Posted by: rogermitchell | January 4, 2011

accessing Jesus’ time

I haven’t forgotten that about six posts back I said that in the next post or two I would explain some of the ways in which we can access what I call incarnational time, or to put it colloquially, Jesus time. I am sorry that it should have said in the next post or seven! But I am getting round to it now, because it is important and because I’ve got to the point in my writing up when I’m attempting to configure this academically and so as usual, find it helpful to set out the points in simpler more obvious terms and get some feedback. In any case, if I’m right, once we get the hang of this,  it means we can interpret what we encounter in life, not by received doctrinal positions or rational theories, but by a relational encounter with a loving transcendent personality behind everything.

The particular theologian I’m drawing on here is my late beloved supervisor Paul Fletcher, to whom I am eternally grateful, and his book Disciplining the Divine (Ashgate, August 2009). Here he highlights experiences of temporality such as winks, blinks, play, orgasms and gestures “that create discontinuities in time … which are not, at least in the first instance, predominantly purposeful.” The point here is that we are all familiar with experiences that disconnect us from the urgent demands of time as a means to fulfil the legal, cultural and financial expectations and demands of western life. It is not that any moral character is being attached to these experiences but that their existence points to the possibility of a different apprehension of time. It is because they disconnect us from the immediacy of the familiar controls of temporality that these apertures in time may be described as basic experiences of transcendence. Fletcher explores the way that this transcendent quality of the instant places us between time as history and its future fulfilment. He makes what at first may seem to be the huge move of  suggesting that this “time between” times can connect us to the incarnation and is the temporal context of the experience of the New Testament ecclesia. This is not such a great step if the incarnation is as the theologian Balthasar describes, itself a “scission in time” or as the apostle Paul puts it a “fulness of time” (Gal 4:4) when another perspective of time intercepts imperial time.

Given that our western world with its ways of thinking and behaving is the product of and inhabits imperial time, it is not surprising that we have real difficulty in comprehending another truly counterpolitical perspective on God and the world. The possibility of jumping into another time frame provides a way out of this bind. This is not just the familiar desperate existential leap of faith into the unkown if it is guided by relational and realistic hermeneutics such as those of Ward and Wright to which I referred in the previous post. With the help of these it is possible to evaluate and select instigators and exercises of the instant that can helpfully evoke the incarnation. In this manner it is possible to understand the way that a variety of liturgies, sacraments, exercises, testimony and preaching originally operated as triggers of transcendence but have now become submerged in imperial time. So before we can use them, if we can at all, we need to clean out the imperial baggage they have acquired in the course of time. Probably the most obvious of these are preaching and the eucharist. Unless these are cleaned up I suggest that they are often of more trouble than they are worth. Which is pretty devastating as they are near the heart of the incarnation. This is sufficiently serious to take us to a later post. In the mean time, comments please!



  1. Okay, I’m with you most of the way with this one. One caution though. While we live under an imperialistic time and we seek something other I note that there is a time inherent in creation – that is, day/night and the seasons. So while we seek ‘transcendent’ time as Jesus’ time I would hope that would not separate us from real, creational time. Somehow they all have to stay connected. But yes, freedom from imperial time is critical.

  2. Thanks for this Cheryl. It highlights my need for greater clarity in communication. I am not suggesting that Jesus’ time is transcendent in the sense that it is removed or separated from the time frame that as you rightly point out, is inherent to creation and I believe, now also inherent to God. Rather I am suggesting, with Paul Fletcher, that basic experiences of transcendence allow us to disconnect from imperial time and jump into or reconnect with incarnational time. What I mean by incarnational time is time orientated to and increasingly filled up with loving, kenotic relationships between the divine and the creation, divine to human, human to human, human to creation and so on which I understand to be the telos of God’s creative purpose from the start. From this perspective I regard incarnational time as a fulness of creation time.

  3. okay, so second thoughts here. What we think of as creational time, the days and seasons, was easily followed by hunter/gatherers and nomadic peoples. Then we get agriculture, which as long as the scale of society remained small, stayed pretty attuned to creational time for survival. Then we get cities and divisions of labour along with increasing amounts of non-survival oriented culture. And it is there that imperial time arises. Yes? So to return to creational/in carnational time we have to chuck cities and all become small scale farmers in villages or hunter/gatherers again? Of course, on a planet of 7 billion people now, that is impossible. So how do cities run without imperial time?

    Always the practical thinker. . .

    • I’m going to need to explain more what I am seeing about incarnational time being the fulness of creation time. I’ll blog properly on this in due course. But I believe that incarnational time runs intentionally counter to imperial time but within it, for the purposes of emptying it out for the benefit of those caught up in it. It doesn’t ignore or leave imperial time but intercepts it and changes it. So its not a matter of chucking cities but working within them to a new tempo and purpose.

      • Hi Roger,
        Coming to this discussion late…just found out about your blog today from Sam C.!
        I find the images of “tempo” and “purpose” quite helpful in the discussion here. Maybe the idea of the ‘change of tempo’ to kingdom/incarnational time while the music still plays, or the the tempo continues, but the inner phrases of the music become more prominent when we press into incarnational time. Like the cantus firmus of an ancient tune…the grounding of the song while there is busy-ness and sometimes hurried movement in the “voices” above the cantus firmus…

    • I caught something on Radio 4 whilst in the car the other day (btw, the only time I listen to the radio, and is time in the car a reflection of what you call imperial time – needing to get from A to B for a purpose, or is it a moment out of imperial time whilst still within it, to reflect, stop mentally etc), anyway, the program was talking about the changes that happened to people’s activity cycles during the transition from an agricultural society to one dominatied ny the industrial revolution. Apparantly the working population had to be ‘educated’ into regular time keeping, shifts etc at the factory having lived with seasonal periods of hard work interspersed with seasons of less hard work. It sounds like you use of the the term ‘imperial time’ equate’s to that imposed by the industrial revolution, but I’m sure that there’s more to it…

  4. I have to agree with Cheryl that there is a natural time.Sunrise, sunset.Winter spring ect.I see emperial time as a hijacking of this time.
    Emperial time is used to enslave us, rather than going with the flow of Gods creation we must squeeze everything to maxamize profit we must produce more and more and so time has become a commodity.This is seen in simple things like the fact that we no longer have to wait for certain seasons for certain fruits or veg.Time created by God has been circumvented by the drive for power and wealth.
    From what you are saying Rog it seems that the church has a role to play in being able to help people rediscover Gods time.The gifts of the church such as the ones you mentioned can open a door for us to find that the time of the creation and christ does not run alongside the time of the empire.This can help in setting us free from the empire and bring us into line with the kingdom.
    Today i started back work and could feel the cold hand of the empires time over me.
    Hope I’m geeting this right!!

  5. I’m married to someone who ‘lives in the moment’, struggles to plan ahead, is creative and clever, a musician, a worshipper, a doctor, gets loads of stuff done but leaves a trail of activity to be completed in his wake…. He ‘enjoys’ the ‘moments’ of life; doesn’t move on until ‘now’ has definitely passed….. There’s a strength that comes out of ‘not worrying about tomorrow’ and my experience of living alongside this, is that it is counter cultural to society set up today (We live in rural, village community but have done city and large town in the past)

    I also see lots of task based people with schedules etc who also get lots of stuff done and love Jesus, responsive to need and prompting. I prefer a schedule, myself… to have a plan for how time should be used, even if it needs to change…

    But I’m challenged at the moment that so much is the wrong way round. That we are called to live out of rest. That going to sleep with God’s rest all over us sets us up for Spirit driven activity more than an early morning quiet time ever could….

    Never know how to express things on your blog; read it regularly; understand most of the words used but would never think of writing them myself!! Hope this comment isn’t too out of field but your discussion resonated with discussions in this house….

  6. Hi Fi, Given your struggle with my way of expressing things it looks I managed to make some sense this time! Seriously though, I am deliberately attempting to recalibrate the way we talk about God, church and being a Christian because lots of the ways we’ve done that have been mixed up with all kinds of stuff that is foreign to God and his desires for his people. He has put up with it,because he loves us, but the revival moves of the last century have been intended to change things in the church and world radically and some of us are called to help respond to this. So this is what my blog is attempting to help with. My hope and expectation is that it will gradually make more and more sense as the church finds itself inextricably repositioned in the world.
    To respond to your comments, while I like the sound of your husband’s resistance to imperial time, I am not just putting living in the moment over against living to a schedule. Jesus clearly had an overall purpose which fitted a particular time frame, although it was quite different to the purpose of the Jewish and Roman leaders of his day. Once we discover how to live in Jesus’ time more, then our different skills and personalities will flow together much more freely as we pour out our lives in love to God, one another and the poor in body and spirit.

  7. Hi Roger, I’m Fi’s husband – the space cadet! Your post really has resonated with conversations we’re having. A slightly different angle is from conversations in our family in our car on eternity and the nature of time. (Fi doesn’t ‘do’ science but the rest of us happily play with the physics of time, bending time with light and speed, the constant being the speed of light, not time).

    We live in a world where for practical purposes time is constant, inexorably marching from our past, through now and into the future. The physics show it’s not like that. Time slows with proximity to large masses. I wonder whether we can allow time to be shaped by our proximity to the loving transcendent personality behind everything that you mentioned in your blog. Fi and I have set our sights on resting in Jesus this year…

    We’ve read the account of people who’ve been moved in space and time by the Spirit of God (biblical and current). I wonder which ‘laws’ God actually likes to keep, bust wide open, bend. I think the law of love is the constant.

    • Robin the space cadet
      I enjoyed your comment alongside your patient wife`s … the speed of light is not
      constant as recently discovered which changes all the models of the universes age yet I agree that Gods love is growing logorithmnically constantly.
      I am just a morsel of His massive creation moving like Lucy thro the wardrobe.
      We need to walk and live in the Spirit realm to understand the natural with all its limits..or according to Narnia 3 we can pass thro a picture in a childs bedroom…comment if led Loved Morsel7

      • Hey Howard, I’m aware of recent publication of development in quantum physics and analysis of light in space. Part of what I love in science is the publication of findings and then the process of proving/disproving/shaping those findings through rigorous examination. I guess we’ll be watching developments.

  8. I confess that like Fi, science is not my main thing. But nonetheless I regard creation as home and gift and reckon that trying to understand it can only be good. Given that it flows from the creator it is going to fit his way of being, so it would not be surprising to discover that time bends and flows in relation to him. As you will know if you have looked around other stuff I’ve blogged I’m none to keen on obligatory laws. So I like your suggestion that God keeps the ones he likes, not in a dominating and sovereign way but for the purpose of love.

  9. At the moment this discussion is so inspiring and confirming I’m just enjoying reading it. Thanks.

  10. …flicker…flicker, I think a light is beginning to go on in my mind. I’m beginning to understand what incarnational time actually is. Something I’ve been trying to practise in my own life lately without realising it. This is bringing more under standing for me so thanks for the blog and the comments. Blog and comment on….. 🙂


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