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Asking the clergy about eternity

While the Merriam-Webster dictionary may have a simple definition of eternity -- seemingly endless or immeasurable time -- the meaning is more complex in religious interpretations. We asked, "What is eternity and how does it work?"

The Rev. Dr. James W. Barnum, The Bellmore Presbyterian Church, Bellmore:

We humans are limited to time and space, but God is never limited to time or space.

In the Greek translation of the Bible, in which the Latter Testament, which we know as the New Testament, was written, there are two understandings of time: chronos and kairos. The first gives us the word chronology -- a timeline.

Kairos, however, is a bursting into time of a great event. Much like the two great events Christians believe are the heart of their faith: When God in Christ came to Earth and put on flesh giving us Christmas; when Jesus rose from the dead and was resurrected on Easter.

I believe that eternal life begins with a kairos moment -- our baptism -- when God claims us, or when a person is converted to Christ. Eternal life continues God's work in us here on earth and through our death when we are brought home (heaven).

Many of us of the faith forget that death has already been conquered by Christ (Colossians 3:1-3).

Eternity is being home with God and with those whom we love, enjoying them forever.

Rabbi Jay Rosenbaum, Temple Israel, Lawrence:

Eternity is beyond time as we mortals know it. It is tied with our aspirations and can only be understood in terms of the holy. When we speak of eternity in relation to life, eternal life and the immortality of the soul, there is a deep-held belief in Judaism across denominational lines that eternal life is real, that the soul is pure and not bound by the limitations of our physical being and that our Creator gave us the gift of eternal life, with no conditions upon it.

It is incumbent upon the Jew, however, to focus attention and efforts on improving the human condition for all God's children during her or his lifetime. God expects us to act in a righteous way to all humanity. That validates who we are in our faith and on this earth.

It is the why of being Jewish. The big question is not how to be Jewish, but why to be Jewish. We are to repair the world, according to God's vision. To live your life as a practicing Jew means you don't focus on the eventual reward of eternal life.

The Rev. Catherine Torpey, minister, South Nassau Unitarian Universalist Congregation, Freeport:

Unitarians don't share a creed, so each individual UU has his or her own idea of eternity.

I have to start by saying that the idea of eternity is a totally different question from whether there is an afterlife. No one knows whether there is an afterlife. I do think that the common desire for an afterlife is the desire for a sense of eternity.

There is this idea of eternity as linear, which is a moment, then a moment, then a moment, which is how most people think of it. It is this extreme consciousness of the movement of time. I believe the experience of eternity is the exact opposite. It is a letting go of linear time.

Eternity is not best understood as a length of infinite time, but, rather, as a state of being. The spiritual quest is, in many ways, to learn to become more and more conscious of eternity in each hour.

People can experience eternity here on earth. The linear thought of things going on endlessly is not appealing to me. I prefer the experience of timelessness and complete unity here on earth through prayer, meditation and loving acts.

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