The Moment

I have a long standing and uncomfortable relationship with pronouncements concerning, in Keirkergaard’s words, “The Moment.” Sometimes I write about it; sometimes this discomfort plays largely into my experience of various events, conferences, evangelistic sermons, and experiences that are trying to be life changing. This takes different forms, and I find different objections based upon what form I’m encountering. This was especially the case when I was younger and spent a lot of time at Christian events aimed at “youth,” organized by people who didn’t know their resident introverts very well. They had such a very fast tempo to them that by the time they had ever come anywhere near The Moment of any kind they were likely over. But I don’t think I would have ever encountered it there even if the conferences had continued for weeks or months, because I was looking for somewhat the wrong thing. I was asked to look for a Decision, which was confusing, because lived experience has involved mostly very hidden decisions: I suppose I decided to go to Flagstaff for school, to become Orthodox, to apply in Alaska, to get an art teaching degree, to study in Santa Fe — but decision wasn’t the most noticeable thing about any of those occasions. The decision part I can only infer from the circumstance of not being an automaton, and so I suppose I must have decided something — but what stands out in memory is something like discovery; like I had been looking about for something, I knew not what,, and this was what presented itself. Then, of course, I had to live with what I found, and usually I’ve done so with very little grace.

Every now and again I’ve encountered something analogous to The Moment — I suppose — but not exactly of the character of decision. Or not primarily. Involving decision, but the decision part of it has tended to be softened, as it were, so that it would be difficult to say what exactly the decision was deciding. What is much more noticeable about The Moment as I’ve met it is its quality of being intensely present in this moment, even as memory — of being unable to remember with distance or judgment. I’ve encountered, I suppose, this Moment at Pascha singing: Christ is risen; sitting on the second landing of a townhouse in Santa Fe saying the Jesus Prayer; in the red and gold storm clouds above St John’s; in the middle of the night in Holy Week, looking for repentance, but all there was to be had was: Joy, JOY!; in the Liturgy; in the light through the clouds slanting by a train to Albuquerque; in the Gospels, and Exodus, and Job; singing to the Theotokos; reading Aristotle during Annunciation Liturgy; finding to my great discomfort that I’m in some way glad of having a hard time at work, or that there’s gladness there if I’d be willing to accept it; in Lucretius and Timeus and Tolstoy; watching the mountains shine in the morning sun; in a monastery in Latakia; nearly asleep on a bus through the Syrian desert; on a bus to class, telling God: you’re too close! Oh sorry! But, still!… Almost always in a place of stillness with darkness and softly glowing light. There is, as I said, something of a quality of decision. Are you willing to find joy here, where you weren’t looking for it? and if yes, then there’s something to be found of Joy — and if not, then usually joy has a way of being persistent and nagging a bit, popping up, showing up in different places, and insisting on an eventual Yes.

When I was a child my parents would read books out loud to me, but then when I was a little older they would simply leave books hanging about the house in convenient places, or take me to the library, and are interested in books themselves. They supposed that I would understand what I could of these books, and what I couldn’t I might learn in conversation, or, if not, it was probably alright not to learn that about them just then. Those who lead our pilgrimage to Syria last summer seemed to have a similar supposition: they would tell us where we were and what we were to look at with some of the history and perhaps an interesting story, and then it was pretty much up to us to make something of that — and sometimes we did, or sometimes not; I have no way of knowing what would have happened if we had been given a reason for being where we were or how to respond to that, but I doubt it would have made much of a positive difference. There’s something about enigmatic but apparently meaningful experiences that’s appealing and affecting in a way that carefully constructed events often aren’t — because there’s more room for expressing one’s confusion to God, who has some good to be shown everywhere and always.

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3 thoughts on “The Moment

    • Upon further consideration I suppose I wasn’t using it in quite K’s sense. In Philosophical Fragments Johannus Climacus asks: what are the conditions required for the historical moment to have decisive significance? First he looks at the Socratic understanding of what it is to teach and to learn, and decided that in that case the moment is only the occasion, and therefore cannot have decisive significance.

      Now if things are to be otherwise, the Moment in time must have a decisive significance, so that I will never be able to forget it either in time or eternity; because the Eternal, which hitherto did not exist, came into existence in this moment.

      Now if the learner is to acquire the Truth, the Teacher must bring it to him; and not only so, but he must also give him the condition necessary for understanding it. For if the learner had in his own person the condition for understanding the Truth, he need only recall it. The condition for understanding the Truth is like the capacity to inquire for it: the condition contains the conditioned, and the question implies the answer. (Unless this is so, the moment must be understood in the Socratic sense.)

      And now the moment. Such a moment has a peculiar character. It is brief and temporal indeed, like every moment; it is transient as all moments are; it is past, like every moment in the next moment. And yet it is decisive, and filled with the Eternal. Such a moment ought to have a distinctive name; let us call it the Fullness of Time.

      Hence if the Moment is to have decisive significance — and if not we speak Socratically[…] — if the Moment has decisive significance the breach is made, and man cannot return. He will take no pleasure in remembering what Recollection brings to his mind; still less will he be able in his own strength to bring the God anew over to his side.

      If a human being is originally in possession of the condition for understanding the Truth, he thinks that God exists in and with his own existence. But if he is in Error he must comprehend this fact in his thinking, and Recollection will not be able to help him further than to think just this, Whether he is to advance beyond this point the Moment must decide (although it was already active in giving him an insight into his Error). If he does not understand this we must refer him to Socrates, though through being obsessed with the idea that he has advanced far beyond this wise man he may cause him many a vexation, like those who were so incensed with Socrates for taking away from them one or another stupid notion( ) that they actually wanted to bite him (Theaetetus, 151). In the Moment man becomes conscious that he is born; for his antecedent state, to which he may not cling, was one of non-being. In the Moment man also becomes conscious of the new birth, for his antecedent state was one of non-being. Had his preceding state in either instance been one of being, the moment would not have received decisive significance for him, as has been shown above. While then the pathos of the Greek consciousness concentrates itself upon Recollection, the pathos of our project is concentrated upon the Moment. And what wonder, for is it not a most pathetic thing to come into existence from non-being?

  1. Yes, I loved this…..Moment seems not a thing one can prepare or prepare for. It comes upon us, confuses, ruffles, maybe marks and stains. I so enjoyed reading about those moments of joy that have come upon you.

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