Time can be a funny thing. It can run, drag, fly, creep, or even stop. We all have days when we don’t know where the time went and those days when time seems to multiply in our boredom. As a martial artist, I have had some interesting experiences with time. I practice a martial art called Brazilian Jiu Jitsu which can most easily be described as adult pajama wrestling (in the most extreme sense of the description). The goal of the sport is to make your opponent submit, or give up, by way of chokes and joint locks. I prefer not to be on the receiving end of a choke… Unfortunately, it is inevitable that you will be choked at some point during training. Generally, when one finds themselves being choked he/she simply taps out (gives up) and the training resets. Simple enough. However, people (me) occasionally catch an ego trip and forget to tap out. It only takes about 6 seconds to completely shut blood flow off to the brain and cause someone to pass out. In these 6 seconds, time passes by like a snail. Options for escape fly through your head as you become hyper sensitive of the world around you. Everything can be seen through a tunnel that continues to get smaller and smaller until suddenly, nothing.
My experience with being choked unconscious was surprisingly pleasant. DISCLAIMER: under no circumstances do I endorse voluntarily being choked unconscious, no matter how exhilarating I make it sound. The slowly constricting tunnel vision led to what seemed like the greatest nap of all time. My eyes opened after about 2 seconds of unconsciousness in which my mind felt like it had been to Wonderland and back. I have no idea what happened in those 2 seconds but I was refreshed, relaxed, and ready to take on the day as if I just experienced 8 hours of REM sleep. I could recall what had just happened that led to my precarious situation, but that felt like weeks ago. There was no way that it happened 2 seconds ago.
I have read in the lives of the saints of many of them experiencing time in this way during prayer. They seem to embrace the moment and live in the present. On the contrary, I hear many people in our culture experiencing time in the opposite way just waiting for it to pass: boredom. Why do we experience time in this way and what is the theological view of time? Why is everyone bored all of the time?
On the very first day of creation, God created time. Of course that is a somewhat paradoxical statement which uses a measurement of time (day) to reference the creation of time, but God helps us to understand creation in our own terms. God created time on the first day because it is the necessary arena for the material. If God made time on the very first day, it must be pretty important to God and anything important to God is important to us! Time is so important for the very reason stated above: it is the arena that all material creation exists. All creation exists for the glorification of God so it is within time that we glorify God. So, what do we do with this time?
The Greek word for time is chronos. It has essentially the same meaning that we have for the word time. The steady march and passing of events that we see happen every day. It is very easy to get caught up in the chronos and allow every day to go by as usual. In fact, this is the norm by which our culture operates. We allow time to pass and occasionally hope for it to pass more quickly. It is when we become wrapped up in this daily drudgery of chronos that we experience the great plague of boredom. Boredom is a consequence of seeing time as just one damn thing after another. But time is so much more than that! God made time; therefore, it has purpose and all those events in time have meaning. How does God see time?
God sees time in what the Greeks called kairos. This has become a popular term due to the retreat model that bears its name which describes kairos as “God’s time.” While that is a nice way to define it on retreat, it is much too ambiguous and mushy for our purposes. The literal definition is “the right, critical, or opportune moment.” In God’s divine simplicity, every moment in time is one single moment in His infinite being. God does not experience the passing of time because he is the ever and eternal present. Every moment of our time, in God’s view, is the right, critical, and opportune moment. God created time as kairos, yet we treat it as chronos. We see time as one damn thing after another while God sees His plan of salvation for all of us all at one moment.
Our challenge, therefore, is to treat time as God created it to be and to see his eternal presence within it. To live in the eternal present of God and see His action in every moment. Jesus instructs us to pray “give us today our daily bread”, the Psalmist exhorts us “Oh, that today you would hear his voice: do not harden your hearts”, and St Paul reminds us “Behold, now is a very acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (Mt 6:11, Ps 95:7-8, 2 Cor 6:2). In Paul’s letter, we read the word time. This is translated from the word Kairos; now is a very acceptable, critical moment. Every moment is a very critical and acceptable moment to encounter God and glorify Him in time. This is what we are created for and called to encounter the eternal present, God Himself. As Catholics we must redeem the culture of boredom and slavery to chronos. Time is eternally planned by God with meaning and purpose. Everything is not simply a consequence of the past, but rather each moment is a providential moment within the economy of salvation. Every moment is created by God as a moment that we can encounter him so treat every moment as a kairos instead of merely chronos. Chronos is boring. A Catholic should never be bored.