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My first experience of time-travel

For one month 25 years ago I was living in three different worlds at the same time – the late 20th century, 17th century France and the 21st century that was about to come. I was on a “Heritage Tour” with a busload of confreres traveling through France and Italy to visit sites that would help us understand our Vincentian heritage.

The three worlds were

  • Present – Traveling with confreres raised in the world view rooted in the mid 20th century.
  • Past – Visiting Cathedrals and special places in the life of Vincent in order to get a sense of our heritage dating from 400 years earlier.
  • Future – Reading a book on the bus about an emerging “Post-modern world” or a new era in human development and new ways of thinking about our world.

I remember clearly a moment when I realized that each of these worlds used different lenses in looking at life. I also woke up to the fact that I was moving from a relatively static world experiencing little change from generation to generation to a world of marked by an ever-increasing rate of change bringing with it many new ideas, values and challenges,

That waking up reminded me of a book I had read ten years earlier, Alvin Toffler’s ”Future Shock”. He described “too much change in too short a period of time”.

I found it thought-provoking. And that was before technology literally changed everything and changed it so fast many have still not even realized how much has changed.  It was not merely changes spread out over many generations or from one generation to the next…  now it is even within generations.

In some sense, my experience of “time-travel” on the bus in Europe amounted to a concentrated experience of Toffler’s landmark book. The shock was my first perception of “too much change in too short a period of time”.

The Three layers of Advent

Notice I said my “first” experience of time-travel. As I think about Advent it seems to be another example of time-travel.

Advent is caught between Thanksgiving and Christmas.

The commercial atmosphere of the time formerly thought of as Advent has swamped the spiritual season of Advent. Advent has gone missing in action over just the course of a few generations.

I remember a time when Advent wreaths were common. Today I wonder how many times people think about Advent as a holy season. For the average person, there is very little awareness of Advent much less the radical spirituality it fosters.

Yet Advent is a very rich season in its focus on the “three comings of Jesus” and three different mind-sets.

  • The longing of a people for a Messiah who was not yet in their midst. One who will make everything right.
  • A longing for the “second coming of Jesus” at the end of time who has made everything right.
  • Recognizing the kingdom already present as proclaimed by Christ calling us to change our way of thinking about loving God AND neighbor now.

Notice the difference between longing for the past or the future in contrast to waking up to Christ’s presence among us here and now.


Thinking about the question “when did we see you…?”


The past and the future of the kingdom can distract us from seeing Christ present here and now.

Which Advent, if any, do you celebrate

  • the longing of an ancient people,
  • the longing for a time to come,
  • … or the waking up to the Jesus in our midst today?

Click below for an audio version of this Vincentian Mindwalk.

My experiences as a time-traveler!
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