Discerning the Signs of the Times. This chapter title connects us to our current situation and the way we see and interpret the significant events in our lives and throughout history as times that God is present and speaking to us.
I enjoyed reading together the chapter aloud and how as I turned the page and kept reading, I was coming across concepts I had recently referenced in a sermon. I was glad to know that what Nouwen was writing about these two concepts of time was pretty close to how I had talked about them. So I will share a bit about it again here.
"Kairos" is a word in Greek that can be used to point us to "God's time." While "chronos" is time that we relate to in minutes and seconds. "Chronos" is the sequential clock time which we use to order our days. However, discernment is usually in the language of "kairos" which is a quality of time that is full of meaning and often because God is seen to be the acting agent making or fulfilling promises. Shared another way is that a "kairos" moment serves a divine purpose. Discernment then is continually stopping or asking God in prayer, "What is the opportunity of this moment?" and "What are you wanting to show us today?" Nouwen references Thomas Merton as saying God's time is timeless. It brings together the past and the future in the present eternal moment. So we can connect to quality "kairos" time through practices of silent prayer but often these "kairos" moments are more of the memorable moments and significant experiences in our lives that stay with us and continue to shape us.
It seems many generations have at least one significant event that unites people in a common experience and narrative. These are those moments when we say, "I remember it like it was yesterday..." or "I'll never forget where I was when that happened..." Examples might be when JFK was shot, or when astronauts landed on the moon, or when the space shuttle exploded, or the Twin Towers came down, or many other things. These are the signs of the times whereas we all have moments in our own individual lives that we remember of significant life events but this chapter focused on the large events that had broad impact on shaping people, culture, and nations. Wars and revolutions certainly have this impact.
References were again shared about Thomas Merton's life by revealing the signposts along the way seen as pointing to God's will for his life. A year after World War II began in 1939 Merton entered a Trappist Order in Kentucky and as a monk wrote constantly about what the world was engaged in. In the midst of so much being taken from people, Merton clearly saw that voluntary poverty not only helped prevent violence but freed him to work for peace where there seemed to be danger all around. In the 1960's Merton wrote about he Civil Rights Movement. For Merton these significant events were historic opportunities to collectively see oppression and be faced with the systematic injustice embedded in the culture. Merton wrote many influential books before he died in 1968. Here is a short clip of Richard Rohr speaking of Merton's ability to see at a higher level.
These were "kairos" moments for many in the broad culture to come to grips with a reality they knew they could not escape and felt guilt in being part of. These "kairos" moments open us up to new possibilities and constant opportunities to be transformed and have a change of heart. They sometimes begin the process of confession and asking for forgiveness to be reconciled and start again in a new direction. Sometimes on my small micro level I have related to moments in daily life that seemed like an overly dramatic distraction taking my attention away from what was important in ministry. Then I found out that what I thought was a distraction from connecting to God was actually the way I was invited into a new and real experience of what God wanted to show me. It is a continual struggle but I try to see what seems to be a distraction to what is planned or a failure as an opportunity to be open to God's presence wanting to have a "teachable moment" with me. Like Matthew 13:9 reminds us who have ears should listen.