Many of us of advanced age and/or who suffer from life-threatening health issues decided in 2020 to withdraw from the world and isolate ourselves because we are at high risk of catching covid19. Since last March we have voluntarily quarantined ourselves from society and live in small bubbles available only to a small number of people. Over the last year our lives have become very much like the 1993 film Groundhog Day. In the film Bill Murray plays a Pittsburg weatherman who covers the Groundhog Day event in Punxsutawney, PA. He becomes trapped in a time loop forcing him to relive February 2 repeatedly. Eventually he recognizes that he is in a time loop, although no one else does.1
Life in the bubble is repetitive and there is a sameness to the events of a typical day: wake up; dry and put away dishes; check email; prepare breakfast; TV news; morning ablutions; retire to respective offices to do whatever; prepare lunch; short nap; back to the offices; walk for an hour; check the snail mail (bills); evening news and dinner; doze before TV; retire. This pattern is repeated the next morning and ad infinitum. As a result, I find I am beginning to lose a sense of progress and continuity in time and history, since I seem to be living in an eternal present where everything repeats itself.
History is defined as a “chronological record of significant events, often containing an explanation of their causes.” If truth be told, however, we humans invented the concept of time to explain our obsolescence and demise (aging and death), and we discovered the ellipse of the earth around the sun in a 24-hour period. We invented and named the hours of the day, the days of the week, and the months of the year. We even invent the connectedness of events by explaining their causes (about which historians frequently disagree) and this becomes the basis of our linear concept of time.2
A competitor to the linear view of time is the “concept that the universe and all existence and energy has been recurring and will continue to recur in a self-similar form and infinite number of times across infinite time and space.” This concept is called the eternal return or the eternal recurrence.3 One biblical writer who seems to reflect such a view of time is Ecclesiastes:
That which is, already has been; that which is to be, already has been. (Eccl 3:15)
What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; and there is nothing new under the sun. (Eccl 1:9)
In this biblical writer’s tone lies a deep weariness and monotony (Eccl 1:2-11; 2:11, 17, 22-23; 7:1-8), occasioned by how he has come to view life:
The central theme of the sage’s reflections is that life is disappointing and transitory—like a momentary breath (1:2-11). There is a weary sameness to life (3:15); it passes like a shadow (6:12). Being governed by chance (9:11-12), life is unfair: the righteous perish early and the wicked live out long lives (7:15).4
The Apostle Paul, on the other hand, had a theologically based linear view of time.5 He believed that he lived between two great events, the time of God’s great victory over sin and death at the crucifixion/resurrection of Jesus, on the one hand, and the Parousia (appearing) of Jesus and the end of the world (1 Cor 15:20-24; I Thess 4:13-18; 1 Cor 6:29-31), on the other. As such he lived between the already and the not yet (Rom 8:15/ 8:23; 1 Cor 1:2/1 Thess 5:23-24). That is to say: he already had received the blessings of salvation, but he still looks forward to the completion of his salvation. Thus, in Paul’s view the follower of Christ was numbered among those “upon whom the ends of the ages have come” (1 Cor 10:11), that is, between the end of the old world/age and the beginning of the new. In other words, Paul saw time moving forward in a linear way from the resurrection to the time of Christ’s coming again and the end of time.
This brings me back to the present pandemic moment: are we locked into a series of repeating 24-hour elliptical cycles, or does time actually move relentlessly forward in a linear line toward some unknown goal?
Missouri State University
1https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Groundhog_Day_(film). The film was selected by The Library of Congress for inclusion in the National Film Registry and the term “Groundhog Day” has made its way into the English language to describe a monotonous, unpleasant, and repetitive situation.
2See Hedrick, “History, Historical Narrative, and Mark’s Gospel,” Sunday December 3, 2013: http://blog.charleshedrick.com/search?q=history
4Hedrick, The Wisdom of Jesus. Between the Sages of Israel and the Apostles of the Church (Cascade, 2014), 70.
5Hedrick, “Time—does it move forward or in Circles,” Saturday, June 1, 2019: http://blog.charleshedrick.com/search?q=Time
Just finished, with a lot of help, digging out of 25" of snow.
Regarding time, does it have to be elliptical cycles OR a linear line; how about elliptical cycles (Hinduism, Budhism) in a linear line (Judaeo-Christian).
Speaking of "time," in the early 70's I delivered a sermon contrasting two biblical Greek words for time: Chronos, or the ongoing everyday flow of events, and Kairos, or insightful, pivotal, mind-blowing, life-changing intrusions into one's chronos or the community's Chronos. Mark wrote in 1:15: "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near..." (NRSV).
I think I ended the sermon something like, "However you address the powers of the universe, don't leave out, 'Hit me with a kairotic (not chaotic), moment.'"
Good Evening Charlie,
1) Your essay brought to mind the teachings of Dr. Jordan Peterson... Have you heard of him? Some people find him controversial. Anyway- he has a teaching about the balance between "order" and "chaos." Too much order brings monotony and boredom, as you described. On the other hand, too much chaos is undesirable as well, for obvious reasons. He talks about having one foot in order and other foot in a little bit of chaos and walking that fine line... HIs definition of chaos is meant along the lines of unexpected challenges and obstacles to overcome. When was the last time you faced an obstacle that you had to overcome in order to move forward? Did you find it exciting or undesirable?
2) You mentioned the Bill Murray movie, Groundhog Day. I don't know how long it's been since you've seen the movie... but do you kind of remember the ending? Do you remember the change that took place in Bill Murray? Nothing in his outer circumstances changed at all- but yet he became a different person altogether at the end of the movie. So what caused him to change? Everything externally was the same. (It's ok if you can't remember the movie!)
3) There's another example of a person who underwent an inner shift that caused him to see his same old dreary surroundings in a completely different light: "Suddenly I stood back from the thought and looked at and said, 'That's a strange thought.' My mind didn't have an answer on an intellectual level. That question triggered an inner shift... An inner disidentification happened. Suddenly everything was filled with aliveness and peace and I didn't know why. Peace suddenly arose which was not causally related to anything in the external world... It wasn't caused by something wonderful happening in my external environment."
Weariness and monotony and boredom aren't caused by external circumstances or situations... Perhaps that statement makes no sense to anyone else, but it strongly resonated with me- and has made a huge different in my own life experience. Many thanks, Elizabeth
The way I see it: Time, as a human concept, is linear. A line, however, is only two dimensional, whereas “motion” and “action” are three dimensional. The actions and “motions” within life spiral(like a Slinky, for those of a certain age), largely repetitive, based on needs and goals. These “themes,” from my experience, are not always reached in a linear path. Though headed in one direction, they spiral as obstacles are met and overcome or, if not overcome, are changed and another spiral begins. We can even see this in as small an organism as a pathogen as it mutates to adapt.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
Time, as a concept, is linear. A line, however, is only two dimensional, whereas “motion” and “action” are three dimensional. The actions and “motions” within life spiral( like a Slinky, for those of a certain age), largely repetitive, based on needs and goals. These “themes,” from my experience, are not always reached in a linear path. Though headed in one direction, they spiral as obstacles are met and overcome or, if not overcome, are changed and another spiral begins. We can even see this in as small an organism as a pathogen as it mutates to adapt.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
Charlie, I have always loved Ecclesiastes, but not the myth of eternal return. I have always appreciated Paul, but not the various interpretations he placed on events. You have not taken into account the realities of evolution, which speaks of our adaptations over time to our surroundings, and you have not spoken to the notion of progress, which posits a "moral arc of the universe," which bends from where it has been to where it might be. Say more!
My days look a lot like yours.
Sorry about the two posts... I didn't get a message when I posted it and an hour later I re-sent it. Anyway...
If one posits a third dimension to linear time, that of motion/action, one can see certain themes that tend to recur, at least in historiography over the ages. For instance, there may not be any reality in the story of the exposure of Moses. After all, it happened to Sargon, Cyrus, Romulus and other “founders.” The theme, however, is that one can be “thrown away,” yet still become the founder of a great people. It also played into the myth of the poor being fortunate, the domain of God being for the poor. This same theme (the song for a poor man) was also a critique of the law of primogeniture in the biblical stories where the “younger son” generally “did better” than the elder. The purpose of “history” was more about this third dimension, that of theme, I believe, and seems rather purposeful to me.
Even the apocalyptic of the Paulines is peppered with allusions to the mythic writings of the past. For instance, 1 Cor. 15.25 alludes to Ps.110.1, as 15.21-22 allude to the Eden fable. 1 Thess. 5 must find the pangs and throes of a woman in travail of Jeremiah 6 and Isaiah 13 to find its “Day of the Lord,” though I would call this “misappropriation.” Biblical propaganda looks backward to look forward in order to extract themes. The linear seems to spiral backward to speculate the future in apocalyptic material.
Dennis Dean Carpenter
Good Morning Denny,
That there is a moral arc to the universe is a grand hope. Science tells us that the universe is expanding outward at a very fast rate but knows nothing of a direction or what lies at the end of the expansion. And evolution according to what I have read does not move in a straight line unerringly toward a fixed goal but moves slowly in whichever direction offers the least resistance and the optimum conditions for the survival of the fittest, And progress is what we think we are making. I apologize for sounding so cynical.
Good Morning Gene,
Wow 25" is a lot!!!
For me the question is: are time and our reconstructions of history moving toward anything? If so, What is the goal of history? Or are all of our daily motions and actions (as Dennis informs us) simply repeatable and locked in to recurring ellipses around the sun in our solar system, which is moving toward the unknown edge of the universe.
I'm moving toward the outcomes of my choices, some of which I may have partial control over. If I'm moving toward something, that's a value in the universe which may exist on a larger scale. So the first place to start would be interviews. If humanity is the universe thinking about itself, we have a lot to say about direction and outcome.
I'm not comfortable with the phrase "edge of the universe." Are we gobbling up emptiness as we go, or nothingness. Emptiness implies a boundary, thus the word 'edge.' Nothingness means no boundaries, no(n)sense, beyond the capacity of the human mind which can only think in terms of boundaries. Creation from nothing is no(n)sense, but is it true?
"For me the question is: are time and our reconstructions of history moving toward anything? If so, What is the goal of history?"
I don't know where Charlie is coming from, but it sounds like he doesn't necessarily believe the goal of history is living in a bubble.
A bubble is nothing more than a limitation. Resilient people have a way of transcending their limitations, whether those limitations are self imposed or not. I admire people who instead of complaining about their limitations, choose to rise above them. That's the conclusion to which Bill Murray finally came at the end of the movie. Nothing in his external environment was ever ever going to change- so what did he do? He made a change internally within himself... Which in my opinion is the goal of human history.
The transformation of human consciousness... That's the goal of history. Charlie, what do you think it is? Elizabeth
Here is my short answer to your second question, at the end of your comment: What do I think the goal of History is:
History has no goal. History is what happens. Historians, on the other hand, study what happened by inventing connections between what they consider significant events in the lived past, which gives their narratives about what happened the illusion of an interconnectedness to the significant events. But history itself is a lived reality--the millions and billions and trillions of things that happen all over the world in a single day both significant and insignificant. In other words the aggregate of lived reality. I discussed these concepts in a blog.
"History, Historical Narrative, and Mark's Gospel": http:blog.charleshedrick.com/search?q=history
Or access it in Unmasking Biblical Faiths, pages 137-40.
Thank you Charlie, I read the passage you referenced and many quotes jumped out at me. Perhaps the one that stood out the most was this one: "The reality that was the living moment as it was actually lived can never be recaptured, but its scattered bones (artifacts and memories) can be gathered, catalouged, and analyzed... But a given historical narrative is no more 'history' than a corpse is a human being." Very well put!
When it comes to the purpose of time- what is its purpose? We never directly see or experience time, but we see the effects of it when we look in the mirror. So why did we choose to experience the passage of time? When we existed in non-physical form, something prompted us to become physical humans subject to the limitations of time and space. I've heard many teachings on the subject, but the one that resonates the most is that we wanted to experience the idea of change... When you exist in a timeless state, you can't experience the process of change and discovery. For some reason- we wanted to know what it's like to evolve and change and develop (which is not possible as I said in the timeless state.)
In order to change- it takes time. In order to create something- it takes time. In order to learn, explore and discover new ideas and theories- it takes time. We weren't created to be dull lifeless statues- never changing or decaying or aging. (Statues do get a little moldy and dusty perhaps) For some reason, this idea of experiencing the idea of change and evolution was compelling enough to incarnate into physical human form. Even though we complain about it in later years.
So we get fooled into clinging to permanency, an impossible quest. Thankfully our sense of adventure and lure of the unknown ultimately wins the day: "I love life because it is always. always interesting. The value of life to me is that it is so big, and we are so small, that we can never get hold of it all... There is forever something more, still unknown." Rose Wilder Lane
And I can't leave out Stephen Graham who wrote: "The adventure is not getting there, it's the on-the-way. It is not the expected; it is the surprise; not the fulfillment of prophecy, but the providence of something better than prophesied."
Instead of fearing the unknown, I'm learning to make friends with it. Elizabeth
I do not understand your second sentence in the second paragraph. In that sentence you use the word "exist" in an odd way. In my vocabulary only things subject to space and time may be said to "exist." Can you say more about things that "exist in non-physical form"?
(Laughing) I was wondering if you would catch that Charlie. The subject of "time" brought to mind the non-physical dimension of reality... A spirit realm, so to speak... I just threw that out there for those with an interest in metaphysics. Yes, I agree with Origen's premise that we existed in a non-physical form before we were born. I don't expect you to respond to that notion, it's a little out there. But then I'm a little out there too.
Anything we can see is physical. We cannot see our thoughts or emotions, except as images in the mind. We cannot see our feelings, we can only feel them. No one else can feel our feelings, which makes them non-physical. Furthermore, we cannot see our "consciousness."
Do you consider your consciousness to be a physical or non-physical form? My point is this: There is a part of you that is non-physical. It's your consciousness.... You are more than a bunch of puss and blood and neurological jelly wrapped in a bag of skin. And yes- I do think our consciousness existed before we incarnated into human beings on planet earth.
So to go all existential on you.... Am I officially kicked off the blog now??? Just kidding,
Elizabeth in Sub Zero St. Louis
Last sentence should read: “ **Sorry** to go all existential on you...”
Good Morning Elizabeth,
Pondering your idea that thoughts and consciousness are not physical, it seems to me there is an argument to be made that they are. Thoughts are the effect of the firing of neurons in the brain. They do not exist apart from the firing of the neurons. And since neurons, firing, and thoughts are part of one's physical and mental make-up, they are part of space-time continuum.
Consciousness is simply sentience or awareness of internal or external existence. It is a part of one's physical and mental make-up and has no independent existence apart from the conscious entity--or so it seems to me.
Charlie, if your thoughts are merely the result of the firing of neurons... Who controls your thoughts? Are your neurons controlling your thoughts and directing your attentinon? Maybe you have no control over where your attention goes.
Something inside you is aware of the fact that you are generating a thought... You are either nothing but a thought, or you are the awareness behind the thought. You can't be both. Hope that makes sense, Elizabeth
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