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I’ve been asking myself two major questions lately: Does anyone else think that the weeks and months and years seem to speed by really quickly? And since time moves so fast, what am I supposed to do with it while I’m on this planet?
As we age, of course, each day becomes a smaller and smaller percentage of our increasing number of days. Remember how long summer vacation felt when you were a child? Today, as adults, that same exact amount of time can seemingly pass in the wink of an eye. Scientists call this “the proportional theory,” explained here by psychologist William James:
…the apparent length of an interval at a given epoch of a man’s life is proportional to the total length of the life itself. A child of 10 feels a year as 1/10 of his whole life – a man of 50 as 1/50, the whole life meanwhile apparently preserving a constant length.
So how quickly does time really pass? Does reality actually accelerate as you age? This question made me want to look into the science of actually how fast the planet Earth, our only home, moves through space. According to a scientific article in Stardate: To begin with, Earth is rotating on its axis at the rate of a thousand miles an hour! In addition to this daily rotation, Earth orbits the Sun at an average speed of 67,000 mph, or 18.5 miles a second!
If that seems a bit sluggish, buckle your seatbelts, friends. The Sun, Earth, and the entire solar system also are in motion, orbiting the center of the Milky Way at a blazing 140 miles per second.
Even at this great speed, though, our planetary neighborhood still takes about 200 million years to make one complete orbit—a testament to the vast size of our home galaxy.
Dizzy yet? Well, hold on. The Milky Way galaxy itself moves through the vastness of intergalactic space, too. Our galaxy belongs to a cluster of nearby galaxies called the Local Group, and together we are easing toward the center of our cluster at a leisurely 25 miles a second.
If all this isn’t enough to make you feel you deserve an intergalactic speeding ticket, consider that we, along with our cousins in the Local Group, are hurtling at a truly astonishing 375 miles a second toward the Virgo Cluster, an enormous collection of galaxies some 45 million light-years away.
Now to that vitally important second question: since we can measure how fast things are really moving, what should we do with our rapidly-disappearing time on this fast-moving world?
The Baha’i teachings provide reasonable answers to this question, because the Baha’i Faith is firmly founded on the principle of the harmony of science and religion. But the Baha’i teachings also describe our “swiftly-passing days” as a spiritual test for every person—a time-limited examination of our inner character, with selflessness and service to others as the best possible outcome:
Soon will your swiftly-passing days be over, and the fame and riches, the comforts, the joys provided by this rubbish-heap, the world, will be gone without a trace. Summon ye, then, the people to God, and invite humanity to follow the example of the Company on high. Be ye loving fathers to the orphan, and a refuge to the helpless, and a treasury for the poor, and a cure for the ailing. Be ye the helpers of every victim of oppression, the patrons of the disadvantaged. Think ye at all times of rendering some service to every member of the human race. Pay ye no heed to aversion and rejection, to disdain, hostility, injustice: act ye in the opposite way. Be ye sincerely kind, not in appearance only. Let each one of God’s loved ones centre his attention on this: to be the Lord’s mercy to man; to be the Lord’s grace. Let him do some good to every person whose path he crosseth, and be of some benefit to him. Let him improve the character of each and all, and reorient the minds of men. In this way, the light of divine guidance will shine forth, and the blessings of God will cradle all mankind: for love is light, no matter in what abode it dwelleth; and hate is darkness, no matter where it may make its nest. O friends of God! That the hidden Mystery may stand revealed, and the secret essence of all things may be disclosed, strive ye to banish that darkness for ever and ever. – Abdu’l-Baha, Selections from the Writings of Abdu’l-Baha, p. 3.
These few brief days shall pass away, this present life shall vanish from our sight; the roses of this world shall be fresh and fair no more, the garden of this earth’s triumphs and delights shall droop and fade. The spring season of life shall turn into the autumn of death, the bright joy of palace halls give way to moonless dark within the tomb. And therefore is none of this worth loving at all, and to this the wise will not anchor his heart.
He who hath knowledge and power will rather seek out the glory of heaven, and spiritual distinction, and the life that dieth not. And such a one longeth to approach the sacred Threshold of God; for in the tavern of this swiftly-passing world the man of God will not lie drunken, nor will he even for a moment take his ease, nor stain himself with any fondness for this earthly life. – Ibid., p. 220.
Ahhhh… so much to do, and so little time!