Broken Time ~ BitterSweetLife

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Broken Time

The artificiality of time has been sinking in lately. My thick books reveal that time is too thin. My achy knees assert that time is out of joint. You may think these are dubious indicators of time’s sham nature, but time is broken.

At the very least, our experience of time is dysfunctional. This may mean (although I speculate here) that it was not meant to register with us at all. Time is told by clocks; it would be better denoted by their absence. “Timepieces” hang strangely on our walls, attesting to lives that were not meant to be partitioned.

How else should we explain the universal dismay and bafflement that surrounds aging? As if grayness had come unexpectedly, although it has been going on (like clockwork) since the world began. Likewise, in the pursuit of knowledge, and the understanding behind it, who hasn’t had the creeping sensation that to master his subject will take a lifetime, maybe several? The feeling intensifies if one has multiple areas of interest.

You spend a lifetime on Marine Biology, only to learn that it will take two more. Or you set out to nail down the basics of “wisdom” (like Solomon), only to realize that wisdom lies beyond you all the time, watching your wanderings with amusement—you have yet to reach her doormat.

I read a book, set it down, and eye it with puzzlement, knowing that its full message still eludes me. As Ian Barbour writes, “One never finishes a book—one simply abandons it eventually.” My shelves are lined with abandoned books that I have read repeatedly.

At every bend in the road, Time springs out to surprise us. “How tired I am!” we say, disgust mingled with inexplicable surprise. “How you’ve grown,” relatives intone over and over with seeming stupidity—but their puzzlement is genuine. “How times flies…” we mutter at the end of an enchanted weekend. We make silly remarks in our efforts to accustom ourselves to finite time, to soften the discomfort of its contours.

We measure our lives in time, but it should be the other way around. Time should be at our mercy—and in the end, it will pitch forward and measure its length on eternity’s floor. Time, our intended atmosphere. Time, the air we were previously too weak to breathe. Time, the life-enhancer. As measured by our lives, it will be qualitative, not quantitative: Time, the stuff through which we timelessly live.

Time will only have meaning when we fill it—use it to hold the pieces of our lives. “Seventy years” will become (ala Dante) “the time I spent in the woods.” “Ten years” will be “when I explored that hilltop.” If we notice time at all.

If we stop and stare at a child’s game for seven years in order to really see it, I wonder if we will even know it.*

* George MacDonald presents this scene in a paragraph of his beautiful short story, “The Golden Key.”

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Andrew Simone said...

All this makes me think of time's beginning.

One ofter hears arguments concerning how long the days in Genesis really are: One actual day? Ten Thousand Years!?

We often forget to notice that it is signifigant that the Good Lord took time to create at all. Why not just do it all at once, one REALLY BIG BANG*.

Clearly, time is good and I think you are pointing in the right direction.

The secondary observation to the Genesis observation is what we will do at the end of time, when we must rest; the answer, of course, is worship.

*I am more concerned here with the rhetorical than scientific.

aPaulo11 said...

Nicely put. Listened to the Screwtape Letters today and heard a brief lecture by Wormwood on the utter transparency of time.

Ariel said...

"what we will do at the end of time...the answer, of course, is worship."

I sometimes wonder what our "worship" will entail. Building cities, climbing mountains, measuring oceans, "all to the glory of God?" I suspect our worship will be "holistically" active, wonderfully challenging, and will encompass more than singing.

"heard a brief lecture by Wormwood..."

That diabolical fiend has so many good things to say.

Oneway said...

>> My shelves are lined with abandoned books that I have read repeatedly.<<

Word. We're all just groaning for the new earth. I really enjoyed reading this post and being in wonder of God. Haunting descriptons, man.

The General said...

JR Woodward (pastor out in LA) was speaking to my church about the New Earth. This is always a surprising revelation when Christians realize that heaven is not our destination, having been saturated by our cultures misunderstandings. Here's a couple awesome points about the New Earth:
If God's design was earth, and Devil's design was to destroy God's creation, then wouldn't destroying the earth to bring the elect to heaven make us refugees in a land we were not intended for?
We know that there will be worship, and we assume that will entail singing. What songs will we sing? Will we sing hymns? Will we sing my favorite, "It Is Well"? If we do, then that means that Horatio Spafford was able to write a hymn that pleased God so much that He willed it to move from the temporal to the eternal.
We cannot bring our wealth into heaven, but we can bring our worship. I vaguely recall a Christian tale about a man that was dying and everyone abandoned him: his friends, his wealth, his mind, and finally his body. The only thing that accompanied him to heaven was his deeds. I enjoyed the story, but discounted it as "too Catholic" for my tastes. It may be more true than I first imagined.

The General said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Ariel said...

Thanks for the thoughts. I think the scope of "heaven" will involve far more than we tend realize. There's a G.K. Chesterton quote to that end that I'll post when I get home...

Ariel said...

...Rifling through G.K. Chesterton's Orthdodoxy...

"I seem to hear, like a kind of echo, an answer from beyond the world. 'You will have real obligations, and therefore real adventures when you get to my Utopia. But the hardest obligation and the steepest adventure is to get there.'"

The "real obligations...real adventures" part is what I'm considering.


Culture. Photos. Life's nagging questions. - BitterSweetLife