This month, my 5-week preemie turns 30. I am blown away. When I concentrate on solely that one life, I am filled with memories, like a kaleidoscope of short films. My pregnancy was a difficult one and I was hospitalized for most of it. Once the doctor sent me home, still on bed rest, I waited. It didn’t take long; just 5 days and my water broke. My husband was so funny, prepping in that new-father sort of way. He laid large, black, yard-sized trash bags on the seat of our car, with a towel on top of that – just in case. Our drive was uneventful, but about 30 minutes in traffic, with me sitting on plastic trash bags! When I arrived at the OB’s office, they tested me and said that yes, my water had broken and to walk down to labor and delivery. I took a few steps outside the office door and grabbed onto the railing and went to the floor – my first real contraction! After he was born, I shared with my husband how tired I was. I asked him the time and he said, “It’s 4:30.” I replied, “Wow! 4:30 in the morning! No wonder I am so tired.” He corrected me, “It’s only 4:30 in the afternoon – you were only in labor 4 hours!” Ha-Ha. Felt like forever; I was taken, for 4 hours, out of time; I had experienced kairos. And so began our life as a family, 30 years ago. I just cannot believe that little boy is now a married dad himself. So much has happened. But every so often, time stands still and we are given moments of insight and memory. This morning, when I gazed at the foggy trees in our yard, I was swept back in time to a precious moment with my newborn son, and it seemed like I was there. I could smell him and feel the weight of him in my arms. And my heart was swollen with renewed love for him.
I was thinking on this today and was brought up short when it hit me – this is exactly how Church is sometimes. Chronos versus Kairos! Our firstborn seemed to love being in Church. He would pay attention and was quiet when we needed him to be. Our middle son was so funny as a baby/toddler, because the moment we would enter the Church, he would get drowsy. He always slept on the pew, through the entire Mass. I was worried he would never participate in the Mass, that he would not know what was happening. One early morning on the freeway traveling to Church, he started saying the entire Eucharistic Prayer I, in Latin, from the back row of the van. He was about 4 years old, I think. I guess I was worried for nothing! Our youngest regularly slept on the floor under the first row in Church, while I sat in the second row with the other deacon’s wives. He would awaken in time for the end of Liturgy, happy as a clam. I was worried he had no concept of being in Church, but when he began serving on the altar, he required very little instruction. He’d been mystically as present as his older siblings, absorbing the things of God, even in sleep.
The Church offers us “other” when we attend Divine Liturgy. An opportunity to leave chronos behind – the worries and pressures of our lives, our day, our hours. We enter fully into kairos – the moment, the perfect experience of God. The ancient Greeks gave us these words for time – chronos and kairos. We still use chronos, when we measure the passage of time, in words like chronology, anachronism – when we do we speak in seconds, minutes, hours, years, centuries. Chronos is quantitative, whereas kairos is qualitative. Kairos is something apart from chronos. It specifically speaks to moments; to the perfect moment, the right moment, the opportune moment. It is when the world stops and takes a breath and life is changed. Forever. As I mentioned in my post yesterday, in Ecclesiastes, “to everything there is a time” and kairos is this moment in time; it refers to the perfect moment of God. In Church, we are transported into the moment of worship with our Supreme Being, surrounded by the Heavenly Hosts. This is from the Anaphora of the Eucharistic Canon:
“For all these things we give thanks to Thee, and to Thine only-begotten Son and to Thy Holy Spirit; for all things of which we know and of which we know not, whether manifest or unseen; and we thank Thee for this liturgy which Thou hast found worthy to accept at our hands, though there stand by Thee thousands of archangels and hosts of angels, the Cherubim and the Seraphim, six-winged, many eyed, who soar aloft, borne on their pinions, singing the triumphant hymn, shouting, proclaiming and saying:
Holy! Holy! Holy! Lord of Sabaoth! Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory! Hosanna in the highest! Blessed is he that comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!”
I love that our Liturgy reflects the action of the angels and that while we enter into the sanctuary that is Church and the Divine Liturgy, the angels are surrounding us, constantly singing to Our Lord, in Divine Worship. And I love to lose myself in Liturgy. I’ve had people experience a Divine Liturgy for the first time and one of their reactions is usually to the length of the service. (And the singing and the incense…) And for me, it passes in a moment. As the mother of young children, it can take much longer. Getting children to experience kairos only happens when we expose them to it on a regular basis. It’s hard to expect infants, let alone adults who have never been to a Divine Liturgy, to not have questions or get antsy because of the foreignness of it all. Babies are just short adults; we need to be present to their senses in how we share our worship. It can be confusing for all of us and we ought to encourage the experience of kairos for others. So many adults are annoyed by the noises and wiggles of infants in Church. Personally, I rejoice with the angels, because those children are our future.
There is a beauty to experiencing kairos. Chronos ages us. Chronos makes us tired. Chronos gave me gray hair! In mythology, Chronos was always depicted as evil, or as Father TIme and an old, decrepit man walking with a cane, barely escaping the Grim Reaper. Kairos is always young, handsome, and full of love and happiness. Kairos brings joy to people. Kairos lives in the perfect moment. Our souls soar in kairos, when we give ourselves over to the experience of God in His Liturgy. And God gives us glimpses of those perfect moments, moments of kairos, throughout our lives. It is just hard to recognize them sometimes. As I typed this, I remembered the first time I felt my firstborn son move in my womb. I recall placing my hand over him and reveling in the gift of life. I cried with an overwhelming sense of gratitude, that I was allowed this divine gift of life. And that moment was a kairos moment. Time, as chronos, stopped for me, as I felt my child wiggle in my womb.
So I pray for more perfect moments in my life. I pray that I can stop, be still, and experience more perfect, sublime moments. God moments. Time loses its hold when we step into karios and live with God. The angels are singing, miracles are happening, and life will never be the same. The world holds its breath in kairos. Eternity is glimpsed. The miracles all around us are a part of the complete experience of God. We can find those kairos moments, and we want to treasure them. God gives us kairos to raise us up, for those perfect moments, moments we forget time itself and live fully in that golden moment.
Trust me, moments come and moments go. Some are hard to get past and cause us intense misery. Those are the moments when we live in chronos, hoping beyond hope that they are over and done with. With a moment of kairos, we are transported outside of our own timeline and we come truly alive – for the sole moment. I related in a previous post how I cried at the Phantom of the Opera – that is a kairos moment. I completely let the angst of the traffic, of feeling harried, fall away in that moment of bliss. That moment of bliss erased all the other chronos I’d spent getting there. Those are golden moments. Golden moments that are not repeatable, nor should they want to be. We relish them because of their uniqueness. Spending time, outside of chronos, in the presence of God, refreshes us and quite often brings us to our knees. We are separate, we are apart. We are alone, and yet with the choirs of angels, worshipping God.
When I look at my dirty laundry, I long for those moments of kairos. And yet I know that if I dedicate myself to the task at hand, even washing clothes can be golden moments, if we use them to pray and offer our labor for the good of those who need it. And I can often lose myself in menial tasks, being transported in memory to those moments that spur me on, that guide me in my chronological march through life. Kairos is our gift from God, but it is also His invitation, to seek Him out.