The Enigma of Time

'With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day'



The 13th-century invention of the mechanical clock dramatically changed the pace of civilization. “There are few greater revolutions in human experience,” historian Daniel Boorstin writes, “than this movement from the seasonal or ‘temporary’ hour to the equal hour. Here was man’s declaration of independence from the sun, a new proof of his mastery over himself and his surroundings.”

By the end of the 14th century, mechanical clocks rang from the cathedrals of France, regulating men in their urban affairs. Monasteries enjoyed more accuracy in marking the liturgical hours, and the growing merchant classes in the cities enjoyed more precision in managing production and on-time delivery.

By 1855, Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) kept British trains running on schedule and became the global reference.

We now use a Smartwatch to mark time and to report our heartbeat, count the steps we take, and to learn our location.

Time pretends to offer us much more than it takes away. But life’s stressful pace can quickly rob us of our grace and youth. If we fail to pay our rent, mortgage, or taxes on time, it ruthlessly punishes us. Its clockwork gears spin the treadmills that run us to exhaustion.

Alice in Through the Looking Glass asks, “How is it we run faster and faster but we seem to be going nowhere?” The Queen responds, “If you want to get somewhere else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

We are all too obsessed with keeping on time and running our daily routine faster and faster, never seeming to make any progress in our game.

“Time is relative,” Einstein said, by which he meant that the hour here is not the same everywhere. Time is relative but the speed of light is absolute. An astronaut flying at close to the speed of light would not age much at all, and his personal time would slow and nearly stop. However, he’d seem to be aging at the normal rate to observers on the ground, while in his perspective we would be rapidly aging. Einstein rejected the distinction between past, present, and future.

Here’s what a Doctor of the Church, St. Augustine, wrote about the fleeting nature of Time: “How can the past and future be, when the past no longer is, and the future is not yet? …What is Time then? If nobody asks me, I know; but if I were desirous to explain it to one that should ask me, plainly I do not know” (cf. Confessions, Book XI). He admitted his difficulty exploring the nature of the past, present, and future.

An old monk once told me his silent contemplations had reconfigured the now and here, and the nowhere and everywhere, freeing him from the shackles of time and space. His focused mind seemed to stop Time, as if his illumined soul were traveling at the speed of light. Hours seemed minutes; a day, a thousand years — a foretaste of eternal life, as Christ promised.

With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day (2 Peter 3:8).


Richard M. DellOrfano spent ten years on a cross-country pilgrimage following Christ’s instruction to minister without possessions. He is completing his autobiography: Path Perilous, My Search for God and the Miraculous.

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