I was digging through my coin jar the other day, and care across an artifact, the now defunct 2012 penny. I stopped to examine it a little more closely, because it occurred to me, that this coin was unlike all the other ones before it, for one simple reason; it’s time had run out.
This happens with people too. You register it without even thinking about it. James Dean. Marilyn Monroe, Jimmy Hendrix, Princess Diana, their time all ran out and it makes us think of them differently. I am not sure for example, that anyone would be celebrating Princess Di or making a film of her life, if her life had simply been allowed to run its course. She would have been interesting for a time I am sure, but she would have gotten old, beat up, and we would have gotten tired of her. The abrupt limitation of the time she was allotted somehow rendered her life more special.
Chronological time that has been frozen can also galvanize a moment, and make it the thing that is remembered, to the exclusion of all else preceding it. Think of Monica Lewinski and Bill Clinton and ask yourself if you remember ANYTHING at all about the Clinton presidency apart from that defining incident. Clinton and Lewinski were galvanized in time.
You won’t likely recognize the name Jakob Hutter, but he also reminds me that the idea of galvanization can apply to human choice. Jakob Hutter (hatter by trade) lived an uneventful life in southern Italy in the 1500’s and his name is remembered for what might have seemed an innocuous choice at the time. Jakob Hutter joined the anabaptist movement that swept Europe during the reformation and became one of its first conscientious objectors. He separated himself from matters of state and counselled his friends and fellow believers to live by the injunction of Acts Chapter two, where the early Christians held their belongings in common as a way of expressing the Gospel in real life.
The pressure that the Catholic Church brought to bear on the anabaptists drove them to seek refuge and religious freedom in Moravia, where they were soon expelled. Jakob Hutter ran to Switzerland and was there arrested and pressed to give up names of other anabaptist sympathizers. When Hutter would not recant, Ferdinand I, Archduke of Austria made an example of him with severe torture. Jakob Hutter was severely flogged numerous times, and placed in extreme heat and cold to aggravate the discomfort. He was racked, and ultimately burned in public at the stake and in the words of one of his compatriots, “he gave a great sermon through his death”.
The reason I know this to be true, was that I was given a tour of a Hutterite colony in Manitoba, and it struck me as remarkable that this entire colony and all others like it, had persisted for six hundred years - all in the name of one unremarkable hatter who made a statement of conscience. Let’s just say his manner of being remembered is a little more dramatic that Bill Clinton or Princess Diana.
We know instinctively that one time is not like another time, there is chronological time which the Greeks called chronos so as to distinguish its defining element, it is time that is numbered. Like looking at your watch counting down the minutes until five o’clock. The other kind of time the Greeks called kairos, and this refers to time given a quality by the circumstances surrounding it. It can refer to an opportune time made significant by what was going on that linked it with fate and chance. Something was won or lost in a moment, an Olympic win, a miscalculation in traffic that lead to an accident, a stock sold at its peak just before it plummeted in value.
The Church calendar also recognizes the differences in time, naming them according to where we are between major feast days. There is ordinary time, which is the periods between Christmas and Easter, and again after the feast of Pentecost, until Advent. In ordinary time a priest will wear green vestures, in the more special times he will wear different colors - red for passion days like Good Friday, violet for Advent, white for feast days like Christmas, and black for reconciliation or remembering the dead on All Saints Day.
Yes, one time is not like another and we have a heightened sense of some moments that come back all in a rush with the words of a song, or the whiff of some scent that just transports us back in time.
So there you have it. Time is never simply time. It has qualities which distinguish its various passages, and it has a definite shelf life. Kairos: what makes this time different from any other time? Chronos: we are progressing toward something, but what? Are my days simply putting in time?
These are valid questions to ponder every single day on waking and sleeping. In the only Psalm of the Bible attributed to Moses (Psalm 90), he states, “Teach us to number our days, that we may apply our hearts unto wisdom.” Amen my Hebrew brother, amen.