In a recent Sydney Morning Herald Essay, the noted observer of Australian life Hugh Mackay wrote “when it comes to time, we can indeed have it all, every bit of it.” Well, yes and no. If time is the ordinary progression of minutes, hours and days, then yes. Time is there for the taking, if we choose to do so, as Mackay argues persuasively. But if time is more mysterious than ordinary clock-time, as I imagine in my new book Imagining Rama, then the answer is no. Let me explain.
There is evidence that time isn’t ordinary. Our consciousness of time affects how we preceive it. “Time flies when you’re having fun” is a simple example. Toffler argued in Future Shock that our western perception of time has changed significantly in the last 200 years or so. I can remember time moving far more slowly 70 years ago. Now, it rushes at me. Additionally, poets like T.S. Eliot and Rilke have sensed some deep creative force at work in the interaction between space, time and humans, which is almost inexpressible. Read Burnt Norton for many examples of T.S Eliot’s sense of the mystery in time.
There is even more mystery about time when it comes to religious experience and belief. During meditation, for example, time seems suspended. The Buddha sensed timelessness in his pursuit of Nirvana. And Christian theologians use concepts of time such as “already but not yet,” to signify that we are already living in eternity in God’s presence but not yet fully.
I am not arguing against Mackay’s main point — that we need to get beyond the facile slogans we use to hide the reality of time. “Time poor” and “I’ve run out of time” are two of these common slogans, which imply we aren’t able to manage the time in our lives. I am pointing out, however, that we ought to also reflect occasionally that something is going on in time that may be a mystery, and “make time” to seek this as well. The hints of mystery in ordinary things like time may be the eternal mystery reaching out to us through such intuitions.