“I know what time is until you ask me for a definition about it, and then I can’t give it to you.”
~ Saint Augustine
“What time is it?” That’s a question I ask myself often in the span of a day.
“What is time?” That’s a question that seldom, if ever, gets asked and deliberated upon. Today that changed.
Today as I awoke, I noted that the clock on the dresser read 6:28. That’s how a new day typically begins for me, with the awareness of what time it is. But today my awareness of time was different.
Today as I awoke, I acknowledged the passing of time. Today it immediately dawned upon me that yesterday was 2020 and today is 2021. Today begins a whole new cycle of time. In sports terminology it’s like saying this is not merely the start of a new inning. Rather, this is the beginning of a whole new ballgame.
This is an awareness that only I and the rest of my species possess. We humans are the only creatures who have learned to measure time. For the rest of creation there is no awareness of an ending of one annual time measurement and the beginning of another. So, in one respect, time is strictly a human invention. Time is a tool humanity has created to measure existence. It is the stage we have constructed and upon which existence plays out.
I know that physicists tell us that time is a construct of the physical universe (or universes). A decade ago a bonafide Cal Tech theoretical physicist, Sean Carroll, (not fictional Sheldon Cooper of The Big Bang Theory fame) wrote a book, From Eternity to Here: The Quest for the Ultimate Theory of Time. A fascinating interview by Wired.com about his book and theories about time can be found HERE. For those with inquiring minds and a touch of “geek” it is worth a click on the link.
But this blog entry posted on day one of a new year considers time as a societal construct by which we mark and measure our existence. The dawning of a new year in Gregorian calendar time brings with it the annual experience of pondering the passage of time in one’s personal life and that of society (or creation) as a whole. What do we make of the gift of time? How do we manage this mortal treasure?
Tomorrow night at 7:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time I will settle into my sofa for my weekly time honored routine of watching back-to-back episodes of my favorite British sit-com, As Time Goes By. In it, Lionel and Jean are two aging Brits who were once young sweethearts before they lost track of each other. But now fate has reunited them, the romance has been rekindled and we get to watch how they rebuild a relationship “as time goes by.” It’s both a humorous and uplifting tale of two people redeeming the past and making the most of the time that has mysteriously and graciously been given to them.
At the dawn of a new year I reflect upon this mysterious and gracious gift of time that seems so infinite as we go about our daily routines, and especially in our youth. But in truth it is so finite, as we were reminded time and time again throughout 2020. As time goes by, death ultimately tolls the final knell, putting an end to the gracious gift. Those of us fortunate enough to make it through 2020 have just survived the “deadliest year in U.S. history,” according to the Associated Press.
2020 was the “Year of the Grim Reaper.” Clothed in the semblance of a global viral pandemic, Death had its way with the human family around the world, but especially throughout the USA. As of today there have been 1,823,154 reported COVID-19 deaths world-wide and 346,408 in the USA alone (197,414 more deaths than our closest competitor).
Add to that gun violence and gun crime that has risen drastically across this nation with over 19,000 people killed in shootings and firearm-related incidents in 2020. That’s the highest death toll in over 20 years, according to data from the Gun Violence Archive (GVA). And as a recent TIME article reports:
“Much of this violence has most significantly impacted poor Black and brown communities, exacerbating disparities already apparent in historical patterns… According to Everytown for Gun Safety, a non-profit organization that advocates for stricter gun laws, Black Americans make up 68% of homicide victims in larger cities, many of them victims of gun violence.” This same disproportionate disparity carries over into poor and minority deaths related to the pandemic as well as to the effects of global warming/climate change. And that’s just not right. That’s just not JUST.
As I look back upon most of my privileged existence as a lower middle class white American male, I realize how unaware and uninformed I was of the rampant injustices that were and are part and parcel of the fabric that comprises this oft times imperfect Union and reprehensible Republic. But as time has gone by over the past few decades with most of my days now in the rear view mirror, the scales have been lifted from my eyes. With whatever grains of sand that remain in my hour glass, surviving 2020 must remind me how precious those grains are. With whatever amount of pages remain on my calendar and ticks upon my clock, they must be used to confront injustice and to bend the arc of the moral universe toward justice for all. Anything less is a waste of time.
No other creature in all of creation has the awareness of time and mortality, of justice and morality that I and my ilk have. No other creature has the capability of measuring and managing time to build the Kingdom of God, to create a more perfect Union, to uphold the common good, to practice the Golden Rule and behave as “little Christ’s” to one another. No other creature can tell what time it is, nor fathom the precious, gracious gift of time that was granted to us “in the beginning” by the omnipotent Creator who set the universal clock of creation ticking.
As time goes by, may we who have been created in the image of God and baptized into a redemptive new covenant relationship now and for all time be daily sanctified for the work of doing justice, loving kindness and walking humbly with our God from here to eternity in our quest for the holy management of time.