-straight-to-heaven; doable, but by few. Anyway, I’ll just keep looking in.

  6. It is useful to right-click on a new name and then scroll down to Properties. This person’s url happens to include “bibles for sale” and you drew other spam last week, G. What time-wasters are the mercenary.

  7. Oh, I know, Carol. The spam-catcher’s usually pretty good (on my dashboard it says I’ve received almost 11,000 spam since I started on this site), but they slip through every once in a while. I don’t freak out about it anymore though, like I did when I was a new blogger. I think everybody knows I’m either not home or I haven’t been able to check in, if something’s sitting there for a while. Gosh, it’s funny how things change over the years. I received something in my email last night from a well-known Catholic university, and if it had been four years ago I would have thought, oh wow, they’ve read my blog and they like it and they’re sending me this…but now I know I’m just probably part of a mass-emailing to all the Catholic bloggers… 🙂 In any case, Mr. Bible-spammer will be gone momentarily. 😉

  8. Pia, and I think in some of Houselander’s other books too that I’ve read. I remember she was the first one who actually got me to realize that I could really carry Christ into the office, etc. It made a big impact on me because I had never thought of it exactly that way before.

    Cathy, please don’t feel silly – we’re all just thinking out loud here. “Time” is one thing that’s been on my mind for years and years, and I feel like I’ve been “grasping” at something for quite a while that’s just slightly out of reach. I had an “experience” once when I was in a shopping centre – I was standing on a mezzanine, and when I looked down I observed people walking on two levels below me, who weren’t observing me or anything except what was on their own level; when I looked up I saw people walking on two levels above me, and again, they weren’t seeing me or the levels below them. All of a sudden I had some sort of a mystical “time” experience that has left me yearning ever since.

    Carol, that’s a beautiful concept, of Jesus and Mary carrying the new spiritual seed of all of us. I’ve never thought of it that way before, and it makes me think then of our connectedness.

    Ken, it’s true that God lives outside of time – that’s why I love exploring the concepts of time and space, the present moment, the eternal now. I have always been drawn to meditating on these things, but sometimes they are so difficult to talk about. I understand what you’re saying about time and change, though, and I think you’re making an important point. While we’re in these physical bodies and held in this three-dimensional world we are given the opportunity to “change”, to become more God-like, to have a conversion of heart and experience metanoia, to deepen our union and grow in love. St. Teresa says we should all try to do as much of it here before we die, and that we definitely can experience our purgatory here on earth and go straight to heaven. But although you might not call it “change”, I believe we will still be “growing” in heaven – in knowledge, in understanding, in love – I don’t think it will ever stop.

  9. 11,000?? Good grief. Well, you’ve eased my mind about your spam, G, but I said it publicly here also for others who have a blog, because sometimes spam looks like a valid commenter and one just clicks on the name.

    As for the time thing, I’ve had the holy experience of recalling a long heart-shakingly joyful history and reunion with someone–almost at our very meeting. It was that more than anything that made me think to set up 3 chairs in my mind — one for me, one for whomever I had to forgive or ask forgiveness (dead or alive), and the Holy Spirit Who so timelessly acts in or out of time. Those people who wish they had one more chance to speak to a deceased loved one? They DO have that chance, in God. God will let them know that love lives on.

    And so saying, I once had quite an experience of life beyond here. After I hung up the phone with her husband telling me 37 yr old Carole had died a few hours before, a joy interrupted my devastation on her family’s behalf and gripped me –dried my tears like an Authored breath fell on them, because I knew she had gone on –had gone on as herself. I didn’t just think it or believe it, I knew it. That experience was never repeated.. well, I guess astounding experiences aren’t ever repeated.

  10. As sometimes happens, Gabrielle, I stumbled on this post at Contemplative Haven, and now I cannot resist writing …

    First, regarding the passages of Jeremiah and St. Paul, it’s important to note that they are refering to a one-way knowing and choosing. God knows and chooses “back then”, but we are not aware back then because we do not exist yet. It’s one way and there is no encounter and no consummation. True relationship involves encounter and is not consummated without 2-way action. God is “waiting” for us to come into existence to meet us and consummate our relationship.

    We should be very careful of presuming of our “perpetual” or premature existence. For one thing, it discredits our human dignity. There is a beauty in the truth that I simply would not exist if my parents did not engage in their act of love. God actually depends on them – He trusts them! My parents were truly co-creators with Him, they did not simply bring to fruition someone already created, actually or potentially. I am a reflection of them and their love. Likewise for each of us. This is a great dignity given to man! It reveals an importance truth about God, it reveals His Name.

    But that said, let’s look at what happens with prayer.

    In the Divine Mercy novena that St. Faustina prayed, the Lord Jesus reveals how the thoughts of many different types of souls affected Him in His Passion. In His divine, eternal mind, He knew how history would play out and how these souls would or would not receive His love, would or would not encounter Him and consummate the relationship. We could think of it this way, that He was present forward in time to us in spirit, in His inner faculties of intellect and will and affectivity. His whole Life on earth was like this.

    Now, our side. When we prayerfully meditate on His Life, we become spiritually present to Him *then*, through our own faculties of intellect and will and affectivity. This response means an encounter, an encounter which He has waited a long time for. In our prayerful meditation on His Life, our spiritual movement backward in time encounters Him in His forward movement. His Life *then* is present to our life *now*, and vice-versa. It is an encounter that is both then and now, it is in eternity, it is an encounter with God! It is a mystery!

    So in our prayerful meditation is this moment of encounter in eternity. If we have the spirit of Mary, then there will be consummation. Christ’s Life then will enter into and fill and raise up our life now. It will bear fruit and be present anew in our life now. (The image is marriage, where Christ’s Life then is the masculine and our life now is the feminine.) In this encounter in eternity, our life is impregnated, if you will, by His Life and it bears fruit: the human Life of Jesus truly present in the now, in us.

    What about the Eucharist? The Eucharist is His Life then made present in the now. But it is not just spiritually present, as in prayerful meditation. It is *truly and fully* present. A great mystery! In the Eucharist is Jesus, and His whole human Life. The Eucharistic Jesus is our food given to enter into us, fill us, and raise our life up now. The Eucharist impregnates our person (both soul and body!) with His Life, and His Life is made truly present in our own.

    This really sums up the Church’s only mission as the Bride of Christ, and its sums up the whole matter of Christian prayer and sacrament.

    Of course, all of this is only possible if Christ’s Life is truly eternal – if He is truly the Son of God! Which is to say that this cannot occur with any other historical person.

    Anyway, I got on a roll. I hope this is helpful and not adding to confusion….


  11. I found it helpful – and what you say here, Jerome, reminds me of a passage I read recently. Here it is from Bernard of Clairvaux:

    ‘Tell me, O You whom my soul, loves, where You feed, where You make your flock to rest at noon.’(Song Of Solomon 1:7)
    The Word, who is the Bridegroom, frequently appears to zealous souls under more than one form. Why is this? I think doubtless it is because we are not able to see Him as he is really is( 1 John 3:2). Only in heaven is the form of him abiding, because the form in which we shall know him will then also be permanent. For he is and receives no change or any alteration from anything which is, or has been, or shall be. Take away the Past and the Future, and where then is there any place for change or vicissitude? Everything p[asses from the condition of what has been, towards the condition of becoming, only through the point of being. It is this being that has potentiality. But God has not ‘been’ (in this creaturely sense); therefore He Is from all eternity (Exodus 3:14). Because of this reality, God is the Existence which is uncreated, unlimitable, and unchangeable.

  12. Hmm.. my parents are honoured for creating me, yet I end up with my father’s nose and cowlicks?? Truly, I have a bone to pick with someone! Good points, all.

  13. Jerome, so good to hear from you. There is so much for me to try to take in from your comment – and also so much I am reading elsewhere about this subject that I may return to it sometime during the summer. I agree that the act of co-creation and cooperating with God’s beautiful plan of creation by a couple who conceives a child is a sacred thing (and the ultimate purpose of the sacrament of marriage) but we must also be careful, as when you say “they did not simply bring to fruition someone already created, actually or potentially”, because the Catholic Catechism makes it clear that the spiritual soul is not produced by the parents (para 366), and it is the existence of the soul I am speaking of in this and my earlier post.

    I read recently on a forum I came across where in response to this type of question a priest gave the dismissive answer that the pre-existence of souls was a “typical new-age idea”, which was certainly not the case. It was a subject of intense study and debate by the Church Fathers until the Catholic Church ultimately chose a position on the question. I read that St. Augustine was entirely mystified by the whole thing.

    I love how you describe the “encounters” though, both in and out of time. Yes, the mystery, so beautiful…

    Ann, I love that quote from St. Bernard, and I think it ties in very nicely with the first one from Meister Eckhart in this post – “but in eternity is no before or after” – and how all of God’s works are but one single act, only seen to us who are stuck here “in time” as separate.

    Sheila, well you must have got your sense of humour from someone, non? and we are grateful for those genes having been passed on. 🙂

  14. Hi Gabrielle,

    This is a deep topic! A few more thoughts came to mind, so I thought I would share.

    From the current Catholic understanding, I guess we could say that God creates the soul directly and the body through the parents. The human person always has both united, so that God creates the soul at the moment of biological conception (as it’s implied in the paragraph from the Catechism). In this indirect way, God cannot create a soul without the parents’ consent, without their “yes”.

    In this understanding of the mystery of the creation of a human person, the parents have been entrusted with the “authority”, and God is the “servant”. The roles are completely reversed: God has become completely dependent on those who are completely dependent on Him!

    This is part of the mystery of Our Lady and the Incarnation. Perhaps the Incarnation is God’s “explanation” of this mystery of total mutual trust and vulnerability and dependence between Him and those who say yes to Him. This reveals something about our human dignity and the image of God in us.

    But if God created souls separate from the parents’ “yes”, it seems to me that He would not be totally dependent on those who are totally dependent on Him. He would be holding something back …

    Well, it’s a deep idea, and I hope again this hasn’t added more wrangling to the mix, but I guess the purpose in including this whole “parent” thing was to note that, though it is interesting to think of the possibilities and potential beauty of the eternal existence of souls, there is to me a stunning beauty in the idea of the creation of souls at conception.


  15. Jerome, not wrangling! Not here!!! 🙂 Just beautiful offerings, feeding our minds and hearts… I cherish the thought of God’s dependence on human hearts to achieve His plan, as you talk about here – His graciousness in having His plan be dependent upon our openness to cooperating, to receiving, to co-creating. This is love and generosity; this we are called to imitate with everyone we come in contact with as well – it’s a beautiful thing, isn’t it, saying yes to co-creating with God and then helping others to experience their gifts of co-creation as well, in all areas of life. With Mary as our most perfect of God’s creations as our model, yes!

  16. Shroeder, Lucy and Charlie Brown lie on their backs on a hill looking up at the clouds. Lucy says, “Shroeder, what do you see in the clouds?” Shroeder says, “I see Beethoven, creating the final movement to one of his greatest symphonies.” “Yeah,” says Lucy, “over there I see Einstein working on the theory of relativity.” Next panel; Schroeder asks, “What about you Charlie Brown? What do you see?” Charlie Brown says, “Well… I was going to say I saw a Ducky and a Horsie but I changed my mind.”

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