This is the twelfth and last day of the season we call Christmas. The Greeks had two different words to describe time: kronos time and kairos time. Kronos time is the passing of minutes, hours, days, months and years, what we might call ordinary, or sequential time. The word chronology is the word we use to describe kronos (ordinary) time. We live most of our time in kronos time. It just keeps on ticking, hour after hour, day after day. Henri Nouwen suggested this kronos time is opaque, like a window covered with mist through which our vision is blurred and cloudy.
Kairos is the word used by the ancient Greeks to describe special, extraordinary time—the right or opportune moment (season), when the window is no longer opaque, misty or cloudy, but becomes transparent and one can see clearly. I think the Advent and Christmas seasons are kairos seasons, when time becomes transparent and the reality of God—and the world beyond breaks through. The holy, the numinous, the spiritual, the mysterious is present and everything is different. We are touched to our depths. We experience the extraordinary. Another dimension is present—a world vastly different from the one we know.
|Sunset on the Nile--2010|
The reason we keep retelling the story of the life of Jesus (and the episodes in the Old Testament as well) is because these are accounts of kairos time. Jesus was so deeply in touch with the One he called “Father,” that God was always breaking in, always speaking to him, always doing something through him. So kairos is a time of special breakthrough, when the ineffable breaks in. There are no adequate images to describe this real world, which is beyond this world. We think of that beyond world as ephemeral, transitory, a momentary thing. There may be such a beyond world, we say, but it is impossible for that world (where Love is at the heart of all things, where love, forgiveness, healing, and compassion abound) to work here in kronos time, in this real world in which we live. “My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus tells Pilate. “Be of good cheer, “ he tells his disciples, “I have overcome the world.” The real world has broken in and continues to break in. Kairos moments will multiply and abound, the mist that obscures reality will clear, the window will become transparent. We are meant to live in kairos time, in that real world beyond, and we are to do that living in this one!