In Greek, there are two different words for time.
The first, chronos, means the time we’re all familiar with. It’s the ticking of a clock, the rotation of the earth, and the movement of the earth around the sun. While we have different time zones for different places, chronos is the same time no matter where you are.
But there’s another kind of time — Kairos. This is closely related; it means real time, or God’s time. If you’ve ever been to the DMV, you know the way an hour in line can stretch into an eternity. On the other hand, I can binge watch eight episodes of The Office in what seems like the blink of an eye. That’s kairos.
The Abbey of our Lady of Gethsemani.
This past weekend, I drove up to the Abbey of our Lady of Gethsemani in southern Kentucky for a silent retreat. I stayed in converted monastic quarters (a tad bit nicer than my freshman dorm), with a silence so deafening it was almost unnerving.
These monks live a “rule of life” that they trace back to 1098 AD, with roots much farther back than that. They’re up at 3:15am each day, praying in their cacophanus church. They return, called by the church bells, at 5:45, 7:30, 12:15, 2:15, 5:30 and 7:30, and these are about the only times they speak out loud. In between, they spend their days praying or studying in solitude and silence, or laboring in the cultivation of vegetables or the baking of bread.
The abbey at Gethsemani has been used by the monks since 1848, meaning there has been consistent prayer and contemplation going on there for 172 years. Its as if the monks have been driving a cart over a dirt path for all that time. The wheels have worn ruts into the ground, and if one comes to this space with a heart ready to participate in the life they have cultivated, it’s hard not to be swept up in their kairos.
When I arrived at the abbey, it felt like sinking into a warm stream with a gentle current. I almost didn’t even notice that the current was…