I’m a big baseball fan. I loved to play. I love to coach. I love to watch. Baseball has a very deliberate pace from other sports. It invites a unique approach from players, coaches, and fans alike.
Take basketball, for instance — basketball usually has a game clock that counts down the time remaining in each quarter, and even a shot clock that limits the length of each possession. Baseball doesn’t have clocks at all. Managing time doesn’t really fit anywhere in the game’s strategy. Baseball invites us to an untimed pace. It’s an activity that brings enjoyment through letting go of the urgency of a ticking clock and finding it instead in a different dynamic.
In our day-to-day lives, a lot of what we do is governed by measured time. Our work appointments and meetings are scheduled for certain times (hopefully with end times!). Hourly workers earn money based on the amount of time they clock. Even our home routines depend on clock-time to get to bed by a certain hour or set alarms to wake up at a particular time. These minutes, hours, and days are chronological time — a word rooted in chronos, a Greek term for measurable time.
Intriguingly, the Greeks actually had three words for time, acknowledging that there’s more to time than just measuring it and passing it. Aion refers to all of time in perpetuity — it’s the root of our word “eon”. And kairos describes special, key moments in time. Many have said that chronos is about a quantity of time while kairos is the quality of time. While chronological time measures finite amounts of time, like a clock, kairos is a way to mark moments that almost feel timeless. Some moments in life contain a special, indescribable air that sticks with us significantly.
We can get really bogged down in chronological time in our daily lives. It’s often necessary — and indeed healthy — to maintain a schedule and track our commitments carefully. It keeps us organized, respects time as a limited resource, and helps us anticipate and prepare for specific tasks and moments. Yet, we also hopefully know that when our lives are completely scheduled out with no space for spontaneity, we can end up slogging through life robotically.
The idea of kairos can help us understand the complementary element that must be present within our chronological living. What does having a lot of “clock time” matter if it’s not meaningful? To tap into meaningful moments, we need to be willing to be vulnerable; we need to commit to being present when spending time with others; we need to approach interactions with an attitude of humble mutuality and reciprocal encounter. These underlying attitudes can help foster kairos moments in our days, and when we experience more spontaneous kairos moments, they help underscore the positive impact of living out such values. While major moments like a milestone birthday party or a marriage proposal may be obvious kairos moments, smaller kairos moments can come in the regular flow of life with the right mindset. Easier said than done, I know.
At work, I can stifle such kairos moments in the way I approach my day. I know, intellectually, that spontaneous conversations around the office strengthen workplace relationships and collaboration. Yet, I often try to cut these conversations short and move toward the door even as a colleague is still talking with me. If I truly need to get back to something at my desk, that’s one thing, but I know that more often, I need to consciously slow down and invest in conversation. So I try to put down what I’m carrying and sit my body down in a chair — this helps me prioritize being in the moment, simply present to a conversation with a colleague.
At home and in personal life, I see the struggle more in my growing use of on-demand media. I can choose which show and episode I watch — and when. I can choose not just the radio station or podcast but also the specific topic I listen to. I can get any book I want in very short order via library request or online shopping. It leads to an all-too-pervasive obsession with curating all areas of my life. So, I try to find ways to push back a little: I’ll let my wife choose our show; I’ll work to simply roll with whatever is next in a queue or on live TV; I’ll listen to the radio and let live songs or programs run: or I’ll go to the library and let the books on the shelves jump out at me.
The strongest place that a kairos mindset can live and take root is in our spirituality. Prayer, meditation, or other contemplative practices can be a great way to practice kairos — which is sometimes described as “God’s time” — and cultivate a stronger foundation within our interior lives. Personally, I find this most through spiritual or theological reading or simply through the community and experience of Mass. Others find great strength in centering prayer, journaling, or Scripture reflections like lectio divina. Whichever way you go, identifying and utilizing one of these practices can make space for kairos awareness in the crowded busyness of chronological living.