Memoir of a Godward Journey

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From The Cricket in the Canoe:  Memoir of a Godward Journey by Elizabeth Ayres

Night begins with the gloaming, an enigmatic hour that will, once warm weather arrives, be filled with vast tidal currents of insect sounds that rise up to flood the tall green crowns of pines, then cascade down and out into thick green grass, carrying the safe contours and sure colors of day into mysterious darkness.  Now, in midwinter, the grass is brown and the silence of this liminal moment is broken only by the chatter of crows flocking to their evening’s roost in the uncertain mauve light.  Likewise does day begin in ambiguity, that murky half-light before the first bird sings and after the last star fades from view.  These are the two hinges on which the door of experience often swings:  bewilderment and perplexity.

We do not like times of change and transition.  We prefer, when it comes to daily living, habit and routine.  We prefer, when it comes to God, dogma and belief, the comforting fiction that we know whence our being arises and can manage the journey into ineffable mystery much as we manage our car’s GPS navigation system:  plug in the destination, see the route displayed.  This works out nicely on life’s more mundane trips, but if you really want to get to God, the route cannot be predetermined, it must arise step by faltering step in the uncharted territory where human and divine meet.

The Greeks had two ways to describe time:  chronos and kairos.  Chronos is the sequential, quantitative dimension of time to which most of us are enslaved.  It’s the ticking clock on our wrists, walls, cell phones.  It’s the sand in the hourglass which began dribbling away when we were born, and piles up in woefully steeper heaps with every year.  It’s the yardstick by which we measure change.  Kairos, on the other hand, is qualitative, non-sequential, unmeasurable.  It is the indeterminate moment in which something special happens.  For rhetoricians like Aristotle, kairos was an opportunity to “drive through” one’s argument forcefully.  In the New Testament kairos became “the appointed time” when God acts definitively, as in Christ’s Incarnation and Resurrection, when finite matter was revealed for what it had always been:  the bearer of infinite spirit.  For modern theologians like Paul Tillich, kairoi are crises in human history which demand existential decisions, as in South Africa during Apartheid, or in the United States during the Civil War, when choices for or against freedom had to be made.

In my life, the merging of chronos, the ticking clock, and kairos, the revelatory event is always presaged by doubt and confusion.  It can’t be otherwise, if divine mystery is guiding our steps.

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