Time present and time past are both perhaps present in time future . . .

TS Eliotgilbert-k-chesterton-2Philips BrooksWilliam_Blake by Thomas Phillips

The object of a New Year is not that we should have a new year. It is that we should have a new soul.  -G. K. Chesterton

One of the most important spiritual teachers that I met through the years was Mary Hall, a professor of English and Ancient literature at the University of Vermont.  Dr. Hall had the gift of sharing insights into literature and philosophy as though she were sharing travel stories from a distant country or planet that she regularly visited.  She spoke of the work of Plato, the Gospels, Shakespeare, Blake, and countless others as though she were their personal friend and confidant.  Her vocation as a teacher and a Christian was inviting her students to share in those discoveries.

 “To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour.” {Blake}

 “Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting:.”  {Wordsworth}

A lesson that she helped me learn is that chronological time, and the time experienced in the heights and depths of the soul, are sometimes moving at different speeds and with different purpose.  Visiting her office, or visiting in her home, when I would complain of being busy, or show the obvious signs of stress and wear that come with too much study, she would caution me about the fetish of overwork for the sake of pride or proving something.  Dr. Hall would acknowledge the trophies I was gathering in the classroom, but she would always invite me to look higher, see farther, and fall more deeply into a mysterious “knowing” of God over which calendars and clocks and schedules have little sway.

She introduced me to a word in ancient Greek – Kairos – a word for time that communicates the moment an opening appears within events, offering the critical moment of decision and action.  I find that most athletes and musicians and entrepreneurs often have an instinctive sense of the importance of the “moment.”  It is the moment of action, the moment of decision, the season for meaningful thought and behavior.

In the New Testament, Kairos appears in the first few verses of Mark’s Gospel – the time appointed by God for his purposes – The Kingdom of God is at hand.  The hands on the clock of Kairos are not steel fingers plucking off notes by the second, the hour, the day, and the year.  The hands of the clock that is Kairos, are the heartbeats of the newborn baby, the last breaths of a dying body, the tears of joy in the heart reborn, the swift quickening of dedicated purpose in the life of pursuing goals and victories.  The hands of the clock that is Kairos are more often felt than seen; time moving across the human heart and soul like a breeze striking the wind chimes in the backyard, or like the lightning bolts of history upon which time and events move as on a hinge.  The time of Kairos has the foretaste of something eternal, something that cannot quite fit into this world; it is the music and light of the next world breaking through the curtain of this world.

For me, Kairos is the “something new” breaking through the Chronology of something old, mortal, tried and tired.

The so called “New Year” brings these thoughts to my mind because my new year began on the calendar date December 2, 2018 – The First Sunday of Advent.  Through the words of the poets and the philosophers, I can see that Dr. Hall was teaching me to make a kind of exchange regarding my perceptions of time and the meaning of its passing.  In our worship, in our prayers, in our conversations with God, we are exchanging time as a limited commodity of mortal life, for time that is endlessly full of light and hope and whose chief value is that it is limit-less.  The promise of Christ is that we will live forever, and we will live with Him.

I have a sense that this will be my resolution at the turning of the Gregorian Calendar – make a move into a deeper awareness of how my life is shaped by Kairos; or in the words of Philip Brooks, “The only way to get rid of your past is to make a future out of it.”

Blessings and Godspeed,

Alston

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