I have travelled through time

What if I told you that time travel was possible? What if I told you that you have the ability to go back in time?

Would you believe me?

We often think of time as linear. But what if there’s more to time than were trained to think – more than just the tick-tock of the perpetually changing seconds?

Time is not the measure of time. If you were describing a person to me, and you only said that they were exactly 6 feet tall – that wouldn’t tell me anything about who they are.

Time is not a clock.

Time is not numbers.

We used to measure time by the patterns of the sun and the moon, or by the movement of the tides. In some cultures, time was measured by candles. Or hourglasses.

Then we developed mechanical clocks – devices that could “keep” time. As if time could be possessed, measured, and controlled.

If we could control time then, theoretically, we could understand it.

Interestingly, the first mechanical clocks in our history were developed by medieval monks to regulate daily prayer and work schedules. A mechanical clock could tell the monks when it was necessary to stop work to pray, and for how long.

How often do you look at the clock during your day?

Probably even more often than you look at your phone. Why is that? Are there more apps in a clock?

If you’re somewhere you don’t want to be anymore (let’s say work on a Friday afternoon), you might look at the clock more than normal, hoping that the next time you do the clock will say the time that you want it say – the time when you can leave. Even though it may only be 1:17pm, in your spirit it’s already 5pm.

Magic.

I would argue that the digital and mechanical clock enslaves us more than our handheld devices do – how relieved (or scared) were you the last time you went camping or were out in nature, and the clock didn’t matter anymore?

The only thing that matters there is the sun rising at the beginning of the day, and the sun setting at the end of the day. Doesn’t that feel a little bit more like how we’re supposed to be as human beings?

Philosophically speaking, our mechanical view of time is what philosopher Walter Benjamin referred to as “homogenous empty time”. One commentary as to what homogenous empty time means is:

“Homogeneous empty time is the kind of time measured by clocks and calendars. In homogeneous empty time, every moment of time is equivalent and empty. It is homogeneous because one “day” or “minute” or “hour” is treated as equivalent to any other. It is empty because, on the whole, it lacks special moments which give it meaning (in contrast to cyclical, ritual and biological time). It simply passes, and people fill it with contingent contents.”

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Okay, okay, so that’s all well and good, but I did promise time travel didn’t I? And unless I show up in front of your apartment in a phone booth, it might be hard for me to get there.

Unless, we stop thinking of time as linear. In fact, let’s just stop thinking about time at all.

Let’s actually live time.

In linear time – life goes like this: I walked my dog, then I had dinner, then I binge-watched Netflix. “Then” is the most important word in linear time.

What about the ways that time binds itself and doesn’t always seem to go in a straight line?

Or how about going back to visit the neighbourhood you grew up in – you may be mentally and physically in 2016, but you certainly are not emotionally and spiritually. When I go back to the town I grew up, I’m playing road hockey with my childhood friends, I’m climbing trees, I’m biking to the grocery store to buy chocolate bars on sale for 75 cents. Although I’m there in the present, the past is all around me.

When I watch Titanic, I’m in 1912 – but if Jack takes out his Motorola G and takes a selfie of him & Rose arms spread wide on the starboard bow, my brain knows that somehow isn’t right (even as I’m watching the film on my Motorola G). Also, did anyone else catch that I referenced a film I could watch in 2016 that was shot in 1997 about an event in 1912, using a lyric from a parody song recorded in 2009, and it all made sense? (well, kind of)

The past shapes us into who we are, and remembering the past helps us to shape our present.

So what does this have to do with religion or spirituality?

Well, in Christianity, there is a calendar. There are special days like Christmas and Easter. Ever wonder why Jesus’ crucifixion seems more real on Good Friday?

In his book A Secular Age, philosopher Charles Taylor writes:

“Good Friday 1998 is closer in a way to the original day of the Crucifixion than mid-summer’s day 1997. Once events are situated in relation to more than one kind of time, the issue of time-placing becomes quite transformed…” (p. 31ish on my e-reader)

All that academic-speak is to say that certain times, places, and contexts hold within them the ritualistic and symbolic power to take us back in time.

Plato used to say that “Time is a moving image of eternity.”

Eternity is where we find meaning. Thus time is most relevant to us, when it carries meaning for us.

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Ever heard of anyone referring to the eternal present or the sacredness of the present moment? Or ever hear people to focus on the now?

Well, when our generation says that the now is the only time that matters, it is really exclusively making sacred the current moment. We only have the present, not the past, nor the future.

That’s all well and good, until Facebook throws up on your newsfeed a photo memory of you & your friends from exactly 6 years ago today!! Holy crap – where did the present go?? Has it really been 6 years?? I haven’t seen those people in forever!!

The past shapes us into who we are, and remembering the past helps us to shape our present.

The future shapes who we will be, and envisioning the future helps us to be the ones who shape it. 

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We need to learn to become good time-travellers again. Like when we were kids. To imprint meaning onto time.

Come join PiE on the evening of All Souls Day (as I write, that’s in the future, until it passes, then whoever reads this after then, it will be in the past – time is so crazy!!), as we work our time imaginations and remember those who have gone before us.

An evening of remembrance, ritually marked every year on November 2nd (for all of you who still need this linear thing).

Come remember with us.

 

 

 

One response to “I have travelled through time

  1. This is good food for thought. I like to imagine time using the image of falling leaves… the vividness of the present SEEMS to vanish into dull, dead past, but in fact it becomes the living soil under our feet: ever accumulating, nourishing, holding fast deep roots, lifting us skyward year by circling year. Soil can be lost, too…

    Like

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