Leonardo da Vinci once claimed that “an average human being looks without seeing, listens without hearing, touches without feeling, eats without tasting, moves without physical awareness, inhales without awareness of odor or fragrance, and talks without thinking.”
In other words, instead of truly living life with awareness and intentionality, we let life live us. Day by day passes by, and we are consumed by busyness and routine, sometimes coupled with stress, anxiety, and unrealistic expectations. And, in so doing, life passes us by, without us ever experiencing its fullness.
As Thornton Wilder put it Our Town: “Oh, earth, you’re too wonderful for anybody to realize you. Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it? – every, every minute?”
Stop for a moment, and personalize that question. Do you fully realize life while living it?
Cronos Time vs. Kairos Time
One way we can realize it at least a little more is by understanding the significance of the present moment.
Time is a fascinating reality that can’t be seen or grasped. We can’t make it stop or start, speed up or slow down. We do, however, measure it. We count days, weeks, months, or years, and regulate much of life based on the clock. In many senses, time orients us.
This sort of time is “chronos” time, to borrow from Greek. Chronos is artistically depicted as Father Time, an elderly figure with an hourglass and sickle who keeps track of the passage of time, and reminds us that our days are numbered. Chronos is quantifiable and sequential. It helps us organize our activities effectively but can also be stressful, especially if we measure success by how much we get done in a given duration time.
But time has another dimension to it as well, called “kairos”.
Kairos is portrayed in classical art as youthful and athletic, full of life and strength. Kairos time is qualitative rather than quantitative. It refers not to duration, but to the quality, the opportunity, the ripeness of a moment. That moment, whenever we speak of it or perceive it, exists in the present. We are free to respond to it, or let it pass us by.
While units of time (chronos) form an ongoing sequential chain, kairotic moments in some way interrupt that chain, and give the present moment new meaning.
Kairos can also be called God’s time. When the Bible speaks of the time of salvation, or the time for restoring the kingdom, or the time for weeping or rejoicing, it speaks of kairos. When we tell each other that it’s “time” for forgiveness, for peace, for family, we speak of kairos.
Kairos is a time of grace, a moment in which the finger of God touches our reality and reveals his presence more fully in a certain moment. While we experience them in a moment of time, these opportunities of grace touch the core of who we are and take on eternal meaning. The Incarnation itself, is perhaps the greatest example of kairos in human history. When the “time” of salvation arrived, the divine completely penetrated our reality. Salvation itself transcends time, but came to the world through a particular Savior, who became incarnate in a particular place and a particular time and, in so doing, wedded time and eternity.
Discovering the Lord’s Presence
C.S. Lewis explains the intersection of God’s time and our time this way:
“If you picture Time as a straight line along which we have to travel, then you must picture God as the whole page on which the line is drawn. We come to the parts of the line one by one: we have to leave A behind before we get to B, and cannot reach C until we leave B behind. God, from above or outside or all round, contains the whole line, and sees it all” (Mere Christianity, Book 4, Chapter 3).
Discovering the Lord’s presence through moments of grace is an art, not a science. God has endlessly creative ways of breaking into our reality, giving us glimpses of his presence and inviting us to respond. You have probably experienced many of these moments without being aware of it. Perhaps you have received an insight that deeply affected your understanding of something, have felt like a deep friendship took root amazingly quickly, or have finally able to “let go” of something that had been grating on you for years. When a particular experience seems far more meaningful and precious than warranted, it might have been an experience of kairos.
Pay attention to these grace-filled moments. Look for them throughout the day, and when they come, respond intentionally. Specific thoughts, words and actions in these cases don’t take long, but have the potential to be transformative. Peace in the present, sacred memories of the past, and inspiring hopes for the future often come from moments of kairos.
When we recognize and respond to these opportune moments, we integrate kairos and chromos, the temporal and transcendent. And we realize life while living it.