My latest child is to be born today or tomorrow or the next day or the day after that or next week or two weeks from now. The proper time for this is not rooted–yet only appearing so after the fact–in some watchmaker’s chronology. To each individual, even those who have not been born, there is an occasion in which to act. This occasion cannot be set in the past, as though it were already missed. For the past is lifeless and inert. Even slightly less real is storing up treasures in some future, since it is merely hoped for and there can be no memories thereof. Your little patch of immediacy, this very moment, is all that is truly alive, and it is all that you truly have. “All things are foreign to us,” says Seneca, “time alone is ours.” Your past is already dead–your future may never come.
Greek has two words for time: chronos and kairos. Chronos is well understood–it is the watchmaker’s time, the hour glass dripping one grain of sand at a time. Kairos is, unfortunately, less understood by far. It means, essentially, the proper time in which to act, disregarding the hours of sand passing continually by. The archer steadying his bow knows the proper moment of release, the occasion for successful action is the occasion for a kairotic moment. But it depends on the extension of this moment by striking the bullseye–confirming the kairos–and the celebration to come. If there is no bullseye and no celebration, for example, then the moment was not kairotic.
Kairos is concentrated upon the present in such a way that it alone is living while chronos is left to the corpses of history. Kairos offers itself to the living, chronos dictates to the dead. In the New Testament, there are eighty-six mentions of kairos, while chronos is only used by the Holy Spirit fifty-four times. Yet how many have read “time” in their translated Bibles and thought of chronos, time and time again, when the word kairos was actually used! The time of the living, the occasion to act, kairos dwarfs chronos both in frequency and significance.
And I think about my daughter and her own kairotic moment. The occasion for action is swiftly coming and will surely affect us all. And so much is up to her, tiny though she is, to trust God and make her own leap of faith.