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September 12, 2003

Kairos

This post follows on from the last one... More on Matthew Frost's insightful Lord Jim moment from the same article on Rick Rescorla:

In his last days, Rescorla had been reading up on Zen Buddhism and the Stoics, contemplating the directions his own life had taken him. A few years ago, he had been diagnosed with prostate cancer that had spread into his bones. His doctors had given him six months to live. But the cancer was in remission, and he couldn't help but wonder what it all meant. In a Sept. 5 e-mail to his old friend Bill Shucart -- once a medic in Vietnam, now the head of neurosurgery at a Boston hospital -- he mused about kairos, a Greek word for a cosmically meaningful moment outside of linear time.

"I have accepted the fact that there will never be a kairos moment for me, just an uneventful Miltonian plow-the-fields discipline . . . a few more cups of mocha grande at Starbucks, each one losing a little bit more of its flavor," he wrote.

I think about that man in the tower leading his people to safety and freedom. It is a Christ-like moment. It is difficult to write about any of this.

I am not a warrior. Stoic virtues play a central role in my Christianity, however, so here is a scholar's contribution. An historian points to the use of kairos in the Gospel of John describing it as "lumpy time" in contrast with the cosmic scope of chronos, another Greek word for time used in Paul's letters. A dictionary of rhetoric distinguishes both terms from aeon, a third Greek word for time meaning something like an age, era or epoch. It is tricky stuff because for many people ancient Greek is the language of our founding philosophies and the New Testament and so words which to us sound epic would have been ordinary and unremarkable to an ancient Greek ear.

"Lumpiness" of time is an interesting metaphor suggesting the everyday specificity of a story of the life of Christ in contrast with Paul's "Christology". This use of kairos suggests both the "critical moment" but also the way each act in the life of Christ was immediate and present to the world. He really walked here. He really said these words. This is one reason the Gospels - and not Paul's letters - are at the heart of my reading of scripture. Here we are in the world faced with moral choices every day and in every moment. Grace and salvation do not happen in a special building on Sundays and expressing a moral life is not a matter of commandments proudly carved into a block of stone in a court house. They are lived expressions of compassion and friendliness and duty of care in the most ordinary moments in life.

Just such a kairos was for me the moment I was born again. I expect this is true for many Christians. There were no trumpets and angels descending from the sky. And certainly no television cameras and requests for money. Just a troubled young man in fear for his life and thinking he had screwed up so badly that things were never going to be fixed. A friend was playing the guitar and singing Amazing Grace. It was overwhelming. I stumbled out into the night and drove around on my motorcycle with a disconcerting thought that has not failed to amaze me every day since then. That boundless forgiveness somehow included me.

And then... Venemous Kate writes about staying in the moment:

Note: I did not say "move on." Quite the opposite, in fact. I want us to stay here, in this moment, filled with the rage which makes us recognize so very clearly the irrational foe who seeks our destruction. I want us to somberly reflect on the effects of our blind "tolerance," our misguided sympathies for "root causes" and our decades of ignoring that this very same battle is waged constantly across the globe, this battle between freedom and fanatics, only we no longer have the smug comfort of believing it will never touch us. I want us to contain this knowledge within us every day, and to go on with our lives while holding it close in our hearts.

I do not want a calendar or a clock telling me when to remember and when to tuck my memories away until the next time the day rolls around, year after year, ad infinitum. This horror, this anger, this outrage is part of my life now. It is part of every day, and it will be as long as there is something over which I should be so inflamed.

Posted by Ghost of a flea at September 12, 2003 10:08 AM