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, I don't know, oh
And I said, yes I said
Does anybody really know what time it is
Does anybody really care
If so I can't imagine why
We've all got time enough to die
When it comes to time we usually think about clocks and calendars, birthdays and deadlines. All these tools help us to measure chronos - the Greek word for linear time.
Kairos is a second word to describe time. Think about when you read a great book, or get caught up in a wonderful move, or spend an hour in conversation with a best friend. When you come out of such an experience you recognize that you have no idea how long it lasted. These experiences show us that not every second holds the same worth.
When Jesus proclaims “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news,” he uses the word kairos. Similarly when Paul preaches, “Repent therefore, and turn to God so that your sins may be wiped out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord, “he is speaking about kairos.
The word kairos is also used here: “Besides this, you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers; the night is far gone, the day is near.”
This is the experience of God’s time and it is not confined or linear like chronos. When we enter into kairos past, present and future collapse into one eternal moment. Thus the Bible proclaims that we don’t need to wait until we die to enter into heaven, to know an abundant life of shalom. We can know it here and now.
The very best worship services usher those in the sanctuary into a time of kairos. When we proclaim the mystery of faith, “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again,” we are describing the kairos moment of being in Christ’s eternal presence.
Kairos is the time of the circle, where we have no regrets about the past for Christ has redeemed the past, and no fear of the future because Christ is there making all well. We can relax and be truly present to our merciful, gracious, loving God who is really present with us. Emmanuel.
Madeline L’Engle wrote,
Kairos. Real time. God’s time. 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 that we can ever be when we are constantly checking our watches for chronological time. The saint in contemplation, lost to self in the mind of God is in kairos. The artist at work is in kairos. The child at play, totally thrown outside himself in the game, be it building a sand castle or making a daisy chain, is in kairos. In kairos we become what we are called to be as human beings, co-creators with God, touching on the wonder of creation. This calling should not be limited to artists - or saints. - from Walking on Water
Another way of translating kairos is “eternity.” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel writes that Sabbath and eternity are one. “The idea that a seventh part of our lives may be experienced as paradise is a scandal to the pagans and a revelation to [us].” There was a time when Protestants attempted to follow laws about keeping the Sabbath on Sunday. The day was set aside to be in God’s presence through worship, reading of scripture, meals with family and friends and holy conversation. It is a day of no work was set apart by God to be, to look, and listen, to breathe, to walk through the woods or gaze at the stars. It is a day to delight in creation, to play like a little child, to love and be loved. These are kairos moments - heaven breaking into our world.
The method of Methodism was designed to usher people into God’s eternal presence, to foster their Christian experience of God’s grace and mercy now. Early Methodists gathering for worship at quarterly conferences and at camp meetings saw themselves as living in the kingdom of heaven on earth here and now - God’s answer to the Lord’s Prayer.
Have you experienced kairos time? How did it impact you?
Knowing that kairos experiences belong to life a life of shalom what might you change in your life to receive this means of God’s grace more often?
Sarah Mount Elewononi is an ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church. A member of the New England Annual Conference for over 20 years, Sarah now resides with her family in greater Pittsburgh. Sarah completed the requirements for her doctorate from Boston University on Christmas Eve 2014. She worked with Dr. Karen Westerfield Tucker and Dr. Nancy Ammerman to better understand worship and change - both how repeated acts of worship change us, and how and why worship changes whether we want it too or not, and why we can be resistant to that change. Her dissertation was focused on Methodist worship at New England camp meetings in the 19th Century. Sarah is a member of the North American Academy of Liturgy, the Order of St. Luke and the Girl Scouts. Currently she leads her daughters' Girl Scout troop and serves as a substitute teacher. She also teaches a variety of United Methodist Course of Study offerings in worship, theology and Biblical studies.