We all tend to live in multiple worlds. By this, I mean that we tend to spend mental time on the past and the future, even as our bodies dwell in the present. We read or listen about others’ lives—real or imaginary—rather than living our own. We resist “what is,” in a variety of ways and for a variety of reasons.
Sometimes it’s less about resistance and more about practicality. As I said last week, I’ve launched an online retreat, The Advent of Jesus through the Eyes of Others, and so I’ve been spending a lot of time focused on the events that took place in that first Advent and Christmastide. I’ve been refining meditations, considering reflection questions, creating fitting activities that will help retreatants connect more deeply with these ancient events through their own modern lives and activities.
I have lost count of the number of times over the years that I’ve explained to people in spiritual guidance that we can only really encounter God in the present moment. If we’re replaying the past or fearing the future, we’re in our heads, not living in the present reality, which is the only place where God can meet us. That is why Centering Prayer and related forms of meditation are about repeatedly bringing us back to the present moment, over and over again. As we learn to return to the present, we learn to return to God, to what is, rather than to what we imagine, one way or another.
So it’s a paradox that I am focusing both on Advent past (Jesus’ birth) and future (online retreat) and on living in this present moment—which involves preparation for the future by reflecting on the past. In this, I recognize another level in my understanding of kairos vs. chronos.
Both these terms are Greek words that have been developed a Christian meaning. Chronos is the root word of our term “chronology” and has the denotation of linear, progressive time, like the time on our watches and calendars. Kairos, on the other hand, speaks to something beyond linear time. It’s a sense of the “right” time, an opportune time, a time beyond measure. It’s our momentary capacity to live beyond our mind’s understanding of linear time. It’s living in the present moment, and somehow understanding that we’re encompassing past and future as well—just as all that we have been and will be are embodied in the same flesh that we inhabit right now.
It’s a brain-teasing understanding that really needs to move beyond “understanding” to a deeper feeling—not unlike what I’m seeking to do for those who join me on this Advent retreat journey. We will dip back into Christian history—and we will live that history in our own time, in our own way. Like with the Reign of God that Jesus sought to proclaim through his ministry, it is already becoming manifest as we speak of it and seek to live it out—and remains elusively “not yet” because it is not fully formed in our still-struggling world.
I invite you to spend some time this week pondering kairos and chronos and your own capacity for accepting what is and living in the present moment.