Time is a strange thing. Although the constant ticking of the second hand of a clock reminds us that time passes at a constant rate, our experience of it is very different. There are days that seem to pass by very quickly, while on other days the clock seems to move in slow motion. To a ten-year-old, twenty seems a lifetime away, while a twenty-year-old looks back on their ten-year-old self with a different sense of the time. Parents seeing children leave home, get married, or have their own children ponder where the years went, and how quickly they have passed. Though time passes in a constant manner, it is both experienced and valued in different ways.
This season – this time – in which we find ourselves evokes different responses and offers different opportunities. There are those who sense lost time – experiences and opportunities that have been taken away, either postponed or denied altogether. With them we grieve.
Some feel the sense of time being lengthened, as lockdowns, isolation and disconnection from family and friends awaits particular statistical targets being met, or governments changing their approach to travel across regions and borders. With them we wait.
Others may experience a new gift of time, being liberated from daily commutes and having extra time and energy to spend with children, lovers, or partners. With them we give thanks.
And yet others welcome the opportunity to reflect and reshape their lives, liberated from the strictures and structures of what has been in order to imagine a different future. With them we dream.
In reality, perhaps we all have a mixture of these experiences, and more, given that the usual rhythms of our lives have been interrupted. This season of life is – unseasonable. It is something for which we have no frame of reference, or comparable experience with which to compare. When the writer of Ecclesiastes wrote that “There is a time for everything and a season for every activity under the heavens” (Eccl 3:1), the list of experiences that follow is broad and not all of them welcomed or easy to endure. All are part of the rich and enduring tapestry of life.
The ancient Greek language has two words for time: kairos (καιρός) and chronos (χρόνος). The first represents the notion of a season or an appropriate time for action, whereas the latter represents the passing of time sequentially. Recognising that the kairos impacts the ways we can utilise our chronos, letting go of some things and embracing others – even for a time – may represent a wise choice, awaiting the return of a season where those things set aside may be picked up again… or not.
Rev Dr Gary Heard is Academic Dean at Trinity College Theological School and senior lecturer in Pastoral Theology and Ministry studies.