Way back in my college undergraduate philosophy studies I learned two Greek words for time. Chronos time is clock time — the hour you have to be at work, the margin you want to leave to get through the security line at the airport, the request you make on OpenTable for a dinner reservation. Chronos time is ordinary time.
Kairos time is the moment, the hour, the day or longer, when experience seems to crystallize into some sort of transcendent meaning. The birth of a child, the moment of death, happen for most of us in kairos time. I regularly have kairos moments when I’m doing a book event, when the honesty of my memoir evokes honesty on the part of people who read it and want to share profound pieces of their own lives.
Often kairos moments are intertwined with chronos time. A friend who did the pilgrimage walk to Santiago de Campostela, the cathedral in Spain that is the culmination of the Camino de Santiago, talked about the blisters, the exhaustion, the difficulty of walking many miles a day through rain and heat and wind. At the same time, she talked about the transcendent spirituality that permeated the many weeks that it took her to complete the journey. The blisters happen in chronos time. The spiritual connection with all others who have completed the pilgrimage happens in kairos time.
I’m having a bit of a chronos/kairos experience this 4th of July weekend. Seattle is having gorgeous weather. Everyone in my immediate family is good, and we are sharing lots of fun events. At the same time, friends of mine who are battling terminal cancer — he has it, her life is unalterably changing because of it — have undertaken a road trip to the places where they met, married, lived their early life and started their family. They have a deep attachment to place — to the wheat fields of the Great Plains — and to a time in their lives, and to the people who are part of that time. I find the decision to undertake the trip immensely poignant.
We can’t live constantly in kairos time; too intense, and not even possible. The reality of everyday — like blisters — intrudes. But most of us would welcome more kairos time , at least a daily recognition that life is more than the mundane and ordinary. I think it’s possible to cultivate a greater awareness of kairos time, and doing so is part of my personal spiritual discipline.