Kairos: A Meditation on Some Words of Mary Oliver

Every morning
the world
is created.1

And every moment may be a morning.

The word “moment” comes from the Latin momentum, a form of the verb movere, “to move.” The present moment is movement, the past’s momentum into the future. Yet the now opens into the new: in any and every moment, you may see the day dawn and the day star arise in your heart,

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.

When dawn breaks in your heart, you may dare to be happy. And you may dare to be unhappy, to be broken, because in this new day you dare to love, and love encompasses both. Indeed, in loving another you may find that your happiness consists in embracing sorrow for her sake. And as you learn to love all, you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of love in every one, receiving both happiness and unhappiness as blessing.

Every morning
the world
is created.

In the book of Mark, Jesus begins his ministry with the proclamation that “The time is fulfilled; the Kingdom of God is at hand.” Biblical Greek has different words for time. Chronos, from which we get words like chronology, signifies quantitative time, time as ordinary, measurable flow. That’s not the term Mark’s Jesus uses; there was nothing ordinary about Jesus’ experience of time. He speaks of time as kairos.2

Kairos, which is thematically related to krisis, is extraordinary time, a time of judgment and decision, the present moment as profound opportunity. Kairos has been defined as “the right time to do the right thing,” and as “a passing instant when an opening appears which must be driven through with force if success is to be achieved.”3 According to Giorgio Agamben, biblical kairos-time is neither prophetic nor eschatological-apocalyptic, but messianic. He quotes Walter Benjamin as saying that “every instant can be the little door through which the messiah enters.”4

“Knock, and it shall be opened to you.”5

“The kairos is fulfilled,” says Jesus; “the Kingdom of God is at hand.” The moment of decisive action, the right time to do the right thing, is now, because God’s morning, the dawning of a world of justice, peace, and mercy, is at hand. Not in hand, but at  hand: you must reach for it. You must reach inward to your heart, where the past, yours and ours, is judged in the light of love, “for behold, the Kingdom of God is within you.”6 Thus empowered with truth, you reach outward to the future as it presents itself, redeeming the time,7 answering that of love in it and so helping it give birth to the Kingdom it carries within.

“Behold,” says Paul, “now is the most-acceptable kairos; behold, now is the day of salvation.” In this kairos, every moment is a morning, and every morning is the dawn of a new world. When you give yourself to live in this kairos, the Logos arises in your heart as the day star, shines in you as the light of a new day, fills you with grace and truth as you behold its unique beauty and power. Then you shine forth as the sun in God’s Kingdom; in you the living Word of love lightens the darkness of human life with justice, peace, and mercy. Through this kairos-door, the messiah enters: Christ is come in your flesh,8

whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.


NOTES

[1] This hopeful meditation began, as have other recent posts, as vocal ministry. Last Sunday morning at Homewood Friends Meeting, I participated in two meetings for worship. During the first, which was captured on video for a documentary on Friend Inazo Nitobe (1862 – 1933), a Friend spoke of the Quaker life as movement. During the second, some time before I spoke, a Friend read Mary Oliver’s “Morning Poem.” The lines quoted in this post are from that poem. I would have preferred to write in the first person plural, but with the poem I address the reader — and myself — as “you.”

[2] For simplicity (which includes saving me, whose education unfortunately bypassed Greek, some effort), I’ll anglicize, using the unitalicized nominative form from this point forward.

[3] The former is from Richard Norquist at About.com. The latter is from E. C. White, Kaironomia, p. 13, as quoted on the Wikipedia page on kairos. White’s definition reminds me of Matthew 11:12, “And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.”

[4] Giorgio Agamben, “The Time that Is Left.” University of Verona, 2002. Epoché. Vol. 7, No. 1, Fall 2002, pp. 1–14. Agamben sees Paul as experiencing time as messianic rather than eschatological or apocalyptic. I think that Jesus’ experience of time is pictured in scripture as being similar (and I think that Agamben might agree). But it is not my intention to argue that issue one way or the other here. I tend to read scripture as theopoetic literature rather than as history or doctrine, and to use it accordingly in these posts.

[5] Matthew 7:7.

[6] Luke 17:21.

[7] Exagorazomenoi ton kairon: see Ephesians 5:16 and Colossians 4:5.

[8] My final paragraph contains a number of biblical references. The first is a direct quotation of Paul’s words in 2 Corinthians 6:2. Others include 2 Peter 1:19 (“until the day dawn and the day star arise in your hearts”), Matthew 13:43 (“Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father”), and 1 John 4:2 (“Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God”). There is also a reference to John 1:14, which in a close translation (in the spirit of George Fox’s) is “And the Word became flesh, and he tabernacles in us, and we behold his glory, glory as of an only begotten beside a father, full of grace and truth.” An alternative rendering of the final phrase charitos kai aletheias might be “loving-kindness and truthfulness.”

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