Happy New Year … well almost! I took this picture exactly one year ago and it is incredible to think about how much has changed in such a relatively short 365 day period. This post is going to get a little mathematical and theoretical … and philosophical so please bear with me …
One of the weird things about time is that as we get older, our perception of it actually speeds up. When we are 1 year old, 1 year is 100% of our perception of existence. When we are 2 years old, 1 year suddenly seems 50% shorter because 1 year is half of our life. Now that I’m 24 years old, 1 year is a meager 4.17% in proportion to the length of my life. When I started high school, 1 year was 3% longer proportionally than it is now. To put things in perspective, it was about 11 days longer then than it feels right now. Think about how many more things I could accomplish this year if I had 11 more days! On the flip side, the rate at which the years are shortening is actually decreasing. The way that I look at this is that as we get older, it actually becomes less noticeable that the years are going by slower. This means that by the time we are 100, we don’t realize that the year felt 1 month shorter than it did when we were ten. That’s probably why old people are always blown away by how much older us young people look every time we see them. In addition to proportional time decreasing, there’s also the fact that our our metabolism slows down as we age. So not only does time feel like it’s going faster, but our body clocks are actually covering way less time over the space of 24 hours than they did when we were children. Anyway, I digress …
Thinking about time in a proportional way obviously isn’t completely consistent with our actual experience of time but I still think it’s an interesting idea. The main issue with thinking about time proportionally is that we are describing present time in terms of past time. And the truth is that we should be living in the present, and not in relation to the past. Personally, I don’t believe that we are getting closer to anything each day that we live. Some people might say that we’re getting closer to death every day, but I believe in everlasting life so that doesn’t really make sense to me. And some Christians might say that we’re getting one day closer to salvation, but I don’t think I really buy that either since I believe that Jesus already died for my salvation. If anything, I think that each day I’m actually getting closer to where I started. As I mentioned in the beginning of this post, when I was 1 year old, 1 year was 100% of my perception of existence. The same line of logic leads me to believe that at the instant of my birth, I was experiencing the fullness of absolute time. There was actually a moment in which all of my life was encompassed in that exact moment! How cool is that! Ironically, it’s the same place that I plan on being at the end of my life.
I imagine that this is the way God experiences time always. The word omnipresent is used to describe how God transcends both time and space. God is somehow able to be present with us, allowing free will in each moment, while simultaneously knowing the future. I usually like to think of this concept like a slide projector. God’s got a massive filing cabinet full of past and future slides, but he chooses to light up individual moments in the present in order to experience them with us. But despite the fact that God is with us in the present, as an entity He exists outside the slideshow of time. Past slides, present slides, and future slides really don’t make a difference at all. They’re all just slides. Time is just this thing that exists externally. I think that the main problem with our perception of time is that we attach a good chunk of our identity to the size of our slide collection instead of the content of the slides.
I believe that when we die, we cease to exist as a slideshow reel and begin to fully exist as the content of the slideshow. There is no longer a before, after, later, then, or even now. There is only everything. Let me share with you Henri Nouwen’s perspective on the topic:
“It is important to nurture constantly the life of the Spirit of Jesus – which is the eternal life – that is already in us. Baptism gave us this life, the Eucharist maintains it, and our many spiritual practices – such as prayer, meditation, spiritual reading, and spiritual guidance – can help us to deepen and solidify it. The sacramental life and life with the Word of God gradually make us ready to let go of our mortal bodies and receive the mantle of immortality. Thus death is not the enemy who puts an end to everything but the friend who takes us by the hand and leads us into the Kingdom of eternal love.”
Thus, our lives are in part a chance to grow into timelessness. While perspectives on the afterlife are simply speculation, our experience of the present is fact. I don’t think it really matters that our perception of time is speeding up and that the years are starting to fly by faster. What I do think matters is that we don’t let the present fly by. One year ago, I took a picture of the setting moon over the snowy Rockies. Right now, I’m sitting at Starbucks in Spokane writing and thinking about time. Sure a lot has changed over the past year, but the content of these moments is eternal. My new year’s resolution is to continue developing content rather than slides; to continue pursuing life regardless of time or place.