Category: time

Talking about time

By , 8 May 2009 6:40 pm

For various reasons time has been at the forefront of my thoughts quite a lot this week. One reason is that I have finished my teaching of AS students; those totally ignorant fresh-faced kids I first met in September are now slightly less ignorant and about to face their first exam on Tuesday. My, how time passes! Secondly, I have been looking through boxes of old photographic slides to try and find some images suitable for a talk. It has been slightly disconcerting to see images I had long forgotten, and very disconcerting to find, on the other end of the slide viewer, a youthful me staring back across the gulf of years. Thirdly, I got the recent Geological Society of London annual bulletin and read obituaries of people including one who I knew pretty well. I struggle with how someone who once existed in a most solidly flesh and blood fashion is now no longer with us.

Time and its passage disconcerts us for several reasons. Firstly, it is of course an ‘intimation of mortality’, a reminder that our tenure of this world is utterly temporary. Second, it is also something of a reminder of the futility of so much that human life is centred on. As I read the obituaries of some of those whose names were unknown to me, I realised that many of them had once had only the briefest and most ephemeral moments of glory. Some had been advisers to long-forgotten governments, others fashionable exponents of now discredited geological ideas, and still others finders of now exhausted oilfields. Time drains the value of most achievements.

Yet the third disconcerting aspect of time is perhaps the most subtle. It is simply this: we do not in any shape or form understand what ‘time’ is. We measure something that we call time; we are aware that time passes (but what exactly does that mean?). Yet we cannot hold time, reverse time or store, buy or sell it. Time remains an utterly alien and unfathomable substance. It is presumed to have started with the Big Bang but even that remains an uncertainty. In every sense, time remains the most remote and elusive of concepts.

And here Christian friends, I draw to your attention the fact that time is an interesting point to consider if you ever find yourself up against a wall in an argument about God. You know the sort of thing; that confident sneer ‘Where is your God? Show me him and I will believe in him. Go on! Prove his existence’. You may at this point choose to refer to time. There are innumerable questions that can be raised. What is time? Can the existence of time be demonstrated? When did time begin? In time we have a commodity whose existence everybody accepts yet which cannot be proved in the laboratory. Time demonstrates the inadequacy of the human mind. It does not to my way of thinking prove the existence of God. It is however suggestive that we ought to be very wary about confidently asserting that only those things that we can touch, see, measure and understand have a reality.

Have a good week. I hope to write again in another seven days time; whatever that really means.


Chronicles of wasted time?

By , 18 May 2007 6:33 pm

I have had a couple of busy weeks in which it has been very hard to snatch time away from the real world for writing; teaching, marking, preaching, elders’ meeting, church weekend away, writing for Speculative Faith: all have eaten into my time. It’s not as though I’ve been doing other things: I think I have watched an hour of television and seen a single DVD in that time.

Now as an amateur writer it is tempting to lament this. It’s all too easy to say, if I could have had this time for writing I could have done so much more. I could have deepened the quality of my writing (and even my blogs).

This raises many issues. For instance, would I have used the time, if I had had it? In fact, in my experience even if you have an entire day free for writing, you don’t use it all. I find that even under pressure I just can’t keep going. Writing drains me and after a while I need to do something else. I think creative writing is particularly draining. Here, writers seem to conjure up the images and pictures and tales from nowhere. It is tempting to assume that because they bring them from nowhere they come at no cost. But all creativity costs. At the risk of sounding blasphemous I am reminded that even God took a break after six days (and no I’m not going to debate how long the days were).

Of course, I would like to have the writer’s life that we all dream of: a year made up of three months research, six months writing and three months holiday. If anyone wants to fund me on this I can provide bank account details. But in reality I am far from sure that the best way to write is to be at the computer or the notepad all day, every day. In fact, I am inclined to think that is actually a good discipline to be with people and away from writing for at least some of the time. If we are to write about people, we need to be with people. If you are isolated from the world I would suspect that your characters and plots tend to acquire an artificial nature. Like many other pursuits, writing needs to be earthed in reality. The danger of self-absorption is certainly true of academia, where many scientists devote themselves to the minutiae of rare academic details to such an extent that they become neither employable nor understandable.

This separation from reality is particularly dangerous in theology. I have, on one or two sad occasions, known keen Christians who have gone on to theological training and come out as real (or pseudo) intellectuals dedicated to proposing questions none of us are asking and then giving us answers that we do not understand.

When we read in Acts 18:3 that the apostle Paul paid his way as a missionary by making tents, commentators say that his motives were entirely financial: he was simply trying to spare the local church from having to fund him. I wonder if there might have been something else; I wonder if he realized that work kept him anchored in reality. If that is the case, then I feel I am in better company.

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