There is a little known musical titled, “Stop the World—I Want to Get Off.” I’ll spare you the story, but I’ve always found the title compelling. What if we could stop the world and get off for a spell to return later feeling refreshed and renewed? There are moments when I think we would love to do just that—take a respite from all the trouble and isolation and turmoil that has a death-grip on our souls these days.
The good news is we can, though we may not know how. The Hebrew Scriptures refer to this good news as Sabbath, or that day of rest God set as the 7th day of creation when God stopped creating. In Judaism Sabbath begins at sundown on Fridays and ends at sundown on Saturdays. Christians turned Sundays into our Sabbath Day, as an anti-Jewish move, but also because Easter was understood as happening on Sunday, often construed as much a day for worship as a day of rest. This is something we all probably know.
But what we may not know is how the Bible understands the nature of time, which can be divided into three forms and applies to our quest for peace and tranquility. Two of these we understand well: Chronological time and Cyclical time. Chronological time can be symbolized by a line moving from left to right:
>Past Present Future>
making it linear. I like to think of it as scientific time. Chronological time, coming from the Greek word “Kronos” has made it possible for us to set deadlines, make appointments, measure speed, and organize our lives. Without it we would be lost. So, “on the third day Jesus rose from the grave.”
The other form of time we know well is Cyclical time, symbolized by a circle O though it takes a number of years of living to appreciate Cyclical time’s seasons of planting, growing, harvesting and lying fallow. As Ecclesiastes says, “There is a season for everything under heaven, turn, turn turn,” the latter part the music group Association’s song based on the King James Version of the text.
Most people measure the times of their lives according to Chronological & Cyclical time alone. But each of these times has its down side. Living within the restraints of Kronos leaves us with the anxiety of falling behind or getting too far out ahead. No one wants to be left behind or thought to be too prophetic. It’s a good way to get strung up. Sometimes Kronos is called “the rat race.” But the problem with winning the rat race is that you’re still a rat.
Cyclical time has as its downside Ecclesiastes critique of it: “Vanity, vanity! All is vanity” and “There is nothing new under the sun.” We call it “having been around the block” and “The same old, same old.” I’m convinced Ecclesiastes had to be an old man to leave his readers such despair. Ironically, as we will see in a moment, both Chronological time and Cyclical time have to be learned—we aren’t born with a sense of either. I can still remember learning Chronological time in the 3rd Grade when I learned how to read an analog clock. Living primarily in Cyclical time feels like being a gerbil on a wheel—going round and round but getting nowhere.
However, the scriptures are far more interested in the third kind of time, which, to finish the irony, we are born with and then forget or replace with the two other forms: It’s called “Kairotic time,” which the apostle Paul refers to in Romans as “the fullness of time.” The nine months a woman carries a child leading to the fulfilling, albeit painful, act of giving birth may be the most human expression of Kairotic time. We encounter this kind of time all the time, but may not know it. We’ve experienced it when we lose ourselves engaged in a party and say, “Time flies when you’re having fun.” This is Kairotic time experienced positively. We’ve also experienced or known someone being hospitalized where time stands still (sort of like this whole year of 2020) in which Kairotic time is experienced negatively.
This is why—this going to sound mind-bending, but stay with me—the best way to symbolize kairotic time is with a vertical line, and much better yet as a wire spring standing on end. Toward the top of the spring is where time flies and joy abounds: a wedding, a birth, an anniversary, a celebration, Christmas, Easter. Toward the bottom of the spring is where time slows and sadness deepens: a death, a funeral, a tragedy, a depression, Good Friday. But Kairotic time as vertical time is related to either a sense of positive meaning (upward) or negative meaning (downward).
All three forms of time answer a different question: Chronological time asks: “How long does it last?”, a question I’ve been asked when a couple wanted to know how long the wedding ceremony lasts; Cyclical time: “When will a hard winter or a torrid summer end?” “When will happy days be here again?” Kairotic time asks the most important question of all, and is the key to understanding the greatest concern of the Bible: “What does it all mean?”
And this third question is the central question we address through worship and explains why we worship in the first place! We stop the rat race, the hamster wheel, the world and all its troubles for a few minutes each week to ask what it all means.
People enslaved in Chronological time & Cyclical time, legitimate forms of time, can find themselves trapped by events over which they feel they have no control and find no purpose.
Worship, possibly the highest form of Kairotic time, is our way of not just “Taking Time to be Holy,” but also of thinking and reflecting and praying about what life means and where our life and the world’s life may be headed. Cutting ourselves off from Kairotic time imprisons us in a life where we may wander aimlessly over years, even lifetimes, with little more than bewilderment and boredom to see us through. Life without worship leaves us with a kind of sadness and despair, or what theologian Kierkegaard called a “sickness unto death.”
So, tired of the same old same old, the endless highway to nowhere the pandemic has left us with? Now is the time to come to the aid of our souls and worship. Then we will understand, if not physically at least spiritually, how the psalmist could say (122), “I was glad when they said, let us go to the house of the Lord.”
Join us online this Sunday!