Time travel evokes thoughts of the Tardis and “Back to the Future”, where the outlandish idea of moving through time is often accompanied by depictions of equally outlandish machines and figures.
What if one said that time travel is already happening, more often and in more mundane ways than we tend to think?
The cultural niche known as steampunk, where depictions of technology, culture and society is combined with Victorian-era inflections, is one case study that betrays something in a small though nonetheless considerable proportion of the populace. It is the sense that, somehow, the mantra of “being in the now” is more observed in the breach than the observance. Things, however present they are before us in the present, seem to have a bad habit of catapulting us to times past or even to dreams of a future life. Moreover, this occurs even when one is fully engaged in the things or people of the present.
For all our protestations of being material fundamentalists, where the things here and in the now are really what matter, there is always something in the material structure of things that, often unintentionally, takes us beyond the confines of the present moment. A thing, however mundane, is not merely a concrete signifier of the present moment. The mere sight of these objects or even the touch of them could catapult a person in that moment to other moments in the past, whether it be an event, encounter or person long buried in the recesses of our memory.
Similarly, as is indicated in Pope St. John Paul II’s 1999 Letter to Artists, the universal of Beauty, that most material and experiential of universals, is something that, once experienced, could also stir a dreaming of a future and a nostalgia for God.
This inability to be exclusively in the present is a moment for discipleship. On the one hand, this restlessness at the point of encounter can be a sign that one has crossed paths with Beauty, a universal which the Christian tradition has taken to be one of the signposts towards God. At the same time, however, the risk of this nostalgia or dreaming taking one away from the present can be, as previously indicated in a previous post, a moment for the demon of acedia to operate.
Though this might be open to debate, probably a useful aid to discern which is which is the effect the encounter has on one’s ultimate orientation to the present. For if the extent to which a shunning the present is the extent to which acedia is operative, the extent to which we encounter the universals is the extent to which our nostalgia or sehnsucht compels us to a deeper engagement with the present, only with wider horizons beyond the material present.