Fourth century Christian bishop Augustine wrote “What then is time? If no one asks me, I know what it is. If I wish to explain it to him who asks, I do not know.” Time is the kind of concept that makes my brain hurt if I really try to fully understand what it means. Yet we live our lives so precisely by the counting of time; every appliance and gadget has a clock on it. We always know what time it is, but do we know what time is?
Alan Alda, an actor and science fan, has a yearly challenge to scientists: to explain scientific concepts in a way that 11 year olds can understand. After a panel of scientist. s reviews the entries, eleven year olds across the United States choose the best answer. Last year the Flame Challenge was to explain what a flame is; this year the question is “What is time?”
I love this question and I think it is a great one for a Unitarian service or a religious education class. What is time? Is it the counting of the clock? The linear passage of life through space? How is time related to space? Is it an arrow, moving straight from the past to the future or is it, as the Doctor says, more timey-wimey and wibbley wobbley – whatever that may mean? What does time mean to Unitarian Universalists? We tend towards a theological focus on the here and now, on being present in place. We don’t argue for eternity. So what does time to mean to us? If we understood time better, would it help us to be present in the now? Exploring the concept of time seems like an illuminating opportunity, a way to make connections between science and wonder.
Time is a great mystery – worthy of our contemplation – even if we can never hope to fully understand it. I’m looking forward to hearing from the scientists tough enough to try.
I’m switching the Monday Meditation to Friday and hope to blog earlier in the week – and more often – on aspects of Unitarian Universalism.