An instant of eternity: Taking a breath

Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.


As I awoke this past weekend, it was just after sunrise. There was actual frost on the ground despite the brightness of the sun’s rays. The moon was still up on the opposite horizon in full view surrounded by a clean, crisp, Carolina-blue sky.

It felt like the winter I was used to in my youth as I looked out over the backyard of the house I grew up in. And for an instant, there was not the passage of half a century of life lived, nor the effects of global warming, nor the changes of contour that hurricanes whose names began with the letter “f” have caused. There was no sound of bird, or dogs, or even distant traffic on the nearby interstate wannabe. There was a moment of the eternal now.

This is an effect that I find most readily on winter nights when the air is crisp and cold and the stars shine out so brightly that I can almost reach out and grasp Orion’s belt with ease and have my mind wander back to ancient times when those first of philosophers from Greece and Mesopotamia gazed exactly as I gaze and wondered about how far in time and space reality stretched and what the speck of existence I call myself has any part in playing. But usually, that is at the hazy end of a long day when reality and dreams are only a moment of eyes’ shut away.

But this moment was at the beginning of the day, at the dawn of a new day. It wasn’t at the mystical moments between reality and dream. It was in stark daylight, which made the moment all the more rare. But surely those ancients experienced a day the same as a night. Surely, those ancients saw the rising of the sun, the crispness of the new day, with the sun’s pale companion on the opposite shore of horizon. And for a moment — no less — for an instant, I felt eternity at the dawn of a new day.

Too much of late, I have drifted to the thoughts of endings — of finality. But this moment is all about a new beginning. Having just completed a study about transitions, there is this complex dynamic that to experience transition is to move from one thing to another. It is indeed, at one and the same time to experience the end to what was, the beginning of what is to be, and this nebulous neutral zone of messy in between that has to happen to get you from one place to another.

It seems that later in life, endings seem all too prevalent, but sometimes I forget what I myself proclaim and preach: with each ending is a new beginning! This morning and instant of eternity was a great reminder of a truth I myself needed reminding of.

In church-speak, baptism is a new life’s beginning — at any age. It is a sacramental mystery when God’s promise wraps us up with a new instant of eternity which is on constant repeat. The intent is to keep us mindful that it is not the past that is pushing us to some future; that it is not the past molding the future of what we will be; but quite the opposite. This promise is to impress upon us that God’s future is so sure and certain, God’s destiny for each of us is so crystal clear (even as a crisp winter’s sunrise), that it is the future that pulls us forward and shapes us into what we will be despite whatever our past has tricked us into thinking we have to be.

Ah, but time’s stream, like your favorite brook, can only maintain such clarity for an instant at a time before some obstacle causes the eddies, swirls and currents to cloud the vision again, and all you can see are the rocks up ahead!

It is hard to be in the stream. But, you see, the promise comes from above. And from above is one who sees beyond the obstacles and currents to the immense common calm that every stream finds its rest within. It is almost like that instant of eternity writ large, but it never ends!

For me it’s hard not to tie some of these thoughts and emotions to my final worship service at Ascension Lutheran Church here in Wilson on Sunday morning. It is, for both pastor and congregation, a moment of ending and new beginning. It is also a moment of ending and beginning that I share with the community of Wilson and any of you who have journeyed along through this column over the past several years, and so the invitation stands to all of you to join in on that final service Sunday at 11 a.m. And whether you can be there or not, trust that there is a greater love that ties us together through all eternity: a divine unconditional source of grace, forgiveness and love!

These are the thoughts one might have on a crisp, clear, morning, when all of eternity stretches before you. And in the midst of a world filled with so much confusion, in a moment of quiet and peace, not only might one feel a brief moment of eternity, but the assurance of the promise for a future that will be all as God intends.

Pastor Zach Harris has been an ordained minister for 28 years and currently serves Ascension Lutheran Church in Wilson. His column, “Through a Lutheran Lens: A Pastor’s Perspective,” appears weekly in The Wilson Times. Previous columns are available at WilsonTimes.com.