Ethel Merman has not seen fit to appear yet this spring, although her feeders are regularly cleaned, filled and hung in various tempting places around the yard. A friend of hers paid a call over at Chuck and Charlotte's place a few days ago, so I know they're in town.
Actually, it seems as if the hummingbirds were just here, as if they just left. Has it really been a year? The time between one summer and another just gets shorter and shorter. This reminds me of something really important, something I think about a lot: There is no such thing as time.
Or, rather, there's such a thing, but it's only here. Time is an earthly phenomenon, a thing of the created universe. God doesn't have it. Or rather, God has time, but time doesn't contain God, the way it contains us. We are contained by the passing of time, which we experience in a linear way -- one thing after another after another, from beginning to end, all in a line. We imagine our lives and all of history as a timeline, such as you probably made in school when you were studying ancient civilizations or something. We have a past, a present and a future, and we conceive of them as being one after another.
God has them, too, but they are not one after another for God. They're all at the same time: past, present and future, all in one immediate thunderous CLAP!
Why do I think this? For many reasons -- Einstein, for instance, gave us a vision of the possibility of time as variable, relative to matter and energy in space. Travel fast enough and far enough, he said, and you will begin to go backwards in time. It doesn't only run one way, not really: it goes backward and forwards at once, depending on where you are. Jesus, for instance, repeatedly gives us the vision of the himself active through time, holding the ages in hand in an eternal present: Before Abraham was, he says, I AM.
Then there is the way we ourselves experience time. It is true that we most frequently picture it as a line, but not always: look back at yourself twenty years ago, thirty, forty. Does it seem like forty years? No, it does not. You do not experience time in the same way when you review it as you do when you live it; you speed it up. And, when you look ahead at it, it stretches out before you, seemingly forever. Then, in a moment, it is gone.
And consider how time stretches when you are in The Zone -- absorbed, for hours that seem like minutes, in something you love -- or, minutes that seem like hours, in the deep silence of contemplative prayer. Your sense of time passing is distorted -- or is it? Maybe it is our ordinary keeping of time that is the distortion. Who can say? Your watch works perfectly well here in the world of matter, but your watch does not exist in the world of pure energy we call spirit.
And what might all this have to do with the hummingbird I hope will come to my garden again this year? She may or may not come. She may go elsewhere. She may have died. I may have to wait several more years before I see her or any of her friends again. Who knows - none of them may ever come again.
But they did once. The glorious summers of my hummingbird will always have been. And therefore, in the timeless experience of God, which I can borrow in my weak imagination, they still are.
To think some more about this idea, you might read the essay entitled "The Also-Life" in my book Yes! We'll Gather at the River, available in the bookstore at www.geraniumfarm.org.