July 02, 2009

The fullness of time

There seems to be an irregular but natural rhythm in working for social justice. Certain periods of time are more full of crisis, opportunity, and chances for movement than others. The ancient Greeks referred to these critical moments as kairos, in contrast with more ordinary times which were called chronos.

In the Bible, for example, the word kairos is used for important moments and in such phrases as "the fullness of time" or "the time is at hand."

Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), periods of kairos don’t last forever. Many people interested in social change have been shaped by such periods but were often not able to cope well with the more common periods of relative calm. And, like a record that is stuck, they may become inflexible in terms of tactics and analysis. Recognizing the inevitable rhythm of life and change and adapting to it requires a continual need for renewal or shedding one’s skin.

West Virginia author Denise Giardina captures well what kairos feels like (and the difficulty in surviving its passing) in Storming Heaven, her novel about the mine wars:

I loved that phrase, ‘the fullness of time.’ I shivered to whisper it to myself, for I sensed I was living in it, right then. Nothing afterward would be so important…We are put on earth for the fullness of time, we spend our days reaching it, and then we pass on. Some people die right then, with the passing of the fullness, and others breathe on, grieving all their lives that time is being strangled and they are not yet dead. I didn’t fret about this last. I couldn’t imagine it for myself.

The Tao Te Ching, an ancient book of Chinese philosophy often discussed here, contains a phrase which has become a proverb in many parts of the world: “Returning is the motion of the Tao.” Everything changes. To become rigid in a changing world is to die. Or, as Dylan said, “he not busy being born is busy dying.”

Periods of kairos demand all one’s attention, but probably the most important work is done during periods of chronos (when the time isn’t full, so to speak). These activities would better place one in position to take advantage of the situation when the next period of kairos rolls around.

I'd say right now is a time of kairos.

HEALTH CARE. The president of the American Medical Association said that the organization is open to a government-funded health care program for the uninsured.

LOSING YOUR JOB can be bad for your health.

PRISONS. A governor's commission in WV just released a study about prison overcrowding in El Cabrero's beloved state of West Virginia. Some of the measures called for include reduced and alternative sentencing for offenders not believed to be a danger to the public, treatment for addictions, and help with re-entry...in addition to the inevitable call to build a new prison. Meanwhile, at a public meeting sponsored by the WV Council of Churches, participants preferred other measures to prison construction.

EMPATHY ON THE BRAIN. Research suggests people feel more of it for those in the same social group.




Bonney said...

I'm pretty sure high school biology classes didn't help our worm friends either....

El Cabrero said...

Did you see that worm picture? Yeesh...