It was only recently that I fully cognized what a sunrise entailed. The sun’s fingers slipped through my window, dappling my wall with dim light. At their sight, I felt an odd sensation of sorrow. Were not these the same rays that had woken me every morning for what felt like centuries? My mind stretched back in a tangled reverie to the mornings composing my life thus far. Mornings that had ushered in grief and joy. Captive in this continuity of sunrises, a feeling of loss entangled me. I could no longer touch yesterday.
As I depart from another school year, I have been meditating on the nature of time. The critical moments I have experienced are now memories. Concerns, fears, and anticipations — fragments that felt real and eternal at one point in time — are now confined to the borders of my diary. I feel, at times, like Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. I feel filled with an inexplicable wish to remain seated in a place forever, as if my physical immobility could effectuate a change in my surroundings. I feel like locking myself in a room with a frozen clock. The movement of my life through time seems to outpace my desire to move.
But what exactly is time?
There are, in essence, two forms of time: Chronos and Kairos. Chronos time is the measurable, quantitative time that comes to mind when one first thinks of “time.” It is chronological, the breath of clocks and calendars, journal entries and birthdays. It consists of the human attempt to explain and contain time. Kairos time, on the other hand, is a form that cannot be calculated.
As Madeleine L’Engle describes it In Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art, kairos is “that time which breaks through chronos with a shock of joy, that time we do not recognize while we are experiencing it, but only afterwards, because kairos has nothing to do with chronological time. In kairos we are completely unselfconscious and yet paradoxically far more real than we can ever be when we are constantly checking our watches for chronological time.”
It is time suspended. An experience or a period divorced from an attention to the passing of minutes. We, as Madeleine L’Engle notes, often realize it only in retrospect. To understand and experience kairos time requires us to reflect and recall. As I write, I notice that my memories of kairos time are largely composed of walks I’ve taken. Moments when my heart slowed and my ears were tuned to beauty and to God. In the words of writer Leslie Verner, “If chronos is like a string stretched along the table, then kairos loops around, crosses, and intersects at unexpected junctures.” Kairos is time that cannot be predicted or planned but only inhabited. In its biblical sense, kairos refers to an “appointed time” through which God works to fulfill and redeem. It is used in Mark 1:15: “The kairos has come. The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news!” It is a moment of fullness, in the grandest sense of the word.
Yet, when I observe the world around and within me, I sense the permeation of chronos time. Of man riddled away with concerns of agendas, of age, of absence. While chronos time forces us to reckon with our mortality and can propel a search for meaning, it has also resulted in the mechanization of man. Of long nights and low wages. Of the focus on numbers and the indifference to bodies.
Fundamentally, the conflict of kairos and chronos time comprises our understanding of transience. Both forms of time are intertwined within the fibers of our being. Yet, while chronos time focuses on the efficacy of our physical bodies, kairos time focuses on our souls. R.S. Thomas, a Welsh poet, portrays kairos time poignantly.
The Bright Field R.S. Thomas I have seen the sun break through to illuminate a small field for a while, and gone my way and forgotten it. But that was the pearl of great price, the one field that had treasure in it. I realise now that I must give all that I have to possess it. Life is not hurrying on to a receding future, nor hankering after an imagined past. It is the turning aside like Moses to the miracle of the lit bush, to a brightness that seemed as transitory as your youth once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
For those who believe in souls, kairos is a space in which man experiences the eternity embedded within his being. It is a space inhabited by God. It can be a period of suffering, as it was for Leslie Verner’s friend during her cancer treatment, or it can be a moment of joy, hidden in the lilt of a song or a “bright field.” Regardless, it ushers in an ache that reminds us that we were not made for this world. I desire to “live in Kairos time.” To fear less the rising sun and passing days. To inhabit and live in the transience of my body, secure in the knowledge of the permanence of my soul.
SUMMER POETRY SERIES / CLUB ?
Hello, friends! I have a deep love for poetry, as some of you know. I have been contemplating the idea of focusing on poetry during the glorious month of June. This could take the form of blog posts centered on analyzing and discussing a poem each week in written form and/or the inclusion of a video of myself. Or, possibly, a weekly zoom call during the four weeks of June in which you (my readers) join me to discuss and analyze a poem. For those of you who would be interested in a small summer poetry club (via zoom), please take a moment to fill out this form.
The month’s theme would be centered on “transience” in its many manifestations. I have yet to confirm a list of poems but, for those who admire or are interested in T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” will likely be included.
As always, if you have thoughts or questions, please send me an email in reply or comment on my blog. I love to hear from you.