Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? A Meditation on the Mystery of Time
Dec. 30, 2018
Community in Mission
I open our New Year’s Eve late night Mass (11:15 PM) with the observation that we begin Mass in one year and end in the next. New Year’s Eve highlights the mysterious passage between years. In a way I suppose it is no more mysterious than the passage from Thursday to Friday or from 10:00 AM to 10:01 AM.
In one sense, nothing could be simpler than time. I might ask you, “What time is it?” You might reply, “It’s 1:15.” Simple! But time has mysteries about it.
What is time? Some say it’s merely a measure of change. But that doesn’t really make a lot of sense because change doesn’t occur at a steady pace at all.
Some say it’s just another way of measuring distance in the space-time continuum. Time and distance are certainly related. To look out at the stars at night is to look into the past; it has taken millions of years for the light from some stars to reach us over vast distances through the vacuum of space. Even the light from our sun is eight minutes old before it reaches us.
But there’s more to time than distance and we all know it. There are several different words for time in Greek. Chronos refers to clock time. Kairos encompasses a complex notion of time experienced subjectively. Sometimes ten minutes can seem like an hour, but there are other times when an hour can pass by swiftly. Further, things can seem fitting at certain times but not at others. Kairos thus expresses an elastic notion of time. Lastly, there is aeon (eternity, or the fullness of time). I’ll comment more on aeon below.
Every year at this point I ponder the mystery of time, probably because time is so much on our minds. As I do so, I am mindful that most of us think we know what time is until we’re asked to define it in some meaningful way. It reminds me of what St Augustine once said about another mystery: the Trinity. If someone asks me to define time I am tempted quote St. Augustine: “If you don’t ask me, I know. If you ask me, I don’t know.” So time, while plain and simple at one level is mysterious at others.
I cannot list all such mysteries, but consider a few:
But do not ignore this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like one day (2 Peter 3:8).
Your eyes foresaw my actions; in your book all are written down; my days were shaped, before one came to be (Ps 139, 15).
For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night (Ps 90:4).
And then there is simply the God’s name: “I AM.” In this name there is no past and no future, just an eternal now (the present tense). Jesus declared to the crowds, Before Abraham ever was, I AM (John 8:58). So here is the most awesome mystery of time: the fullness of time, eternity.
Ponder God’s glory and the mystery of time!
Here’s a remarkable video on the mystery of time: