There are situations in which English language fails miserably.
Consider for example the short, white grains of rice we eat periodically. The English language has only one word for rice, regardless of form. Thus rice in the field, rice in the bag or rice on my plate is all same: RICE. Except it isn’t. Even my two-year old will tell you that uncooked rice in the bag is quite different from cooked rice on his plate. Helpfully the Indonesian language has multiple words for rice, each describing is present state: rice with a husk or in the field (padi), uncooked rice (beras), cooked rice (nasi) and sticky rice (ketan). Makes sense in a culture where rice plays such an important part.
The English language also has only one word for time: TIME. Thus it takes time to run a half-marathon (1:39:20 if you really want to know), takes time to answer emails in my inbox and takes time to be with the one I love. But these activities clearly don’t have the same value and probably shouldn’t be measured the same way.
Helpfully the Greeks had two words for time: Chronos and Kairos. Chronos refers to measured time—hours, minutes and seconds. This understanding of time is quantitative and linear. From this word we derive English words such as chronology. In contrast, kairos refers to qualitative time and is measured in moments rather than hours and minutes. Rather than measuring the time of the activity, kairos time suggests that the activity govern how much time it actually takes.
Now I am not suggesting is that all of life be lived in kairos time. That hardly seems realistic. We live in a culture of things to do and deadlines to meet: I have till 1:30 to finish this blog post; the next C-Train is coming in 10 minutes (if you’re lucky); I’ll meet you for coffee at 3:00 pm. (if you’re really lucky). But there are moments we do not—or probably should not—measure this way. When my wife and I go out for dinner, timing our meal is not considered good form. We are not counting the minutes and ideally, we have nothing to rush off to. This is kairos time, a moment that we do not want to measure in quantity (minutes) but in quality (attentiveness).
For the most part relational time is kairos time. Unfortunately we are rarely conditioned to this reality. We are so immersed in the chronos time, clock time, getting-things-done-time that we struggle to make the switch even if we wanted to. Technology does not make this any easier. Although we can send a text or email around the world in seconds (I remember writing letters in boarding school that would take three weeks to arrive at my parent’s house), the danger is that instant communication assumes instant response. The danger is that communication can be reduced to one more thing to do and subtly undermines the very thing it is trying to achieve.
Building (and rebuilding) meaningful friendships takes time. Not measured time, although in hindsight it might look that way. It requires sharing moments, one stacked upon another. Shared stories. Shared experiences. Shared joys and sorrows. The kind of moments we don’t really measure, we simply live.
In the coming year I hope you and I can find more space for kairos moments in the midst of the chronos time.