Already but Not Yet

So I’m taking a class called ‘Stop, Look, Listen’ and in our stopping and looking and listening, we read a lot of literature and gaze at a lot of artwork. We end up exploring the world, or the story, that’s being represented in a poem or a painting.

What I found incredibly interesting was when one critic named Stephen Cheeke distinguished the type of poem or painting that represents a ‘pregnant’ moment, a moment when something is about to happen.

I know I can think of moments like that.

Like when I give my creative writing to someone to read.  The possibilities spin out before me like loose screws, bursting from the hinges of my heart which has opened momentarily to share a story.  The reader could hate it, suspect it, see themselves in it, see myself in it, laugh at it, cry from it, love it, or, worst of all, not read it.  Picture a painting of my face, blue from holding in my breath, and that is the ‘pregnant’ moment, that is the overwhelming sense of potentiality, at its most intense.

However, in a painting or a poem that portrays this kind of moment, Cheeke asserts that it represents “something about to occur [like a meaning unfolding, a decision, a turning point, etc.] that has always already occurred [because it perpetually exists in print or oil paints].*”

Essentially, you read a book about a girl who, say, performs a dance routine.  The story happens linearly, one thing after the other, she gets dressed and then she does her dance and then she turns off the music and then she goes home, but also everything happens all at once because it’s a book and the event has already happened, even if you haven’t read that part yet.

For art, go back to the painting of my anxious face. I await what comes next but what comes next has already happened because if it hasn’t, then why would there be, in a painting, the sense of something coming next?

So why is this blog post under the category of JESUS?

Oh yeah.

When people say things like, “God spoke to me this week,” I revert back to this paradoxical concept, this idea of something being already but not yet.

I’m not sure if all Christians who say that mean it this way, but it sounds like they read the Bible and feel God speaking to them through Scripture, in that present moment, in present tense.  But for me, I read the Bible and feel that I’m seeing a message that’s already, inherently there.  It’s assumed that God always had that message there and it was a ‘coincidence’ (a coincidence that, like all coincidences, was designed by God) that I stumbled across it when it was relevant to my present thoughts and circumstances.  The message was ‘already but not yet’ there.

Doesn’t this make you think of the classic, theological debate of how free will and God’s sovereignty can coexist?  Something is about to, and has yet to, occur based on your choice, except that God knows and designed your choice and he sees how this choice will affect your future as though your life has already been written out in a book.  It’s as if in God’s ‘realm of time’ it is already, but in our human realm of time it is not yet, it is pulsing with potentiality.  In this paradox, (to echo the words of literary critic, György Lukás) chance is driven to the point of inevitability.

Perhaps ‘not yet,’ in examples like these, exists in our limited human perception whereas ‘already’ speaks to reality, the full picture that we are unable to perceive.

So basically, life is happening all at once.

– Rachel

* Stephen Cheeke, ‘the Moment,’ Writing for Art; the Aesthetics of Ekphrasis, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2008), pp. 61-79

Painting: the Dance by Susan Hong-Sammons

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