17 November 2022

Squeezed for time

The protostar within the dark cloud L1527. Estimate of its age: practically a newborn, only 100,000 years old. Image from NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope; source.

Our entrance: where the two buildings meet,
it's the right-hand doorway in the corner.
After a long day of teaching, the final stage of my walk home from our college in Elektrostal' sometimes seemed the longest, even though it was just the distance between the entrance to our courtyard and our building's front door. In the winter, the courtyard's layout seemed to form an icy-cold wind tunnel, and I would have to urge myself forward step by step, propelled by the promise of the warm kitchen awaiting me.

I often enjoyed playing a time trick on myself. Maybe you've tried similar experiments. As I began that last stretch, I would imagine that at that very moment I was already in the kitchen, flexing my cold fingers back and forth and preparing the teakettle. The sensation was so vivid that the time it would still take me to lumber across the courtyard simply vanished.

Last week Judy and I went to St Olave's Church on Hart Street, about fifteen minutes' walk from where we're staying, to attend one of their lunch hour recitals. The first thing that startled me about the church was seeing a Norwegian flag displayed in the sanctuary. Since I don't usually approve of national flags in worship spaces, I was surprised and a bit embarrassed at my own reaction -- feeling oddly moved.

(Full disclosure: I was born in Norway.)

There was an explanation for the flag, of course -- the church reflects a thousand-year-old tradition of venerating Norway's patron saint, who had in his career apparently fought for the English king against the Danes, and who later seemed to have gained credit, however controversial, for Christianizing Norway.

Whatever the real story behind St Olave's reputation, a wooden church in his honor was built in this location in 1060, just a generation after his death. Two reconstructions later, the stone version of 1450 survived the Great Fire of 1666 but was nearly destroyed, almost all but the crypt, by German bombs in World War II.

The church's connection with Norway was reinforced by that war. King Haakon VII sometimes worshipped with this parish during his exile in London. He returned in 1951 to lay a commemorative stone at the start of the building's restoration, and again in 1954 to attend the rededication service.

I came to the church not knowing all this history. Sitting there, I had another odd experience of time. Maybe, again, you've had similar experiences. So many of the furnishings and commemorative tablets seemed linked to the passage of centuries -- but I was brought up short by the stained glass window above the altar. It was dated 1953. That was the year I was born. Either the window is not ancient, or I am.

The commemorative stone in front of me as I sat among the recital audience was just two years older than the window. But for the passage of 72 years -- an eye-blink, really -- I could have reached out and touched the king during the stone-laying event.

Speaking of eye-blinks, I was impressed by yesterday's publication of a photo taken by NASA's James Webb Space Telescope. It shows a protostar, a future star whose fusion engine has not yet ignited.

Apparently this protostar is just 100,000 years old. That is, after 100,000 years it's still in the "earliest stage of star formation." No sense in rushing things. After all, the universe itself is 13.8 billion years old, we're told. It's interesting to contemplate such a short span of time in cosmic terms; when the foundations were laid for that protostar (disregarding for a moment the time it took for the light of this image to reach us), humans were already around on our planet and may have just started using language.

Einstein's special relativity theory says that, in plotting coordinates of time and space, all observers' viewpoints are equally valid. He didn't explicitly insert God as an observer in his theory, but God's omnipresence throughout the universe leads me to assume that God doesn't (so to speak) experience time as a progression. God truly encompasses the beginning and end of everything. As God's beloved creatures, we may feel insignificant and overwhelmed by our tiny share of space-time, but we already have a share in eternity.

Why drag God into it? For me, God is the most obvious answer to the mystery of the universe's origins that lie beyond the ability of science to answer, but God is also the most obvious answer for why there was an origin. More than that: if everything that exists now will eventually dissipate into a cosmic deep freeze somewhere beyond 10100 years from now, it might be reasonable to ask why we should care about our own share of creation here and now, in the face of (a) unsustainable global warming, and (b) the persistence of human cruelty and preventable suffering. There is a biblical equation as basic as any in science: God is love. To have a share in God's eternity is to have a share in God's love of creation. The passage of time, as we experience it, isn't just because we don't have the advantage of a god-like view of creation. Time is granted to us to learn the ways of love.

...Between the relinquished past and the untrodden future stands this holy Now, whose bulk has swelled to cosmic size, for within the Now is the dwelling place of God himself. In the Now we are home at last. The fretful winds of time are stilled, the nostalgic longings of this heaven born earth-traveler come to rest. For the one-dimensional ribbon of time has loosed its hold. It has by no means disappeared. We live within time, within the one-dimensional ribbon. But every time-now is found to be a continuance of an Eternal Now, and in the Eternal Now receives a new evaluation. We have not merely rediscovered time; we have found in this holy immediacy of the Now the root and source of time itself. For it is the Eternal who is the mother of our holy Now, nay, is our Now, and time is, as Plato said, merely its moving image…

[Thomas R. Kelly, "The Eternal Now and Social Concern" in A Testament of Devotion (1941).]

Speaking of time, Luke Harding remembers a very specific moment, a February night in Kyiv: the night everything changed

Tamuna Chkareuli takes a night train across war-torn Ukraine.

Mimi Marstaller contemplates why we size up and categorize those who deliver difficult messages before they even speak. Her example: Mark O'Brien, Breathing Lessons.

Greg Morgan: A Chaplain's Prayer.

Becky Ankeny continues her series on Jesus and his Bible: Had God really forsaken Jesus?

Jason Ricci and Lurrie Bell, "Help Me," a song associated with Sonny Boy Williamson II.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nailed it! Johan, this rocks…