Once again, we find ourselves tottering on the brink of a new year. At this point in my life, time seems to speed past me with a previously unexperienced velocity, certainly with illegal speed. The days and months move swiftly, and the years seem to miraculously accumulate, almost behind my back, or when I am simply absorbed in other activities and not paying attention. The mornings especially seem to move very swiftly, often sustained by a sense of deep and grateful prayer.
No wonder that philosophers tell us that we can experience the passing of time, and even on occasion adroitly describe it, but we can’t ever seem to define it. I know how the passage of years feels, but simply cannot tell you what it is with any precision. Time seems to be doled out by the Lord of history, event by event, without ever pausing long enough to be precisely defined, so we are forced to be content with merely counting the years and documenting the events and blessings left in their wake.
Webster’s Dictionary tells us that time is a period during which an action or process is measured. Its focus seems inevitably to be on some other event or activity, not time itself. Even the numbers on the face of a clock tell us that the machine, however precise, is simply a measure of events in sequence as 10 o’clock in the morning or 3 in the afternoon or 8 in the evening. The numbers are inevitably referring to something else in our daily life.
For the most part, Hebrew has one basic word for time, but the Greek mind was ever willing to offer a choice with more careful precision. The ancient Greeks used “chronos” for the time of the day or year measured in a sequence, but “kairos” for the specific action which should be taken at that given moment. Kairos requires a response, but chronos is simply there for relationship or measurement.
As a teacher many years ago, I remember on occasion casually walking into my next class and asking, (I confess even after all these years with a devious purpose) what time it was. One of the students would look at the clock on the wall and respond, “9 in the morning” or “7 in the evening,” and I would then respond in turn, “That is chronos, but kairos says it’s time to begin our work.”
On one occasion, Jesus wryly noted that the people of his age could look at the clouds in the sky and judge whether it would rain or not, but could never seem to figure out when it was time (kairos) to act boldly in response to the sovereign actions of God in their history. (Luke 12:56)
The end of each calendar year means that it is time to take a closer look at our lives and make whatever decisions are necessary in order to be good stewards of the rich gift of life doled out to us in bits and pieces by our God.
Our world seems to be in a mess these days. Bitter division and violence mark every part of our globe. Here at home in the United States, the political parties seem driven by mutual distrust and disagreement. The poor folks left in the political turmoil are so often no longer served. Every part of our world seems wounded. The gift of this New Year offers yet another opportunity for healing and a possible occasion for a fresh start for all of us. I pray that the graces of this week may be welcomed and that the blessed gift of a potential new beginning be accepted as the treasure it truly is.
Happy New Year to all.