Change Time

Clocks slay time… time is dead as long as it is being clicked off by little wheels; only when the clock stops does time come to life.
—William Faulkner, The Sound and the Fury

Early yesterday morning, we changed time. At 2am, we moved our clocks back to 1am, gaining an hour of sleep and confusing four year olds everywhere. The whole notion of changing time and, for that matter, being able to track time is fascinating. The idea that time might be measured and standardized is relatively recent one and one still resisted in places. Several years ago while visiting Oxford, England, we noticed that many of the colleges’ clock towers were about five minutes slow. After speaking with a local, we learned that those colleges deliberately set their clocks five minutes behind Greenwich Mean Time because of the town’s placement west of Greenwich, meaning those college’s were attempting to convey the actual time relative to their longitude. In other words, the colleges’ clocks were telling the correct time according to “Oxford Mean Time.” As both our collective resetting of our clocks and the pedantry of those timepieces at Oxford remind us, time is part convenient construction and fixed fact.

Within Christian theology—particularly biblical theology, “time” is also divided into two parts. In Greek, two different Greek words translate into English as “time.” Each word conveys a distinct characteristic of time, one quantitative and the other qualitative. Chronos is the quantitative measurement of time’s passage. Many English words derive from this root, e.g., chronology, chronicle, chronograph, and chronometer. The second word, kairos, speaks to the quality of time, i.e., its potential, poignancy, and creatively chaotic opportunity. That is, while chronos speaks to time’s passage, kairos speaks to times possibility. Kairos time is “just the right time” for something new and exciting to happen.

Many of the most significant moments in scripture are defined by this qualitative character to time. For instance, near the very beginning of Mark’s “chronicling” of Jesus’ ministry, he states that the “time had come” for the “kingdom of God [was] near.” (Mark 1:15) As we might expect, here, at the outset of Jesus’ ministry, the kind of time Jesus’ was describing was not a marking of the passage of time by our having reached a designated date on the calendar. Rather, what Mark’s Jesus was saying is that the right or appropriate or pregnant potentiality of a time when God’s new possibility of a vitally different kingdom was at hand.

This week, having rolled back our clocks backwards, may that change in time become a moment during which we strive to change not just our timepieces but also our very notion of time itself. May our focus on our time not be so dominated by measuring time’s passage but by discovering God’s potentiality present in every moment.

Have a great week and see you in chapel.

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