Meditations on Time, Part 2: Ghosts of Christmas Past, Present, and Future

This is the second of a series of short posts entitled “Meditations on Time.” In this series I will explore some of my thoughts and experiences concerning time and the gospel.

In my previous post, I talked about my childhood fear of living forever. As a young boy, I thought that living forever would be boring and even frightening. I concluded that I would simply live in the present and not worry too much about it.

What I’m aiming to do in this series is to discuss why this childhood view — simply live in the present — is problematic.

I know it’s a couple days after Christmas, but I would like to briefly talk about Ebenezer Scrooge’s resolution at the end of A Christmas Carol. After being shown his tombstone by the Ghost of Christmas Future, Scrooge pleas:

I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year. I will live in the Past, the Present, and the Future. The Spirits of all Three shall strive within me. I will not shut out the lessons that they teach.

Scrooge’s problem, prior to his conversion, was that he was shut out from his past (e.g., Fezziwig’s kindness to his employees, his boyhood love) and his future (e.g., his inevitable death, as well as Tiny Tim’s). Because of this, he also was not truly living in the present — he was blind to Cratchitt’s blinding poverty and how he had alienated his nephew. Rather, Scrooge’s life was a disconnected, alienated one. Alienated from the past and future, Scrooge likewise was alienated from the persons of his past and future. Especially himself. Instead, Scrooge distracted himself from these deeper existential and relational matters. Life became a lonely, meaningless struggle for more and more money.

One thing that is remarkable about A Christmas Carol is how frightened Scrooge is when he sees his tombstone. I remember watching  Disney’s rendition of the story as a child, and thinking about how ridiculous it is for Scrooge to be horrified at the sight of his grave. He is an old man (er, duck), after all. Surely he knows that the future holds death for him.

I’ve come to realize, however, that although Scrooge had an intellectual awareness of his impending death (as we all do), he was not truly living with his death in front of him. Instead, he repressed his own death and went about his day-to-day affairs as if death was not in the picture. This repression was necessary for him to continue with his meaningless, single-minded goal of accumulating wealth that you can’t take with you.

Interestingly, people often find that they truly live — sometimes for the first time — when death is very near. Irvin Yalom, the existentialist psychotherapist and psychiatrist, noticed this when he was working with terminal cancer patients. Many of these patients reported that it was only in the wake of impending death that they truly saw what was most important. An analogous example of this is my last month of high school, in which many of us — with the “death” of our high school existence and relationships in front of us — became friends for the first time. People who had previously been isolated in their various cliques began to toss old social norms to the wind. “If only we had become friends earlier” became a common refrain. Perhaps the very thing that kept us from being friends was the repression of the termination of our relationships.

Of course, living in the past, present, and the future is not simply a cognitive mental exercise. Rather, it is a way of being — a way of seeing the world and relating to others. A way of seeing ourselves and our relationship to God. It is, really, a way of always remembering Jesus Christ — truly living with Him in remembrance, including His past (e.g., His mortal life and sacrifice), His present (e.g., His leadership over His Church and involvement in our lives), and His future (e.g., His Second Coming and Millennial reign and final judgment).

But to truly flesh out this way of being — well, that is the point of this entire series.

Stay tuned…

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3 Responses

  1. Scrooge’s promise reflects a real conversion from a false life to a true one – doctrinally speaking. The doctrinal definition of truth is the knowledge things as they really are in the past, present and future. (D&C 93:24; Jacob 4:13)

    Scrooge, in reality, vows to live a God-like life. For with God the past, present, and future are all rolled into one great eternal round – with all things being present before Him. (D&C 35:1; 38:2; 130:7)

    If Charles Dickens didn’t realize the eternal truths in his own stories – he certainly knows them now!

  2. Bob,

    Thanks for your insights — I’m going to talk more about these scriptures you cited in a later post.

  3. […] Thinking in a Marrow Bone, Dennis shares continues a thoughtful reflection on life, time, and our own mortality, rejecting in part the idea that we can solve our problems by living simply in the present.  He […]

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