Scott Russell Sanders tells a charming story about his daughter’s wedding. He is in the vestibule of the church with the wedding party. “Clumsy in my rented finery–patent leather shoes that are a size too small and starched shirt and stiff black tuxedo–I stand among these gorgeous women like a crow among doves. I realize that they are not gorgeous because they carry bouquets or wear silk dresses, but because the festival of marriage has slowed time down until any fool can see their glory.” (Hunting for Hope, p 140)
Time doesn’t really slow down, of course, but we all know what he means. New Testament Greek is better at this than English since it has two words for time. There is chronos, which is sequential time, “clock time” we might say, and kairos, which is special time, “the fullness of time.” Chronos is quantitative and kairos is qualitative.
Sanders’ perception of the beauty of the wedding party is a moment of kairos, and his image of time slowing down is wonderfully descriptive of how kairos feels. It is also apt that Sanders links this imagined slowing down of time with beauty, because the New Testament Greek word for “beautiful” derives from the word for hour. To be beautiful was to be “in one’s hour.” Ripe fruit was considered beautiful, and a young person trying to appear older or an older person trying to appear younger was an offense against beauty.
Another place where time can seem to slow down is in worship, when the distance between time and eternity is collapsed, and we get a sense of being part of a great company of saints living and dead across the span of time and space: the “mystic sweet communion with those whose rest is won.”
These moments of kairos, whether at a marriage or at a church service or eating a ripe peach, are gifts of insight that help us make sense of the rest of our time, the quotidian chronos of living.
Christians have long imagined themselves as participants in God’s greater story, with its trajectory through time from Creation to Consummation. Along the way there are wonderful moments of kairos, such as the coming of Christ, described beautfully here in the first verse of Carl Daw’s Advent/Christmas hymn:
When God’s time had ripened,
Mary’s womb bore fruit,
scion of the Godhead,
sprung from Jesse’s root:
so the True Vine branches
from the lily’s stem,
the Rose without blemish
blooms in Bethlehem.