As a finite, mortal being, I've always been fascinated by Time and awed by the ungraspable incomprehensible nature of Infinity/Eternity. Having a visual imagination - together with a metaphorical method of thinking - can also be a bit of a handicap for grasping abstract and infinite concepts. For example, whenever I try to imagine our Universe, it comes to mind as a large black walled room. What's outside the room? Possibly another room. My brain doesn't seem to go any further.
Ordinary mediaeval people may not have bothered much about Time (or the ungraspable nature of Infinity) in quite the same way as we do. After all it was God's job to know and ponder those things. And perhaps it was also something to do with still having close connections with an existence which depended on, was structured by and ruled by seasonal change. Bad harvests resulted in real starvation. And still do. Human life was and is short and Death Eternal but Faith gives you a get-out of jail free card. You could get on with your finite little life without worrying your pretty little head about Eternity because God the omnipotent Patriarch would do that for you. Having Faith meant accepting a lot of stuff (including not knowing much about anything) and not minding too much about it. Look what happened to Lucifer after all... So most people chose Faith and - perhaps - didn't think much about anything. In any case, Thinking might get you a visit from the Inquisition.
Visiting Chichester made me very aware of the relationship of Faith to our concept of Time. . Most European Cathedrals - being manifestations in stone of the Eternal - took generations to build. People lived and died working on them. Chichester took about 32 years. - possibly a bit of a 'rush job' by Normans keen to acquire and demonstrate divine validation of their violent occupation of someone else's country. Yet 900 years later the no-nonsense rounded arches still support the weight of Faith and a beautiful 12th century stone Lazarus is still caught and frozen in the act of being raised - the story itself a metaphor for eternal life. Moreover, the edifice of Faith made manifest through Art is inhabited by an ongoing spiritual life which welcomes and calls the visitor each hour to the peace of simple prayer and silent thought.
In this more secular age (in the West anyway) we've mostly lost the Faith which allowed us to accept Space and Time, Eternity and Infinity, without trying to comprehend. Astronomers like Newton, living in an Age of Faith, proposed predictable Universes of motion - much like the workings of clocks and other machines with cogs and levers, But modern physics, in the midst of a violent and faithless 20th century, has curved and bent Time in ways which disturb us to the core.
Time in fact has been bent into something which might well spring back and kick us in the backside - or slap us in the face - depending where you think Time is coming from...
Alice in Wonderland subverts and ridicules the social structures and conventions of its day. Written by a writer who (being simultaneously Reverend and Mathematician) somehow combined Faith with the logic and illogic of abstract Science, it gives us views of Time which are 'eccentric' i.e. outside the mechanised circles of predictability and rules. To the White Rabbit who is late, Time - or rather our human imposition of the measurement of Time - is an enemy. At the Mad Hatter's House all the characters are trapped in Forever Tea-time. Alice tentatively speaks of 'beating time' i.e. adhering like the White Rabbit to the small imposed rules - the human measurement of Time and is admonished for it.
'Ah that accounts for it,' said the Hatter, 'he won't stand beating. Now if you only kept on good terms with him he'd do anything you liked with the clock.'
Alice begins to comprehend the possibly curved and unmeasurable nature of Time with the device of the table full of tea things but when she asks 'But what happens when you come to the beginning again?' the March Hare quickly changes the subject. Thus Time is seen to be something imponderable with it's own laws - an entity larger than our own consciousness - which we attempt to control at our peril.
From Shakespeare's 'bank and shoal' of Time, to Wells' Time Machine to films like Sliding Doors and Benjamin Button to novels like Audrey Niffenegger's The Time Traveller's Wife and Martin Amis' Time's Arrow we wonder whether Time is the straight flowing river we imagined it to be. It rushes when you are happy and it meanders when you are at the dentist having a tooth filled but does it have whirlpools and currents, oxbow lakes 'and rocks on which we can become snagged?
There 's an episode of Star Trek Voyager in which the crew get transported back in time to Earth (which is as usual a bit like down town Burbank) in the 20th Century. Their task is to prevent a ruthless billionaire inventor from using a Time Machine to get richer by bringing back secrets from the future. It's very American in a Gatesian-HowardHughesian sort of way... And there's a metaphor there, in that the plunderiing of raw materials of ideas and inventions from the unknown and uncharted future will result in the ripping apart of the fabric of the Universe. The episode has poignancy owing to the fact that the Voyager crew must in the end return to their own Time reality - a reality in which they have been sucked against their will through a wormhole and stranded thousands of lightyears from home.
In a similar way I too have been sucked through a wormhole and stranded on my alien planet. And during that brief visit to Chichester - like the Voyager Crew - I've also had the brief opportunity to visit a place a bit like home and have then had to return to this reality.