This is the first, the wildest, and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness. — Mary Oliver
Time is a created thing. To say ‘I don’t have time,’ is like saying, ‘I don’t want to’. — Lao Tzu
I went to a restaurant that serves ‘breakfast at any time’. So I ordered French Toast during the Renaissance. — Steven Wright
When it comes to time, we typically don’t have enough of it. “Time is money,” goes the familiar saying. We measure it out in scheduled projects, deadlines, and appointments. We grow increasingly anxious as it slips from our grasp while stuck in traffic or waiting in lines. We feel angry and frustrated as we watch it robbed from us during a tiresome meeting or tedious conversation — “There’s 60 minutes of my life I’ll never get back!” A friend once told me she got so stuck in a one-way conversation that she could actually feel the earth rotating!
In a culture driven by novelty, commerce, and productivity, and measures of success in that reality, we’re not so good at keeping time. Rather time seems to have its hold on us.
But here’s the curious thing — it’s all an illusion according to Einstein. Time simply isn’t real. It’s more a social construct and cultural mindset than a physical reality (and yet, I’m no less hard-pressed to get this blog done before today’s deadline!) The question for me becomes, “How can I experience life as something other than time-constrained, stressful, distracted, or slipping away from me? How do we experience, as James Taylor puts it, ‘the secret of life to enjoying the passage of time?’”
Koheleth, the “teacher” in Ecclesiastes, writes, “There is a time for every season and every purpose under heaven. A time to a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to reap… a time to seek, and a time to find… “ It was years after seminary and preaching this text in churches that I finally came to realize, this teacher wasn’t talking about the busyness of our schedules or even the changing seasons of nature.
He (or she) was really reminding us that each moment is its own experience, inviting attention and awareness for what is needed in that moment. All moments are holy invitations to be about the work of shalom — to be about the practice of bringing life to life (the practice of justice, peace, delight, compassion).
Or as my Uncle Mac would tell me on hiking and fishing trips, “You always want to leave the space you enter better than you found it.”
To do this, I think, requires practicing “life as Kairos” more so than “life as Chronos”.
The ancient Greeks had two primary terms for time — Chronos and Kairos. Chronos is measured, sequential time, clock time, time quantified. Kairos, on the other hand, is the qualitative experience of our moments (literally — the right moment, an opportunity). Another way to think about the difference between Chronos and Kairos time is that the former involves a kind of mindlessness in our activities while the latter involves a greater effort of mindfulness.
Henry David Thoreau, that 19th century Harvard transcendental vagabond, wrote, “Time is but the stream I go fishin’ in”.
That quote actually came to mind as I drove into work this morning, coming off the interstate into downtown. In a line of cars racing over the Cherry Lane bridge, we approached a construction zone on the other side. A guy in an orange vest stood at the edge of a lane closure, simply holding an orange sign which read, “SLOW”. Cars raced right past him as I tapped my brakes to decelerate.
And as I slowed, I noticed a few things — it was a woman and not a man. And she had red hair beneath her hard white hat. She wasn’t checking the traffic at all but was standing there, very close to the open traffic lane, watching a couple of guys lay some rebar in a space where they’d soon pour concrete.
And I flashed back to a scene when I was 7 years old and hanging out with my grandfather very near the same spot, the Medical Arts Building (now Burnett Park). We left his office and sat down on a bus stop bench to watch a backhoe breaking up the road for some repair work. A city bus suddenly pulled up and blocked our view, catching us off guard as the driver, a woman with red hair, opened the door and shouted, with a smile, “Ya’ll getting on or not?” My grandfather laughed and said, “Oh, no thanks. We’re just waiting for nothing in particular.” And she laughed, and said, “Well, I hope you find it” and drove off blowing grey smoke out the back of the bus.
I slowed down just enough to catch the worker’s attention and wave! She turned to me and nodded with a smile. Maybe she thought some old guy was just flirting. Or maybe she knew what she was doing all along, just doing her part to bring a little mindfulness to the moment. Maybe it was both. Quantum theory suggests that we make our moments real by our perceptions. But they’re only real in that way to us. Makes me think I should be more mindful about how I want to experience my moments and more empathetic to how others experience theirs.
Koheleth later said of time, “It is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil.” Jesus put it this way in his Sermon on the Plain, “Why worry about all these things? But pay attention first to what God is doing in the world now.” Kairos is a way of seeing that they’re all God-moments, that everything is holy now.
Rev. Tom McDermott
Associate Pastor of eleven:eleven
This Sunday, in eleven:eleven, downtown, we’re looking at the 5th movement in our series “Eleven:Eleven in 5½ Movements” — the mindful practice of kairos. Join Rev Len Deloney, Brad Thompson and the band, myself, and others, along with the debut of a new music video, this Sunday at the Historic 512! Join us In-Person, or watch with us online (at fumcfw.org/1111-live or eleven:eleven, downtown on Facebook).