An earlier reflection in this series made mention of Robinson Crusoe. Perhaps it’s because Crusoe has been on my mind that I started thinking about The Swiss Family Robinson which tells a similar shipwreck story. The original 1812 novel is hardly read these days, and I certainly haven’t read it. But I do remember as a child watching reruns of an American science-fiction TV series that was based on the book.
Lost in Space tells the story of the Robinson family, but rather than a Swiss family in the East Indies, they’re an all American family of space colonists struggling to survive in the far reaches of outer space. My brother and I loved it!
I began thinking about these stories of shipwreck and detachment from the wider world the other day because we all now feel more or less isolated and trapped and threatened. As the crisis spreads and deepens, our thoughts return to these stories because we’re in danger of being lost, or of losing others. Being lost is a crucial component in these stories. Castaway, starring Tom Hanks, is another classic example. Crusoe, the Tom Hanks character, and the Robinson family are lost in space. In geographical or interplanetary space. But apparently you can be lost in time too…
In the final few minutes of Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (1982), the robot, a sort of Nietzschean superman, reaches the end of his short, violent life. Standing in the rain, preparing to die, he says to Harrison Ford’s character, Deckard:
I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion, C-beams glittering in the Tannhauser Gate. All those moments – lost in time, like tears in the rain.
Famously, this extraordinary speech is supposed to have been substantially extemporised by the actor, Rutger Hauer (1944-2019), in the moment, during the filming of the scene. It’s often recognised and cited as one of the most powerful speeches, most moving moments in cinematic history. Aside from its emotional impact, the speech is fascinating for that idea of being lost in time. Of course we know what it is to be lost in space – we only have to think of Robinson Crusoe and the various iterations of the Robinson family, or cast our minds back to family holidays and arguments over the road map. But lost in time? What does that mean?
It means, I suppose, that these moments (burning attack ships and the glitter of C-beams, whatever they are) are lost to the present, that they are now irretrievably ‘back there’ in the past, forever unavailable, gone. But, if you think about it, that would be true of every and any moment that is no longer happening NOW. You don’t have to be at the brink of death: all of our pasts are lost in time according to this view.
The robot’s speech is wonderful, but it doesn’t express a truth; it rests on a falsehood. Our pasts, all the moments of our lives are not lost in time, but found in time. Where else would you look for them? And this takes us back to Deleuze from yesterday: moments don’t unfold (or get lost) in time; they are part of the unfolding of time itself. Nothing is ever lost. Those moments may no longer be immediately available to us, but that doesn’t mean they’re lost. Perhaps it means the opposite…
At the end of John’s telling of the miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand we have this verse:
When they were satisfied, Jesus told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.”John 5:12
We are – all of us – fragments of a vast, cosmic whole that includes space and time, past and future. We will be gathered. And nothing is ever lost.
And so Paul assures us that “nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:39) That which remains unseparated is not lost, surely?
I’m not suggesting that loss isn’t real. We may well have to cope with loss over the next few weeks. Boris Johnson talked at the beginning of this crisis of our having to prepare for untimely deaths. But perhaps, more positively, we should all be preparing to lead untimely lives: lives lived in and towards the timelessness of God, in the undying values of God’s kingdom, and in the words of our Lord Jesus Christ which “will not pass away.” (Matthew 24:35; Luke 21:33)
Our God is careful, full of care:
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten in God’s sight. But even the hairs on your head are all counted. Do not be afraid.Luke 12:6-7
We are not lost; we are found.
God bless you all,
So come the storms of winter and thenSandy Denny
The birds in spring again
I have no fear of time
For who knows how my love grows?
And who knows where the time goes?
God of all care,
in you nothing is lost, and everything is found:
when we are afraid, reassure us
when we are anxious, calm us
when we are apart, gather us up,
counted and cared for,
fragments in your loving plan:
one body, sharing one bread:
your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ.