For everything there is a season,
and a time for every matter under heaven:
a time to be born and a time to die;
a time to plant and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill and a time to heal;
a time to break down and a time to build up;
a time to weep and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn and a time to dance….
Whenever older people get together, at some point the occasion often becomes something of an ‘organ recital’ – a sharing of news of current aches and pains, medications, hospital and GP appointments. At present, however, nineteen weeks after lockdown, as friends and families meet again, conversation is likely at some point also to turn to an exchange of experience – looking back to how things were before 23 March, reflecting on these past weeks, looking forward to the possibility of a ‘new normal’.
The other day, during one such conversation with some members of our extended family in our back garden, one of the younger generation suggested that the ‘new normal’ is an illusion. (The idea of ‘normality’ is of course itself a bit slippery, something of an artificial construct – ostensibly attractive because of the human instinct towards what is safe, familiar and comfortable, the kind of built-in resistance most of have towards risk, change, insecurity.) He said we should think instead in terms of the ‘now normal’, because life is always fluid and uncertain. However, when he started talking of ‘the post-modern compression of time and space’, venturing into something like the realm of quantum physics, it was too much for my tiny mind!
Reflecting and focusing on the ‘now normal’ – as against yearning for the past or longing for the future – reminds me of the helpful insight relating to the salutary theme of ‘the sacrament of the present moment’: it is in the here and now that we have the ever-present opportunity to experience God’s grace and live out our faith. One of my favourite Bible passages, in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, ends with the words See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor 6.2).
This all set me thinking again about time. Our understanding and experience leads us to see time as linear, sequential; but maybe God’s perspective on time is something different. Mystics speak of ‘the great reality of the eternal freedom beyond our existence in the prison of time and space…an ultimate reality in which all time is eternally present’. The philosopher Plato described time as ‘the moving image of eternity’. The Greeks had two words for time – ‘kairos’ and ‘chronos’. While ‘chronos’ is quantitative and thus measurable, ‘kairos’ (the proper or opportune time for action, as in the Corinthians quote) has a qualitative, permanent nature. ‘kairos’ is God’s time, offering opportunity and fulfilment . It has been described as ‘the eternal now’ (and, reflecting this, there’s a fine hymn – 355 in CH4: You, Lord, are both Lamb and Shepherd – that refers to Jesus Christ as ‘the everlasting instant’). I like this so much: ‘the now normal’; getting better at living with uncertainty; our Kairos, full of possibility and potential surprises – part of our continuing journey, an adventure, but within a loving purpose that we can depend on and trust.
The closing lines of TS Eliot’s Lttle Gidding express this so well –
We shall not cease from exploration;
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time…
And all shall be well and
All manner of thing shall be well….