Try to take a moment in God's time

Posted: Wednesday, August 10, 2005

There is an old saying that "time marches on." Here in Juneau we are swiftly headed into late summer and early fall. As I write this, the berries are ripe, the grasses in the meadow and the wild rhubarb have gone to seed, the fireweed is almost bloomed out, and the leaves are turning on the mountain ash in the neighbor's yard. The days fly by.

This time of days and weeks and seasons is known as kronos (or chronos) - what scholars and philosophers call human time, time measured by clock and calendar. It is the time we live by here in this world, as we measure our minutes, hours, days, years. Our perception of time changes with age and circumstance, of course, from the endless days of childhood summers to the frantic workweek of adults or the swiftly passing days of a long-awaited vacation.

In our culture, in our world, time seems to have speeded up. There never seems to be enough time to do what we think we need to do - the demands on our time, for both children and adults, are endless. No time for summer evenings on the porch or winter evenings by the fire, enjoying the company of friends and family. Instead, there are dishes and laundry, homework, school activities and sports, volunteer commitments, second jobs, bills to pay, and that briefcase of work brought home to be done after the kids are asleep. There seems to be little time for pleasure, little time for relaxation - then we get up the next morning and do it all over again. And we wonder why we are so tired and frazzled as we struggle through our too busy and overcommitted lives.

Philosophers and theologians, however, also speak of another kind of time: kairos, God's time, kingdom time. This time has nothing to do with clocks and calendars. It is the time of galaxies and stars, of measureless eons, the time of no beginning and no end. While our lives are of necessity constrained by kronos, we are occasionally given moments of grace when we experience kairos. These are the moments, fleeting though they may be, when we are truly present to an experience or to another person.

Kairos is the experience of what some thinkers and writers call being "in the now," in the present moment. Brother Lawrence, a 17th-century French monk, called it "the practice of the presence of God," a way of seeing every moment as sacred and connected with God. We experience God's time when our kindergartner is telling us about her day or our teenager tries to express his feelings about something important to him, and we are really present, really listening, and not thinking about what we need to pick up on the way home or what to make for dinner or any of a hundred other things.

We can experience kairos when we sit quietly with a cup of coffee and watch the sun rise before heading into our busy day. We experience it when we are focused on a piece of work - when the report or the budget projections or the poem or the painting goes smoothly because we are fully engaged in it. Some scholars call this being "in the flow" - words, numbers, images, ideas flow because we are fully present to the work and not distracted.

In the sixth chapter of the gospel of Matthew in the Christian New Testament, Jesus instructs his disciples to "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these." He goes on to tell them, "So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today's trouble is enough for today."

Jesus, of course, was telling his followers not to worry unduly about things. But I think he was also telling them - and us - something even more important, something about living in the moment. The lilies of the field simply are. They do not worry if they bloom early or late, or about how fast the summer is passing. They simply are in all their glory, as God made them.

We, of course, cannot be exactly like the flowers - and even flowers, like us, are constrained to some extent by kronos, as day follows night follows day, and as season follows season. But there is truth to the old saying that today is all we have-tomorrow has not yet been born, and yesterday is gone. All we have is now, this moment. As Jesus said, tomorrow will bring worries of its own; today's trouble is enough for today.

• The Rev. Kathleen Wakefield is a priest associated with Holy Trinity Episcopal Church.

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