The Hidden Life of Time / Joshua Alan Sturgill
Today, the weather is cold and homogeneous.
A heavy woolen cloud blankets the entire sky.
So, since Space seems dim and sleepy, I’m thinking about Time:
It occurs to me that the human relationship to time is very dynamic, much more rich and poetic than the contemporary notion of time as “endless unidirectional duration.” There are three ways we relate to time, which on one hand reveal something about the various cultures we live in, and on the other, are on aspects of time itself.
The first way of relating to time we could call “digestive.” From this perspective, time moves forward, from a definite beginning to a definite end; all points/times between the beginning and the end are unique and unrepeatable. This is straight-line, impersonal time. This is modern European, Protestant, Secular time.
Secondly, we might say that Traditional cultures have a “respiratory” concept of time. Time has cycles, a movement in the out, up then down. Religious man has this concept of time—whether the Hindu Yugas, or the Christian Incarnation. For Hindus cosmology, time is a series of cycles within cycles. For the Christian, there is one great cycle: all time leads to and from the Cross. The Cross is the “center” of time—where time and space are most in balance. Day/Night… Yang/Yin… Inhale/Exhale…this is time as experienced less by the body, and more by the soul.
These two are the most common, most considered kinds of time. But it seems to me there is a third kind of time, one that is much closer to Eternity, and we might call this “circulatory” time. This kind of time is (unfortunately) relegated to the category of the mystical. But I think it should be considered the truly Christian, fully human time, because this is time in which all things are present. In a sense, it is time from before the Flood. Like blood moves through the whole organism, more or less quickly, with more or less pressure, circulatory time is qualitative.
Most of us are bound to digestive time, though our religious and cultural traditions may still refer to respiratory time. Our unquestioned immersion in digestive time is what allows us to, for example, live by clock and calendar rather than by daylight and seasons. We still have the terms ante- and post-meridian (a.m./p.m.), but few of us know what these terms mean. Even many Christians and others who would consider themselves spiritual or traditional don’t live their faith within a genuinely spiritual understanding of time. Few Protestants are even aware that there is a Church Year.
Ideally, we should be in touch with all three kinds of time, but preeminently, we should live in circulatory time. From what we see or know of the lives of the Saints and Sages, it is often said that they were able to read people’s thoughts, to know the future or to travel great distances instantly. Isn’t this due to their living in circulatory time?
The three kinds/experiences of time are not mutually exclusive. The respiratory contains the digestive, etc. And we can never really have one kind without something of the others. For instance, though it experiments as if things start and end, modern science has to propose both a ‘big bang’ and a ‘big crunch’—leading to another ‘big bang’—a kind of respiration. And though the Traditional Christians and others wisely repeat the Feasts and Fasts of a sacred calendar (respiration), we are encouraged to experience (and do experience) “timeless” moments of light and peace which are unexplained and unexpected (circulation).
I wonder to what extent we choose the kind of time in which we will live? And, if not choosing, are we simply carried along by the prevailing notion of time in the society around us? How would we choose to increase the experience of circulatory time? Is this why the emphasis on meditation, spiritual discipline, yoga, mysticism—is so urgent?
Of course, I think poetry has an important part to play. Poetry is the language of the higher kinds of time. Poetry takes the inexpressible experience of circulatory time and communicates it in respiratory language. A re-cognition of time has to be done in steps. First, we should try to think deliberately and cogently about digestive time—time as we have been living it in the modern world. Second, we should participate more deeply in respiratory time: Sacred Calendars, attention to seasons and landscapes, etc. Thirdly, we should pay attention to poetry. Ancient insights, theologies and instructions were often given poetically. In the Orthodox Christian tradition, only poetry is considered adequate for expressing Revelation. The Gospels, which are narrative, all have an underlying poetic structure.
Finally, I have to say that I believe we encounter circulatory time by humbly requesting it. Something about circulatory time defies description and possession. It is more a relationship than a rational exercise; it is the time of Personhood. We cannot comprehend it; we must apprehended by it.