By continuing your visit to this site, you accept the use of cookies. These ensure the smooth running of our services. Learn more.

On Time

Not about arriving before the start of something rather than after it has begun, though anyone who knows me also knows that being late is something I dread, often arriving way too early 'just in case.'  No, really this is 'about' time, or more specifically our concept thereof.

One of the books I've been reading on historical method asserts that the way that time is understood underwent a radical shift with Newton (et al) and that this is something that we in the west are so accustomed to, we cannot imagine it otherwise.  I think there are essentially two strands to this, one being a shift from seeing time as being the period between 'Genesis and Revelation' (or creation and the eschaton), a sort of God-centred-time and the other being the emergence of the concept of time as a 'commodity' - something that became important with increasing industrialisation.

If this is a correct understanding of what was being said, or even if it isn't, it has been whirling around my subconscious for a week or so now, along with other weird and wonderful thoughts on time and history etc.

Time is generally seen as one-dimensional and uni-directional, hence our fascination by the idea of time travel.  I appreciate that clever physicists like Einstein can adjust this view, but it seems a reasonable expression of 'everyday time.'  Historians divide this linear time into chunks based on various assumptions - e.g. periods such as pre-history, dark ages, middle ages, etc; e.g. dynasties and monarch's 'houses'; e.g. uniform chunks called centuries; even BC/AD (or BCE/CE if you prefer). The concept of epochs and eras seem to predate Newton and professionalised history; recording ages and durations goes back to Biblical times so I'm not altogether sure it's really an 'Enlightenment' or 'modern' development to do this.  The shift is more about a 'secularised' view of time, such that the 'kronos' element is all important and 'kairos' idea becomes marginalised, nowadays largley relegated to personal spiritual 'God moments.'

Time as a commodity - that can be bought and sold - is a concept that I find more intriguing to ponder, maybe because it has more relevance to my life and work.  December 25th 2006 one of my brothers was paid £100+ an hour to work on railway signals, whilst my other brother as a police officer was paid his flat rate and I, as a minister of religion would not dare to estimate an hourly rate, because that isn't how it's meant to be viewed.  Somehow or other, an hour of a experienced signalling technican on a bank holiday is very expensive because it is a rare commodity; an hour of a police officer or a minister is cheap, not because there are endless supplies of them, but because it is assumed that they are available.

It is hard to imagine a time before time was a commodity - and this is what the book was trying to say - an era when people took as long as it took to do things, when there were no university deadlines of 4 p.m. on 18th July (or whatever it is) and the concept of an hourly rate (or annual rate if you're a minister) did not exist.  As society became more industrialised we obviously needed order and predictability - train timetables were not always a work of fiction and start/finish times for factories and schools are necessary if they are to achieve their aims.

Time as a commodity is something that is relevant in our postmodern age, and especially for churches, since people have to chose 'how much time to spend' (note the financial language) in different areas of their lives.  Present day 'stewardship campaigns' in churches usually focus on 'time', 'talent' and 'treasure', and I well remember offering a tithing approach to use of time the last time we had such a series.  To consciously assign 16.8 hours a week (of which a third could be sleeping!) to Godward intent would be consistent with giving 10% of income to Godly causes.  Whilst I don't find sacred/secular divides helpful, especially in relation to time, it seemed a way of encouraging people to think how they apportion the commodity they have called 'time.'  I'm not entirely sure I still hold that view, as I can see its flaws all too clearly, but when I struggle to get people to get involved in projects we have committed to because they 'don't have time,' a commodity approach seems to be the only language I have.

I'd love to waffle on for ages - to think about how it sometimes feels that time goes faster or slower, and whether we could actually ever know if it did; to play with the existential (?) question of whether or not yesterday really happened or if it is just something embedded by a creator in the mind of a person who is made NOW - but my commodity of time is limited and I need to do other things this day.

If you have read this far, thank you for bearing with me.  If you have understood a word I've said, I'm impressed.  If you can move my thinking along, I'd love to know.

The comments are closed.