Kairos vs. Chronos

clockOk, so this past Sunday was All Saints Day — one of my favorite days on the church calendar, when we remember our departed loved ones and, as we contemplate the communion of saints, we make some new ones in celebrating the sacrament of Baptism.  The celebration was wonderful — oh, and yes, it was almost 90 minutes long.  Yes.  Well, perhaps that’s a little long for church.

I understand that, I really do.  After all, for people in our fast-paced world, time has almost become a more precious commodity than money.  So, it is wonderful that people are willing to come and spend part of a Sunday at church.  And it’s reasonable to expect that the service would be over in about an hour, so that the faithful can get on to other precious, time-grabbing obligations — like snatching a few moments to be with their families, friends or significant others.

Here’s the thing, though:  as the service ended this past Sunday, and I looked at someone’s watch (I don’t wear one), I was a little surprised that it had been about 90 minutes.  I knew it would be over an hour, and even said something about it in the announcements.  But it was longer than I thought it had been — because it didn’t seem like that long to me!  In other words, my perception of the time we had spent in worship was different from what the clock had to say about it.  This, perhaps, points to that interesting difference between kairos and chronos.

The Greeks are wonderful people with a tremendous culture, and a rich language — a language that often is able to capture subtleties which other languages, like English, cannot.  For example, Greek has several words for “love” , each of which brings out a different nuance of an idea that in English must be crammed into one, single word.   The Greek language has two words for time:  kairos and chronos.

Since Jesus tells us that the last shall be first, let’s deal with “chronos” first.  It is, of course, the word from which we get our English word “chronological” — referring to sequential time, in which second follows upon second, minute upon minute, hour upon hour.  It is where we live a great deal of our lives, as the clock urges us on to the next scheduled appointment or event.  Then there is “kairos” — which English cannot really express adequately in a single word.  But here is the definition, according to that great egalitarian authority, Wikipedia:  kairos “signifies a time in between, a moment of undetermined period of time in which something special happens.”  In other words, kairos points toward a moment when we cease to be conscious of chronos, of the tick-tick-tick of the clock, because we are taken up in a special moment that seems almost timeless.   While chronos is quantitative, kairos is qualitative.  In theology, chronos is generally used to refer to secular time, while kairos is used to refer to sacred time.  The different is pointed at in the Bible, in the Second Letter of Peter which says that a thousand years of chronos is, from God’s kairos perspective, about a day.  (see 2 Peter 3:8, and Psalm 90:4).  The fact that we spent this past Sunday more time in worship than I felt is an indication of the quality of that experience for me.  To be gathered together, praying, singing and celebrating together, helped me to transcend my preoccupation with chronos by lifting me into the timeless presence of God.  I have to be honest:  not every worship service feels like that to me.  But last Sunday’s did, and when those liturgies come along, I am grateful.

All of us could use a little more kairos in our lives — moments when we are able to transcend our chronos addiction in favor of a special, quality moment.  Church is not the only place where those kairos moments are to be found.  They can also be found in an afternoon spent with our beloved, a good play, a sublime concert.  When we find those moments, when we make room for those moments in our lives, then we can experience ourselves as truly having been blessed.

So, if church for you last Sunday was a little too long, I understand.  But maybe it will help to know how very special that 90 minutes ended up being for me.  And maybe this will help you, too:  math is NOT my strength, but if I have this right, based on a thousand years being as one day in the sight of God, I think the 90 minutes of chronos equates to about 2 seconds of kairos!  And what’ 2 seconds of kairos in the perspective of eternity!

Thank you to everyone who came last Sunday — your presence contributed to my kairos moment.  And I wish more kairos moments for us all — for in them is the depth and richness of life truly to be found.


4 thoughts on “Kairos vs. Chronos

  1. Matthew, inspiring words, thank you! I am reminded of Ulele Hamway’s words many years ago on the length of services, and she so eloquently stated that an hour or an hour and a half was not too long to sit at our Lord’s feet. Sorry I missed the 10:30 service.

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