Monday, December 2, 2013

Kairos Time

Every summer in my late teens and early twenties I went with friends to see concerts at an outdoor venue called Blossom Music Center in Ohio.  Must-see acts each year included James Taylor and Jimmy Buffett and I never missed seeing the group Chicago either.  Perhaps you recognize these lyrics to one of their songs:

As I was walking down the street one day
A man came up to me and asked me what
The time was that was on my watch... and I said

Does anybody really know what time it is?
Does anybody really care?

Alright, I admit the music makes the song more than the lyrics, but these words kept coming back to me as I pondered today’s readings.  Each lesson in its own way invites us to think about time.  In one way or another each asks to if we know what time it is. 

We began this morning’s liturgy with these words: “Advent is the time for the human heart to wait, while trusting in God’s eternal time.”  And you responded with the biblical cry, “How long, O Lord, how long?”  “Give us grace to cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light,” we prayed through the collect of the day.  When do we do this?  Now in the time of this mortal life.”  “In the days to come.” we read from the prophet Isaiah, “the Lord’s house will be established.”  It is a promise that both is here and is yet to come.  In this sense it is an ‘Advent promise.’  Paul wrote to the Christian church in Rome, “You know what time it is, how now is the moment for you to wake from your sleep.”  And finally we heard the words of our Lord speaking about his imminent return: “About that day and hour no one knows… only the Father in heaven… So you must be ready for the Son of Man will come at an unexpected hour.”

In New Testament Greek there are two different words for time.  Kronos (from which we get words like chronology) is used to describe sequential time like that represented by a clock.  Kairos refers more to the quality or nature of a moment, like when we say it is time to act.  Many mark the season of Advent with kronos time by counting down the days to Christmas, but today’s readings invite us to think of these four weeks more as kairos time.

Kairos time is like when a golfer stands at the tee and measures the wind speed and direction by tossing a few blades of grass into the air.  The golfer is trying to determine what club to use, how to adjust the swing, and when just the right moment will present itself to attempt the shot.  Kairos time is like when you are playing a video game that requires multiple things to come into just the right alignment so that you can scoot your frog across the road without having it get run over.  Kairos time is like the moment when a parent holding on to a child’s two-wheel bicycle senses that the moment is right to let go for the first time. 

Kairos time signifies an opportune moment, perhaps even a moment that will never come again.  Listen to Mary Oliver’s poem about the fall titled Last Days and tell me what you think it says about both kronos and kairos time:

Things are
  changing; things are starting to
    spin, snap, fly off into
      the blue sleeve of the long
        afternoon.  Oh and ooh
come whistling out of the perished mouth
  of the grass as, things
turn soft, boil back
  into substance and hue.  As everything,
    forgetting its own enchantment, whispers:
      I too love oblivion why not it is full
        of second chances.  Now,
hiss the bright curls of the leaves.  Now!
  booms the muscle of the wind.

“Why not is full of second chances.”  Kronos time suggests that we can always go to the park tomorrow to take that walk or we can always pick up the phone another day to call that friend.  But kairos time suggests not.  Moments come and moments go and some moments will never present themselves a second time.

Ian Markham, the Dean of Virginia Theological Seminary, in an e-mail this week to alumni, quoted Thomas Merton who said, “The Advent mystery is the beginning of the end of all in us that is not yet Christ.”  That is kairos thinking, isn’t it – to recognize how in this moment God is working in you to do away with something that is not of your high calling as a child of God.  What a shame it would be if, rather than watching for that moment, Advent yielded to kronos time and become little more than a hectic hassle to have everything ready and just right for Christmas.

Do you know what the kairos time might be in your life this Advent?  Maybe it is time to let go of a grudge.  Perhaps it is time to sit down with someone who can help you work through your cares and concerns.  Maybe it is time to have a fiscally responsible Christmas.  Perhaps you have been stuck and now is the time to get moving forward.  Maybe the time is right to say I’m sorry.  Could it be the right time to start a particular healthy and life-giving discipline?  Might it be time to let go of a destructive practice or habit?  Perhaps this is the moment to slow down and pay attention to something small and seemingly inconsequential.   What might the kairos moment be for you this Advent?

Last week in the cycle of Holy Women, Holy Men, the church remembered James Huntington who founded the Order of the Holy Cross.  It began as a monastic community in the early 1880’s ministering to immigrants on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.  And although it moved several times, Huntington’s commitment was always to a life marked by prayer, the sacraments, and social service.  In the community’s rule, which he wrote, Huntington stated, “Holiness is the brightness of divine love, and love is never idle; it must accomplish great things.”

That statement, I think, would be wonderful to carry throughout this Advent season.  The brightness of divine love in you is never idle.  It works to accomplish great things.  Why not set aside your kronos To-Do list – you know, all those things that have to be done between now and the 25th – and make a kairos list.  It might have very little written on it.  It may be as short as write a letter to your sister or figure out how to volunteer at an animal shelter.  Whatever is on your list, at the top it should read, “Allow the power of divine love to accomplish great things in and through me.”

Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel reading have been taken out of context by the rapture theologians and misinterpreted to mean that Jesus is going to take some away and leave behind all the bad people.  However, in the context of the lesson, those who are taken away are the ones who have not been asleep.  The person left in the field and the woman who remains at the grinding wheel are the ones who failed to stay awake.  The two who remained awake perceived what was happening, remained conscious through the mind-numbing hum of the humdrum, and kept hold of God and life.  We might say that they understood the kairos nature of time while the two who were left behind lived only in kronos.  Their narrow focus on time as a valuable commodity meant that they missed something important.  They missed a kairos opportunity that presented itself only once. 

Listen to how that song by Chicago ends:

And I was walking down the street one day
Being pushed and shoved by people trying to
Beat the clock, oh, no I just don’t know
I don’t know, and I said, yes I said,

Does anybody really know what time it is?
Does anybody really care?

We begin this brief season of Advent by hearing the words of Paul, “You know what time it is, how it is time to wake up.”