Whenever I enter a jewelry store, instinctively I migrate to the display case that contains watches. I gaze at the Bulova, Rolex, and others. In my mind’s eye, I imagine myself with one of these fine timepieces on my wrist.
When I emerge from this timepiece trance and wander down the street, I ask myself why I’m so fascinated with and attracted to a watch. In that instant, my mind goes back to one evening in a cosmology class when the question was posed: “What time is it in the universe?”
As we reflected on our different understandings of time, one person spoke up: “There is circular time. This notion of time marks the recurring seasons: spring, summer, autumn, and winter. There are also the dawn and dusk of each day.” The rhythms of time are celebrated by monastic communities who chant Matins in the morning, Vespers in the evening, and Compline at night.”
We recalled the words of Albert Einstein: “Time has no independent existence apart from the order of events by which we measure it.”
There is also the notion of deep time, which can be understood as developmental time. From this perspective, we reflect on the transformational moment of each chapter in the great story about which Thomas Berry spoke, back to the origin of time—that moment of the great flaring forth when time began.
As I gaze at the decades-old wristwatch on my wrist to see what time it is today, I wonder what deep time story it has to tell. It is perhaps the story of the great live oak standing stately in the field, which I pass by every morning. It is also the story of the original supernova event, 14 billion years ago, when out of nothingness, the elements emerged. Hydrogen and helium were cooked in the intense heat of the great flaring forth. The solar system came into being. In the planetary geological event, Earth was ushered into existence. This first chapter of the great universe story has been told by physicists and astronomers.
As the waters bathed planet Earth, life appeared. Then after a long generative time, beings with self-reflective consciousness rose up in Africa and walked upon the land. With the rise of consciousness came culture, language, story, the practice of fire building, and the formation of habitat. These chapters are explained to us by biologists, anthropologists, and others.
Ilia Delio says, “The embodied person that you are at this very moment—all the constituents that would eventually come together into the person that is you—was present at the Big Bang.”
Reflecting on this progression of time, we remember that we are all members of and scribes for its great genealogical story. It is the story of our sacred origins, a narrative of our unfolding in time, and a revelatory tale that holds glimpses of the future.
This great deep time story provides a perspective and a context for the discovery of where we are now. It is a profound reminder that we belong here, and that we’ve always belonged here. The birds in the air, the fish in the sea, and all who walked upon the Earth remind us that we are all cousin and kin.
It is in and through the universe story that it is possible to transcend the consumer-driven society in which we live today, and to become poets of each evolutionary moment who engage wholeheartedly in a joyful journey of destiny and purpose.
It is a thrilling realization that we are alive today, at that precise moment of collective destiny. As we celebrate the consciousness of a time developmental universe, we let go of any notion of a mechanistic, clockwork God. We sink instead into an awareness of the vast enveloping presence who calls us forward, with a profound realization that we were born into a time developmental universe.
With this awareness, we honor those who have come before. We become more deeply immersed in the unfolding of history that Thomas Berry referred to as “those overarching movements that give shape and meaning to life by relating the human venture to the larger destinies of the universe.” We experience the magnetic intuition that calls us forward to experience the mysterious qualities of the universe. And we take to heart the words of Barack Obama, who said, “Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time.”
As we look back in time, we seek explanations for the ecological devastation and cultural pathology we witness around us. One explanation is that we as a people have an inadequate understanding of time. Perhaps we have lost our organic sense of time.
Our world—and you and I within it—have abandoned the tradition notion of cyclical time and replaced it with mechanical time.
As a child, I recall how farmers’ lives were guided by the rhythms of nature. The farmers I visited as a child lived by the seasons. They knew when to plant, when to plow, and when to harvest. They would peer into the sky, feel the breeze on their face, and receive guidance for the next morning.
When I was a student working in a laboratory in Canada’s chemical valley, however, no longer did I see the rhythm of the seasons and of dawn and dusk guiding life. Our practices were guided by the clock; factories were operated by employees who worked on shifts: day (8–4), afternoons (4–12), and night (12–8). Such activity in industry and commerce has contributed immensely to the conditions that have diminished the quality of life.
One great lesson available to us today is to ask “What time is it in the universe?”
The response can be to contemplate the irreversible evolutionary developmental time whose path forward is at the threshold of each new emergent moment. That moment is not guided by the clock on the wall or watch on the wrist, but by our awareness of deep time. That time before time is simultaneously the instant when the galaxies were born, when life emerged on planet Earth, and when the universe gave birth to you and me. As we enter deep time, we become citizens of the universe and are called forth to leave our healing mark on the as-yet-to-be-realized future.