The other day while I was mulling over how to write about my journey to the edge of the desert, I realized that another metaphor for the desert, a metaphor less frightening to me, was the word kairos.
The ancient Greeks had two words for time, chronos and kairos. Chronos refers to chronological or sequential time. Chronos time is measured by the clock and calendar. It is orderly, rhythmic, and predictable. It is what we moderns typically think of as time. Kairos time, on the other hand, has a more nebulous meaning. It does not have an equivalent word in English. The least descriptive translation would be “in between time”—a moment of undetermined period of time in which “something” special happens. What the special something is depends on who is using the word. A comparison between the two words would be that chronos is quantitative while kairos is qualitative.
A search on the Internet found that many people use the word kairos to fit their own purposes. Many retreats and religious ministries use the word. There is even a literary journal called Kairos that defines the word as:
…”the right moment” or “the opportune.” The two meanings of the word apparently come from two different sources. In archery, it refers to an opening, or “opportunity” or, more precisely, a long tunnel-like aperture through which the archer’s arrow has to pass. Successful passage of a kairos requires, therefore, that the archer’s arrow be fired not only accurately but with enough power for it to penetrate. The second meaning of kairos traces to the art of weaving. There it is “the critical time” when the weaver must draw the yarn through a gap that momentarily opens in the warp of the cloth being woven. Putting the two meanings together, one might understand kairos to refer to a passing instant when an opening appears which must be driven through with force if success is to be achieved. (Eric Charles White, 1987)
That is a pretty good description, but kairos means so much more. In religious circles, kairos usually refers to “God’s time.” It is a time, not measured by the clock, where God has chosen “the right moment” or the “opportune” time. Kairos time usually involves a period of disruption to the normal flow of things. The old rules, methods, traditions, habits, ways of thinking and doing business do not seem to work any more. It is a bit chaotic. The ground seems to be shifting. The rules of the game are changing. Historians and psychologists would label it “a paradigm shift.”
Kairos time is usually perceived as a time of crisis. The Chinese word for “crisis” is a picogram of the two words “danger” and “opportunity.” With this in mind, one has a possibility of participating in a “new creation.”† One has the choice of danger or opportunity, a chance to build something new out of the old. Kairos time bridges the tearing down of the “old way” with the building of a “new way.”
Kairos time is the time needed to seek out the “golden thread” woven through the fabric of life. It is the “golden thread” that takes the good from the old and attaches “to the new fabric being woven.”†
Life is what we do when Truth challenges reality. When Life is tempered, formed, nuanced by kairos time, the Truth becomes shadow, life becomes chaotic and the future becomes that personal quest for Truth on which we can create a future.†
Kairos time is the moment, of undetermined length, in which the eternal (God) breaks into the temporal (the universe), shattering and transforming it, and prepares the temporal to receive the eternal. It is in this moment in which the conditional cancels itself out and makes itself the instrument of the unconditional.†
The desert is kairos time! The time when your old comfort zone, your old ideas, your old relationships, your old images of God, and your old ways of thinking are shaken up. Everything is turned upside down. The “old” does not work anymore. You enter a crisis, an opportunity, to forge new ideas, new relationships, new images of God, new ways to think about old ideas. You build a new comfort zone. You take the best of the old, the “golden thread”, and weave it into a new future, into a new way. Kairos is this “in between time” in the desert.
Unfortunately, neither metaphor says that the going will be easy. It won’t be. You have to die to your old self. There is much anxiety and frustration. There is questioning and searching. It is painful to give up the old ideas, old images, and old ways of thinking that you have cherished for so long. As John of the Cross wrote, it is a sign of spiritual maturing.
By your faith, your journey toward God, with God, leads you into the desert, into a kairos time to mature, to grow, to become closer to Him. And He is with you every step of the way, even when you feel that you are at your darkest moment, the most alone, and the most helpless. It is then, time to be still. Time to be silent. Time to listen.
† Notes from a talk given by Fr. Ken Kulinski at an RCIA class.