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Only forward

Time and the human spirit.
By Galen Guengerich
Winter 2006 11.1.06

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At the opening of each new season, I often pause to ponder how our movement through time as human beings imitates the motion of the Earth, which moves through space in three distinctly different ways. The Earth turns on its axis about once every twenty-four hours, and the daily rising and setting of the Sun upon our horizon establishes an elemental rhythm of waking, eating, working, and sleeping. The Earth also orbits the Sun once every 365 and a quarter days, the tilt of its axis occasioning our journey through the four seasons. And we catalogue in years the milestones in our lives: birth, childhood, adolescence, graduation, adulthood and a vocation, sometimes marriage or union, perhaps parenthood, eventually retirement, and inevitably death.

There is yet a third way the Earth moves through time and space. For fifteen billion years, the universe as we understand it has been expanding. As far as we know, the universe will continue to expand for perhaps 100 trillion years into the future, slowly cooling as it does. There is no cycle to this movement, no daily rotation or seasonal repetition. In the cosmic sense, the Earth’s journey is a singular one; it will not pass this way again.

The same is true of our lives as human beings. Our journey too is a singular one; we will not pass this way again. Time moves only forward. This realization is an invitation to respond with a sense both of awe and of duty—the twin sources of the religious impulse.

This article first appeared in the September 2006 All Souls Bulletin of All Souls Unitarian Church in New York City.

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