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Time is Like a Lava Lamp

In Time on December 15, 2015 at 7:24 pm

Lava LampI don’t know why we think that every minute is like every other minute; we certainly don’t experience time in this way.

Shakespeare knew it.  I was teaching Romeo and Juliet in my grade 9 class and noted several comments on the flexibility of time.  Among them:

Sad hours seem long. — Romeo

In a minute there are many days. — Juliet

Cervantes records the same experience.  I just finished reading Don Quixote where I found the famous knight finds time moving slowly.

Night, longed for by Don Quixote with the greatest anxiety in the world, came at last, though it seemed to him that the wheels of Apollo’s car had broken down, and that the day was drawing itself out longer than usual, just as is the case with lovers, who never make the reckoning of their desires agree with time.

These great works of literature present time as we experience it ourselves. When drawing I lose all sense of time, but when cooking it moves quickly, often too quickly for me to get the potatoes mashed.  When sitting in a Christmas concert presented by young children with bells in their hands, time rasps slowly along, but it moves with even more heaviness in a hospital waiting room.

The trend in Western society is towards homogenizing experience–we’ve attempted to do the same with time.

I think our understanding of time is greatly influenced by the devices we use to mark it–they have become the metaphor by which we understand time.  Our modern clocks–both analogue and digital varieties–divide the day into homogenous hours, minutes and seconds.  Even old-fashioned hourglass divided time up into identical grains of sand.

We need another metaphor for time as we actually experience it so that we can begin to think about it differently.

The lava lamp!

Sometimes time moves slowly, other times quickly; the goo in lava lamps moves up and down in various speeds.  We experience time, not only as minutes, but moments; lava lamps have these moments.  That’s why we like to watch them; we are anticipating the next moment.  The moments we experience surge around us and engulf us and lift us and then they dissipate.  Moments of Joy and Sorrow and Grace move through our experience as rising and falling blobs of iridescent lava.

Not only is this a much richer way to think of time, it is much more descriptive of our experience that the mechanical tick-tock-tick-tock of the ubiquitous wall clock.


Killing Time

In Time on November 8, 2015 at 11:29 pm

In English we have only one word for time.  The ancient Greeks had two because they understood time in two ways.  First, there is chronos, or ordinary time, in which one thing happens after another.  The other is kairos.  We’ve mostly lost a sense of this kind of time, to our detriment.

chronos kairos


Chronological time refers to clock time–time that can be measured in fixed units–seconds, minutes, hours and years.  Kairos measures moments of flexible duration.  Chronological time is divided up into past, present and future, but kairos is the present and has an eternal element.  Chronological time is personified as Old Father Time carrying a scythe and an hourglass–it is a time that consumes all.  Kairos time is personified as a young man, lithe and handsome–it is a time that suggests “ripeness is all” (Lear 5.2.11).

Chronological time, named after the titan who ate his children, destroys and consumes.  All material things experience the ravages of time.  In the Hobbit, Gollum’s riddle in the dark is about chronos time:

This thing all things devours:
Birds, beasts, trees, flowers;
Gnaws iron, bites steel;
Grinds hard stones to meal;
Slays king, ruins town,
And beats high mountain down.

There is a monstrous quality to chronological time.  Chronos time is made up of past that doesn’t exist any more and future that doesn’t yet exist.  Because its made of these intangibilities, chronos time takes on a spectral quality.  To make matters worse, like Gollum says, it kills and consumes.  It is a terrifying creature.  Dead, but devouring and it never stops coming.  There’s something hellish about the eternal monotony of mechanical time.

Where chronos suggests death, kairos suggest life.  The present is the only part of time that actually exists; it’s alive, and if you are experiencing it, you are alive too.  The term Kairos contains the idea that not all time is the same.  Sure there is the regular and mechanical passing of minutes, but there are also immeasurable moments that catch us by surprise, that bubble up from within time or flow into it from some where, or some when, else.  These interruptions of ordinary time by higher time suggest a link with the eternal–the “everlasting now” which is the time of heaven.

I want to suggest that when you think of time, don’t only imagine the hour glass of chronos, but a lava lamp of kairos time–irregular and surprising.

Our worldview both shapes and is shaped by our language.  Because we have only one word for time, we are in danger of thinking and living under the idea that time is simply chronological.  I’ve had students tell me that eternity sounds boring?  It certainly does if you think of it in terms of chronological–dead–time.  If we broaden our understanding of time, we will not only have a more positive view of an eternal future, but we also will understand the importance of the living present, which as C. S. Lewis says, “is all lit up with eternal rays” (The Screwtape Letters).








Praise Songs and Higher Times

In Rants on May 20, 2013 at 9:28 pm

Praise 1I know that I said I would look at praise and worship songs as an English teacher, but I’m cheating and looking at praise and worship songs wearing a philosophical hat.

In a recent post, David Murrow explains “[w]hy men have stopped singing in church.”  He says that there are some positives in the switch from hymnal to the projection of lyrics onto a screen in front of the sanctuary, but he concludes that “the negatives are huge.”

One of these negatives is that “[s]ongs get switched out so frequently that it’s impossible to learn them. People can’t sing songs they’ve never heard. And with no musical notes to follow, how is a person supposed to pick up the tune?”

[W]e went from 250 songs everyone knows to 250,000+ songs nobody knows (Murrow).

 I experienced some frustration this past Easter for this very reason.  The songs that were chosen for the Easter service were all appropriate thematically, but almost all were new to me.  I’m pretty quick to catch onto songs, so it wasn’t really an issue of not being able to sing them.   I am obviously not the same as the men who don’t sing in the Murrow post.  But there was something else  that I realized that we’ve lost since hymnals have become obsolete.

 And it has to do with the way we view time.

 In our culture, we understand time to be exclusively chronological.  So much so that many who are reading this are saying, “Well, what the heck else would time be?”  Chronological time, or “secular” time, is the idea that one thing happens after another.  There is no meaning behind this ordering of events–it is ordinary time.

 Higher time (kairos) is infused with meaning.  It doesn’t replace ordinary time, but complements it.

Higher times “gather and re-order secular time” (Taylor 55).  If you think of chronological time as a long rope, higher time takes that rope and ties it in a knot so places on the rope that are usually further apart, are now touching.  These “kairotic knots” (54) meaningfully reorder time.

 So, your birthday 2013 is closer in kairos time to your birthday in 2012, than it is to the other days that lie between them.   This is because your birthdays all share the same meaning and the ordering of kairos time is one of meaning.

 In the secular world, this is the only sort of time there is and I think we lose something if we view time as a mere sequence and neglect this other way of experiencing higher time.

 What does this have to do with praise and worship songs?  I think the songs we sing in church can go a long way in helping us to experience higher time.

 Back when we sang from a hymnal, we’d sing the same songs every Easter  In this way, the songs helped to connect all this Easter with every Easter I was alive for.  But all these Easters were connected to every Easter all the way back to the first when Jesus asked Mary Magdalene, “Whom were you seeking?.”

 The principle is the same with Christmas. We also sang the same songs at every funeral, and after the offerings were collected.  The songs linked these events too each other in higher time.

 The modern, secular view of reality is an impoverished view.   This view of reality ought to be countered at every point if people are going to experience a life of fullness available in Christ.  Certainly, the songs that we sing can help us to experience time as meaningful, but all aspects of communal worship can be looked at.

Perhaps a little more attention given to the traditional church calendar is worth a look.

Previous Posts on this topic:

Praise Songs: Meaningful Metaphors