Four hours left in 2022!
Though strictly speaking it is already 2023 everywhere east of the US as I post this, by the time it gets to be January 1 in Honolulu it will be January 2nd down in Wellington NZ. I would say Happy New Year except that it is already over, if it ever actually happened, that is. If this is confusing, the problem is not time but we humans. Here’s how.
We pick up our cell phones in the morning to see what time it is, knowing that they are the most accurate clocks we have. Why? Because they are connected in a long train of devices to the National Institute of Standards and Technology. A recent article on the NPR website explores the nature of time, starting with the place in Boulder CO where 21 atomic clocks are kept going, making sure they are accurate to within 1 second every 30 million years.
Why do we need such accuracy?
“Governments around the world aren’t just providing the time as an altruistic service to citizens, (Prof. Chanda) Prescod-Weinstein argues. It’s about keeping society organized and efficient. It’s about increasing economic productivity….”Capitalism sucks…” by which she means the way time has been structured to make us see it as a commodity. “A lot of us grow up being fed this idea of time as absolute,” she says, “But Prescod-Weinstein says the time we’re experiencing is a social construct.”
Hard to disagree. That’s why we now have minutes and seconds, because they are important to productivity. Hours served us just fine when our work was agricultural and artisanal. Before there was instant communication, days and weeks were sufficient. Now that time is a commodity, we sense that we only have so much time, as the president of Viking Cruises says on those PBS promos. We learn to spend it wisely, as we would money. Because it is money. Time is money!
What has this to do with pilgrim life?
Well, most folk think pilgrimage is about place – a journey to a particular place. But pilgrimage is equally about time. They begin not with the first step but the first thought, even just the hope. From that moment you are on pilgrimage. It continues with the practical matter of planning it, then to actually going there, and then beyond. Let me illustrate.
In three weeks I will be on my way to Israel, as I mentioned last time, which is sort of the world capital of pilgrimage as it is a destination for three great religions, one new one (Bahaism), and secular folks who simply want to get a look at places imbued with immense cultural and historical influence. But in a sense I have been on pilgrimage since deciding to go. When I bought my airline ticket I was on my way, and when I booked lodging, scouring possible places, then arranging for multi day treks in the Galilee and the Ella Valley and visits to Masada and Petra. Research and email, websites and guidebooks, and even assembling the stuff I need are all part of the journey. Though I have not left Grand Rapids I am already on my way to Jerusalem.
Pilgrimage then continues after you come back, when I will compile the pictures and notes and objects I made and collected along the way. Months later I will fashion them all into a book which itself will need revising many times. My pilgrimage to Israel will last three weeks in one sense, but in fact will last years.
“It’s about Time; it’s about space,” was a goofy sitcom in the 1960s, but space and time are really the same thing, as Einstein figured out. At the deepest level, then, pilgrim life is about time and place – not the destination, but the awareness that time is tied to place and thus how we experience being. Walking day after day on pilgrimage reminds me of my constant journey through the universe, that we are always moving through time and space even asleep in bed. Earth rotates on its axis, circles the sun, which itself is traveling around the galaxy, and the galaxy itself is moving.
In modern terms, I am traveling at 1,816,000 mph all the time, but that is a human measure of time. Miles, remember, are a human measure of distance, and hours a human measurement of daylight. They do not exist for non humans. Pilgrim life allows me to let go of human measurements of time and place. I live, however briefly, in the world as it is not as I am.
So tomorrow we call it a new year, which will be true for banks and businesses and other important human endeavors. But in the world beyond us, which is almost everything, there are no year numbers, no month names, no deadlines, no benchmarks or due dates, no quarterly or annual reports. Seasons and sabbaths mean only a little. Elvis, Fiona and George, three of the atomic clocks in Boulder, do not matter, especially to the atoms they count.