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This Knot
by Clark Wilson

When you pray the prayer rope, how many knots do your fingertips grasp at one time?" -St. Nepsis

Why care about "this knot"? That is, why focus on the one knot your fingertips are grasping right now?

"Well," you may say, "it's kind of like juggling. You can juggle only so many balls or pins at one time, and if you exceed your limit you drop them all. Or it's lik watching a movie. If you try to keep all the scenes from the whole movie in your head at one time you'll get really confused and lose track of everything. A clock ticks one second at a time, and that's that.

"Let me set out another way of looking at it, a way based on what I (inside my head) call "God's arithmetic."

When I first attended the Orthodox Divine Liturgy one thing that bemused me (and, I confess, amused me a little) was standing in the midst of a hundred people who sincerely, in one breath and without contention, claimed to be "first." "I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the living God, who camest into the world to save sinners, of whom I am first." This is absurd, right? In any group being ranked by one quality or feature, there can be only one "first."

For a while I wrote this up to Greek or Slavic exaggeration, or read it as perhaps just a quaint intensifier: "... to save sinners, and I'm a really sinful sinner, Lord." Then I stumbled upon 1Timothy 1:15 -- "This word is to be believed and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost." (Lattimore translation) Hmm.

What if, somehow, each of us were one-on-one with Jesus? What if, somehow, it is simply true for all of us that (as some phrase it) "Christ died for me" -- individually and uniquely? Then, according to God's arithmetic, it would be true that each of the hundred could rightly assert to be "first among sinners" -- each soul truly and eternally alone with God, having God's full attention; each soul, in some sense in a separate universe containing only that soul and God.

The Fathers repeatedly tell us not to compare ourselves with others and our sins with theirs -- as if each of us were alone and one-on-one with God in a separate universe (my own interpretation). In the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, the Pharisee used normal arithmetic and the Publican used God's arithmetic. But also according to God's arithmetic each of the hundred is, simultaneously and without contradiction, a member of Christ's body, a part of a whole, one of a hundred speaking in one breath. The mystery of the undivided Trinity is an example of the apparently self-contradictory arithmetic of God. God's arithmetic also differs from simple arithmetic in the the parable of the workers who signed on at the eleventh hour being paid exactly as much as those who had begun work at the first hour.

Now, how about this moment -- "this knot"? I think that each moment is unique and universal in the same way that each of the hundred souls claiming to be first among sinners is unique and universal. God is eternal. I take "eternal" to mean not "for a very long time, forever" but rather "radical" outside or above time -- literally time-less." We, on the other hand, are in time. At the boundary between time and the eternal we should expect something like what I call "God's arithmetic." Jesus was "begotten before all ages" yet became incarnate and was inside time.

character in a C. S. Lewis book says, "[H]umans live in time, but [God] destines them to eternity. He therefore, I believe, wants them to attend chiefly to two things, to eternity itself and to that point in time which they call the Present. For the Present is the point at which time touches eternity. Of the present moment, and of it only, humans have an experience analogous to the experience which [God] has of reality as a whole, in it alone freedom and actuality are offered to them.

He would therefore have them continually concerned either with eternity (which means being concerned with Him) or with the Present." (The Screwtape Letters, XV) I don't think plain ol' arithmetic does justice to each knot. Plain ol' arithmetic wants to count it with others and average it with others until it becomes tiny and negligible and is lost. I think God's arithmetic sees in each knot both a fleeting moment, and an eternity.

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