The Chronophage and the Fullness of Time

Summer holidays. Rain. So we went to the museum.

It’s a bit of a museum of everything. You might say it’s very postmodern  – all the fragments set together – or maybe it’s a harkening back to good old Victorian collecting. Either way, we think it’s great. It has everything so everyone is happy. This week, we started with the racing cars. Then on to the elephant and the lion family.  A stop off in the art-inspired-by-nature gallery (thanks, kids) then on to the kids’ discovery zone where you can design a camouflaged fish to be added to the underwater projection to face the hungry shark. (Tip for Blue – listen to your sister’s advice. Her shadow-coloured fish seem to be immortal. Your bright blue ones do not.) So, mostly happy. But regardless, the museum is a definite win on the weather.

After lunch, we found something new. The Midsummer Chronophage, created by Dr John C. Taylor OBE. According to the blurb, Taylor was inspired by Einstein’s ideas of relative time – and by the realisation that “time is both eternal at a universal level yet extremely limited at a personal level.” His concept of the chronophage comes from the Greek chronos (time) and phage (eater) – a beast of our age born of our chronic myths.

The clock is mesmerizing. We stood and stared. First, you see the insect, something like a giant fly, ghastly but compelling. It rocks rhythmically, pulling the cogs towards its fearsome jaws. It eats time before your eyes. Then you watch the clock face, with changing lights instead of hands and numbers. You watch and count and notice the odd slip, a misspent second, a pause and a sprint. You wonder about the constancy behind this clock. Its gold face shines.  Time seen like this is beautiful, entrancing, fatal.

There’s an awfulness here. Time runs on ahead. Time traps and confuses us. Time is consumed and consuming. There is no fullness to this time. There is only terrible hunger. And panic.

I wanted to yell BUT…. But what? What do you say in the face of this time?

With all wisdom and insight, he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ, as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

This week’s lectionary flings open the door to a new perspective on time.  Paul starts Ephesians with the great mystery of the gospel. It’s all there – creation, calling, the covenant, the cross. And the passage is shot through with a strange chronology.

Chosen before the foundation of the world. Destined for adoption from eternity. Fulfilling his will. God has made known. The tenses and verbs layer up dizzingly, and we are included in Christ’s pre-history. The implications are astonishing. This just isn’t a passage you can sensibly dissect.  You can’t draw this out into mortal logic. It is poetry. It is loudly declaring the freedom we know in Christ.

We are free from time. Free to live through time. Free from fear of time. Free to play with time. Free to live beyond time. We can be assured that all things will be gathered in God in the fullness of time.

Which is grace itself, isn’t it? We are given the gift of freedom. That’s grace because time, even in our most balanced, peace-breathing lives, can be mighty blustery. Just give me a minute. Can you just calm down? Just turn on your ears and listen. Just wait til we get home. Just hold on, honey. Just hurry up. Just walk. 

I am worst at parenting my kids when I am rushing. I don’t listen. I listen only to hear obedience.  No, not obedience. Compliance. When I’m hurrying for whatever reason, I just need them to do when I need them to do. Enough with the justs, eh? That’s not the mum I want to be.

I want to walk slowly through the park even though it’s raining. I want to bend down and look underneath their hoods, so that I can watch their face as they are talking instead of just hearing their muffled words.  I want to wonder, too, about all the puddles.

Is it the ocean coming up through the grass, Mum, or is the rain coming down?

Or both?

Do the seagulls know this?

I’m glad I heard those questions. They pulled me out of time. Just a little.

Because we aren’t in time – we’re in Christ. That’s Paul’s loud hymn to the Ephesians in these early verses. We are in Christ – a mysterious, life-giving, breathing way of being.  We are not bound by day-after-day – there are always glimpses of resurrection.  There’s beautiful strangeness. There’s hope. In the future and in today. Before all things, in all things, after all things, there is Christ and we are in Christ.

In this appears the greatness of his grace.



Photo Credit: The Chronophage creature. Image © Dr John C Taylor Ltd. c/o The National Museum of Scotland


About Katie Munnik

Katie Munnik is an Ottawa writer currently living in Cardiff with her Spouse and three growing children. Each Monday on the Messy Table, she writes about the practice of reading lectionary and the practical theology of parenting - from birthday cakes to broken hearts and everything in between. Katie also writes Kaleidoscopically, a monthly column in the print edition of the Presbyterian Record. You can also find Katie on twitter @messy_table Subscribe to this blog.