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Time On Our Hands

Time On Our Hands

How are you coping with Covid-19? Back in April and for the first three or four months of lockdown then isolation, Barbara and I enjoyed it. Many social obligations and other demands, including some Church responsibilities were removed. Of course, we did much by Zoom or telephone, and Barbara baked enough bread for an army, which we dropped off on doorsteps. Even so, it was rather like being on holiday. Normal chores were diminished and we had more time for our own interests like gardening, family history, reading. Crucially, we could please ourselves when to do these things, or not do them at all and just laze in the sun, since there were long spells of fine weather.

Now though, and for two or three months, I find time lying more heavily. I hesitate to say it, but I’ve had enough of the holidays and I’d like a return to normal. For a bit, anyway. Maybe the weather has something to do with it, and perhaps the shorter days. I’ve always been slightly depressed by the disappearing sun as it draws closer to the winter solstice. I can understand our ancestors celebrating at the end of December as daylight started to lengthen again.

Perception of time does seem to vary with circumstance though. At times of boredom or inaction it seems to drag. At times of excitement, pleasure or vacation it seems to fly too quickly — we always want a few more minutes with friends, or a few more days at the beach. As I get older, and have less of it left, it sometimes seems to me that God has made the clock tick faster, somehow made time speed up.

At what point does the future become the present? At what point, precisely, does the present become the past? How long does the present last — a second, a fraction of a second? Are we “moving” through time and if so, can it be stretched or shortened? What is time anyway? Einstein’s famous theory of relativity implies a “space-time continuum” in which the universe is four dimensional: length, width, height, and time. Time and space are dimensions of the same physical reality. That works well in mathematics, but what about ordinary life? Four hundred year ago the philosopher and mathematician Descartes coined the famous phrase “Cogito, ergo sum” — I think, therefore I am. So our existence is real, but is time just something we imagine? Well, I don’t think The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy can help much on this one, but other sources can.

In scripture we read: “all is as one day with God, and time only is measured unto men.” (Alma 40:8) and “The angels do not reside on a planet like this earth; But they reside in the presence of God, on a globe like a sea of glass and fire, where all things for their glory are manifest, past, present, and future, and are continually before the Lord. (D&C 130:6-7)

Neal A. Maxwell said: When the veil which now encloses us is no more, time will also be no more (see D&C 84:100). Even now, time is clearly not our natural dimension. Thus it is that we are never really at home in time. Alternately, we find ourselves impatiently wishing to hasten the passage of time or to hold back the dawn. We can do neither, of course. Whereas the bird is at home in the air, we are clearly not at home in time—because we belong to eternity! Time, as much as any one thing, whispers to us that we are strangers here. (Neal A. Maxwell, Patience, BYU Speeches, 27 November 1979)

Finally, from C. S. Lewis: Our life comes to us moment by moment. One moment disappears before the next comes along: and there is room for very little in each. That is what Time is like. And of course you and I tend to take it for granted that this Time series—this arrangement of past, present and future—is not simply the way life comes to us but the way all things really exist. We tend to assume that the whole universe and God Himself are always moving on from past to future just as we do. God is not in Time. His life does not consist of moments following one another. (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, Book IV, 3. Time and Beyond Time)

Mind-blowing! It seems that the limitation of linear time began with the Fall, is part of life on earth, but is not part of our true nature as eternal beings. Trouble is, at the moment, subject as we are to our temporal state, our mind isn’t capable of imagining an existence without time as it is now. The next life is going to be exciting! In the meantime, we must trudge our way through Covid-19, the winter solstice and other discouragements. But in this life there are endings as well as beginnings; perhaps we can move forward with greater hope and faith, as we occasionally get a tiny glimpse of eternity and the nature of existence.

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