Chronos and Kairos

Posted by .

Springtime means budgeting and planning for IVC regional directors. At the same time, we’re reflecting on the current year with our volunteers and agencies with an eye toward continued service and partnership this fall. As IVC regional directors, we live in a constant balancing act of administrative service with faith formation and spiritual reflection. Fortunately, we’re not the first, nor will we be the last, to embrace this challenge.

On a typical day in the office, it’s often second nature to think in terms of what needs to be accomplished and how most efficiently to do so. Yet, God’s time is not our time. Our language relies on one word to express “time,” but the Greeks have two: chronos and kairos. Chronos is calendar and clock time—ticking away, bringing deadlines, appointments, meetings and events. Kairos time is different. It is those moments when we’re aware of beauty, truly present to someone, or have an insight that resonates with an “a-ha!” in our souls. Kairos is God’s time. We live in chronos, and we long for kairos.

Life has shown me that there are moments of kairos hidden in the chronos minutes. The spiritual invitation is to attend to the details and the God moments that will surprise and delight me…if I’m paying attention. And so, while I strive to get my work done, sometimes it needs to be set aside for a bit to attend to a moment that has presented itself. I’m invited to trust, once again, that all will be well, and that where ever I am at that moment is exactly where God wants or needs me to be.

Martha, in Luke’s Gospel, learned this lesson, too. She and her sister Mary, Jesus’s friends and hosts, have come to represent these conflicting forces in the disciple’s life: Martha, attending to the details; and Mary sitting at the Master’s feet (Luke 10:38-42). “It is important to note that the symbolism which later Christian tradition has found in the figures of Mary and Martha goes far beyond the intentions of St. Luke or the content of their simple story in his gospel,” writes Thomas Green, SJ, in Darkness in the Marketplace. Green notes that Luke’s gospel did not set the “contemplative” person above the “active” one. Rather, Luke’s ideal disciple is one who combines the attitude of Mary with the service of Martha. Fr. Green continues:

“I believe this life ‘in the world’ plays an essential, integral part in our inner growth toward divine union.   Allowing always for the special (and very beautiful) call of Mary to forget everything else and simply sit at the feet of the Lord and be absorbed by him, it is usually his will that  we be able to keep him only by giving him away.

Mary’s is the better way, because it is the way of eternity, of heaven.  But, I believe, Martha’s is the usual way while we are on the journey toward heaven.  I would even say Martha’s is the better way…Why?  Because of the important part that our involvement and service…plays in our own process of transformation.”

This process of transformation is at the heart of the IVC experience. Through IVC, our volunteers and staff are invited into this blessed challenge of discipleship. As a regional director, my administrative tasks are ultimately at the service of people who are poor, and the transformation process that comes through this service. I’m grateful for the companionship of Martha and Mary as I discover God’s time in my day.


Maria Rodgers O’Rourke, the former IVC – St. Louis regional director, has served in church ministry for over 20 years on the national, regional and local levels in communications, adult spirituality, family life and retreat direction.


3 Responses to “Chronos and Kairos”

  1. Jen Anthony

    I love this Maria. One of my absolute favorite books is Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engel and in it she describes Kairos. Here is my one of my favorite excerpts from that book:

    “Kairos. Real time. God’s time. That time which breaks through chronos with a shock of joy, that time we do not recognize while we are experiencing it, but only afterwards, because kairos has nothing to do with chronological time. In kairos we are completely unselfconscious, and yet paradoxically far more real than we can ever be when we’re constantly checking our watches for chronological time.

    The saint in contemplation, lost to self in the mind of God is in kairos. The artist at work is in kairos. The child at play, totally thrown outside herself in the game, be it building a sand castle or making a daisy chain, is in kairos. In kairos we become what we are called to be as human beings, co-creators with God, touching on the wonder of creation.”

  2. Maria

    Thanks, Jen. I love that passage from Walking on Water! It brought tears to my eyes as I recall my experiences with Kairos.
    It’s a real paradox I live in my spiritual life: I avoid the opportunities for Kairos in service to Chronos. And yet, when I experience Kairos, I have all the energy and inspiration I need to attend to the Chronos. Maybe some day I’ll get them in the right order from the start!

  3. Bonnie

    Thank you, Maria. Reacing this has been an “Aha!” experience for me. I now have the conceptual tools that describe what I’ve noticed about my own consciousness but could not name or adequately explain to my psychotherapist. I am attempting to bring my spiritual life into the psychoanalytical framework, but it’s not easy. This will help me a good deal.


Leave a Reply

  • (will not be published)

Note: You may receive a message noting your comment is "awaiting moderation." That's our spam filter hard at work. Please check back in a few minutes and your comment should be posted. Thanks!