dotCommonweal

A blog by the magazine's editors and contributors

.

A day without dawn or dusk

Better is one day in your courts than a thousand days (Ps 83/84, 11). Those are the courts for which the Psalmist sighed, for which he fainted away.... People desire thousands of days and long to live here. Let them scorn their thousands of days and desire that single day, that day that knows no dawn and no dusk, a single day, an eternal day, a day to which yesterday does not yield and which tomorrow does not crowd. Let us desire that one day. (En Ps 83/84, 14; PL 37, 1066-67)

This reminds me of Boethius contrast of eternity with time."

Eternity

is the simultaneously whole and perfect possession of interminable

life

." Nothing that exists in time can embrace its whole life in a moment: In its present "it does not yet grasp tomorrow but has already lost yesterday."

Comments

Commenting Guidelines

On Gulliver's third voyage, which is a bit of an island-hopping excursion, one of the lands he visits has natives who are immortal. But as Swift presents eternal life, it seems nightmarish: even though they don't die, they continue to age progressively, growing more infirm and dotardly with each passing year. Boethius' and Augustine's conception seems better :-)

The idea of a day "without dawn or dusk" is also nightmarish, as in the teen fantasy book "Life as we knew it", as in Beijing at times of high pollution and smog, and as in Lyon in the winter. Baudelaire says it well:Quand le ciel bas et lourd pse comme un couvercleSur l'esprit gmissant en proie aux longs ennuis,Et que de l'horizon embrassant tout le cercleIl nous verse un jour noir plus triste que les nuits ;When the low sky heavy like a lidcovers a soul moaning with ennui and fright,and the horizon is all surrounded bya dark day pouring down, gloomier than any night;

Claire, it may be that when we experience that day, we'll no longer have any sense of time passing. The very rhythms that mark the passage of time for us won't exist anymore.

Even back in Homer's day, careful people knew that when you asked the gods for immortality, you had better also ask for agelessness, because those exalted beings were distressingly literal-minded and economical, and they might grant no more and no less than your request, evenI will not say especiallyif it turned out to be a nightmare. We still sometimes are told to be careful of what we pray for.But for us humans, are a receding, poorly remembered past and an unknown future limitations or mercies?

Claire: If the Book of Revelation, ch. 21, is to be believed, it won't be a dark and gloomy day:"And the street of the city was pure gold, as it were transparent glass.[22] And I saw no temple therein. For the Lord God Almighty is the temple thereof, and the Lamb.[23] And the city hath no need of the sun, nor of the moon, to shine in it. For the glory of God hath enlightened it, and the Lamb is the lamp thereof.[24] And the nations shall walk in the light of it: and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory and honour into it.[25] And the gates thereof shall not be shut by day: for there shall be no night there.[26] And they shall bring the glory and honour of the nations into it."

Back then dawn and dusk were primarily ways to mark the time, but nowadays, with watches and electricity, dawn and dusk are just outdoor shows to enjoy.But a day with neither yesterday nor tomorrow, now, that is a glorious idea. I know someone who always gives his full attention to the present. He lives each conversation as though nothing else existed in the world, oblivious to the passage of time and to his other duties. (He's always late for his meetings.) I've always thought he was a kind of saint.

In a feat of memory retrieval most unusual for me, I recalled the name of those Swiftian immortals: the Struldbrugs. A quick visit to Wikipedia confirms that they live in the land of Luggnagg.Btw, that Wikipedia entry contains these passages which, to the frequent dotCom reader, immersed in papal retirements and conclaves, may be weirdly connected to current affairs:"'As soon as they have completed the term of eighty years, t[the struldbrugs] are looked on as dead in law; their heirs immediately succeed to their estates; only a small pittance is reserved for their support; and the poor ones are maintained at the public charge. After that period, they are held incapable of any employment of trust or profit; they cannot purchase lands, or take leases; neither are they allowed to be witnesses in any cause, either civil or criminal, not even for the decision of meers (metes) and bounds.'"Because:"'Otherwise, as avarice is the necessary consequence of old age, those immortals would in time become proprietors of the whole nation, and engross the civil power, which, for want of abilities to manage, must end in the ruin of the public.'"

I don't have the citation at my fingertips, but I know that Augustine elsewhere spoke of the day of rest at the end of the week as a foreshadowing of that perfect rest and endless day that will be eternal life. (I'm not saying it as well as he did, of course.)

There's a good question, Rita. Should we regard Sunday as the end of a week or the beginning of a new one? I have a quotation from Augustine where in response to his own question about what we'll do in heaven, says that it will be an "unfailing Alleluia." He hastens on to assure people whom he knew to be bored by liturgy that this liturgy would not be tiresome. I suppose that for me the question about whether singing an unfailing Allelua would be tolerable would be whether the music to which it was sung was composed by Bach or Mozart or by Ray Repp or the St. Louis Jesuits...

I like that "unfailing alleluia" idea! Perhaps because I sing when I'm happy. Whatever the music, it must certainly be glorious. Maybe, like the hearers of the speech of the apostles after Pentecost, we'll all hear it in our native idiom?I'd hate to have to choose between the eschatological eighth day, and "The Lord's Day" of sabbath rest though. There's poetry in Augustine's treatment of the days of creation, but also such power in the biblical designation of Sunday as "the first day of the week" -- the day on which light was created. Christ rose from the dead on the birthday of light...Anscar Chupungco OSB discusses the convergences between creation and redemption in the fathers' approach to Easter, in his wonderful little book, Shaping the Easter Feast.

"for there shall be no night there."A sad lack, it seems to me. The alternation of day and night is one of the things that makes life livable."unfailing Alleluia." Probably better than ever burning, never consuming fire, but not many people's idea of bliss. Live a decent life for eighty or ninety years and you get to go to church forever. Alleluia.Well, there probably won't be any inserts or postcards, so that's something.

Since we have no way really to get our minds around it, trying to imagine eternal life--even blissful and longed-for eternal life-- can be overwhelming and even daunting. Still, if this is what we were made for, when beyond our present temporal limitations it might seem just right.

Music is an experience of timelessness. It uses time and tones, but these are nothing if they are not held together. In the present we may have a note, but a single note is not music. Music places single notes, single moments, side by side. It gives each the appropriate amount of time, but it is only by memory and anticipation that tempo and tone combine to create music. When we hear music, we have some of the past and future in the present with us. This is a taste of "the day without dawn or dusk" when all the past and all the future will be in our present as they always have been in God's present. We will experience all as we experience music, as a joining in God's great harmony which is love.

Jim McK - I would add to your reflection that music marries order and beauty better than any other thing I can think of. I believe this is explains a phenomenon I have observed, which is that musicians frequently are people with a proclivity for mathematics. I've always found the phrase "the music of the spheres", describing the movements of the heavenly bodies, to be apt.

Should we regard Sunday as the end of a week or the beginning of a new one?I just found the answer, thanks to the French academy, , with the backing of the ISO (International Organization for Standardization).http://www.academie-francaise.fr/la-langue-francaise/questions-de-langue"Dimanche : premier ou dernier jour de la semaine ? Le dimanche (du latin chrtien dies dominicus, jour du Seigneur ) tait encore dfini par la septime dition (1878) du Dictionnaire de lAcadmie franaise comme le premier jour de la semaine. Dans la huitime dition (1932), il devenait le dernier. La neuvime dition, en cours de publication, indique :Traditionnellement, et aujourdhui encore dans la langue religieuse, premier jour de la semaine qui commmore la rsurrection du Christ ; il comportait aussi la prescription du repos. Dans la langue courante, septime et dernier jour de la semaine.Il existe dailleurs une recommandation de lOrganisation internationale de normalisation qui dfinit les normes ISO, allant dans ce sens ; dautre part, la prsentation des agendas en rend compte, le dimanche figurant en fin de page ou de double page."Google translate gives: Sunday: first or last day of the week?Sunday (from the Latin dies dominicus Christian "Lord's Day") is still defined by the seventh edition (1878) of the Dictionary of the French Academy as the first day of the week. In the eighth edition (1932), it was the last. The ninth edition, to be published, said:Traditionally, and still in religious language, the first day of the week commemorates the resurrection of Christ, it also included the prescription of rest. In common parlance, seventh and last day of the week.There is also a recommendation of the International Organization for Standardization, which defines the ISO, in this sense, on the other hand, the presentation of the diaries reports on Sunday appearing at the end of the page or double page.

Share

About the Author

Rev. Joseph A. Komonchak, professor emeritus of the School of Theology and Religious Studies at the Catholic University of America, is a retired priest of the Archdiocese of New York.