At work at the cafe last week, I came across this five dollar bill. On it is written “opportunity / Kairos, / a time when conditions / are right for accomplish-/ed action / opportune / decisive moment.” Intriguing, right? And how peculiar that a bill with a theologically significant word scribbled on it would show up in the register at the cafe on a day when I’m working. In biblical Greek kairos means roughly what the definition scribbled on the bill says. It’s the right time, a special or fixed, perhaps destined time. It’s often roughly contrasted with chronos – chronological time – using kairos to describe God’s timing in contrast to our human sense of historical time. For example, it’s that opportune moment when someone was clearly orchestrated by God to put two people in the same place at the same time, or when an unforeseen but perfectly timed opportunity arises.
So, I was struck to see it showing up on a random five dollar bill at the cafe. To be honest, I couldn’t help but wonder if it was some sort of sign: “Eileen and I are trying to buy a house right now – does this mean it’s the right time to do so? Or does this mean it’s the opportune time to have a conversation with someone at the cafe? Or is the opportune time to . . .” My mind ran through all the possibilities I could think of before I realized how misguided some of my questions were. What I really needed was attentiveness, a watchfulness to discern when those moments are in front of me.
Kairos is a beautiful concept, but there’s a problem: like my puzzled reaction to this bill, we normally don’t know how to notice the kairos moments in our lives. Like tuning a radio, we have to tune our hearts to be attentive to God’s Spirit in order to seize the kairos moments that come our way. How do we do that? I don’t know, because in truth, I’m not that good at it. But I have a hunch that it happens through prayer and worship. Last night, at our final ACFI seminar of the spring, we spent a little time talking about time. We had read the Apocalypse (the book of Revelation) and noticed the bizarre sense of time in the book. Past, present and future blur together throughout the vision. The book of Revelation certainly doesn’t operate according to chronological time. And I think that’s because it operates in a mode of worship. More than portraying any end-times events, the Apocalypse reveals the worship of God by the saints, angels, and martyrs in heaven. And in that setting, chronological time as we’re used to thinking of it makes no sense.
I think that when we worship, we step into kairos time. We enter into a place where past, present, and future blur together as we at once recall God’s work in the world up to and through the cross and resurrection of Christ, and glimpse the future in the gathering together of God’s people around the table of messianic feast. Similarly, when we pray, we enter into a time apart from chronological time because we are communing with God.
Perhaps it takes a heart that is grounded in prayer and worship to discern the moments when God shows up in our paths, the moments of kairos time. Perhaps that’s what I should pray for more than wondering why I came across that peculiar five dollar bill.