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Marney Makridakis : Kronos and Kairos (Time)
Kronos and Kairos
By Marney Makridakis
There is an interesting historical context for a subjective perception of time that can help prepare the way for the conceptual journey of creating time. The ancient Greeks had two words for marking the differences between the experiences of time: kronos and kairos. My father, Lonnie Kliever, a university professor in the philosophy of religion, wrote an article about kronos and kairos for the very first issue of my then-brand-new Artella magazine, back in 2003. His description of the concepts kronos and kairos is still the best way I know to explain it:
"As usual, the Greeks were ahead of us in thinking and speaking about such conundrums. Where we use one word to describe a whole range of things, they had the good sense to use different words to mark distinctions in reality and in experience. For example, they had three different words for the experience of love eros for possessive love, philia for friendly love, and agape for sacrificial love. Not surprisingly, the Greeks had two words for marking the differences between the experiences of time kronos and kairos.
"Kronos (or cronos in the English spelling, from which we take our word chronology) is sequential time. Kronos is the time of clocks and calendars; it can be quantified and measured. Kronos is linear, moving inexorably out of the determinate past toward the determined future, and has no freedom. Kairos is numinous time. Kairos is a time of festivals and fantasies; it cannot be controlled or possessed. Kairos is circular, dancing back and forth, here and there, without beginning or ending, and knows no boundaries.
"Like most mysteries of nature and life in the ancient world, these different experiences of time were seen as the manifestations of different gods. The Greeks represented time with nine different gods, but the main gods of time were Kronos and Kairos. Kronos, the god of the world and time, was the most important of the Elder Gods. He was Lord of the Universe, the source of life and death. He devoured his own children to prevent them from replacing him as the supreme god, but his wife saved their last son, Zeus, who eventually overthrew his father's relentless rule of life and death.
"By contrast, Kairos was one of the subtlest gods in the Greek pantheon. He was portrayed as a winged god, dancing on a razor's edge. In one hand he held the scales of fate. He reached out with the other hand to tip those scales, altering the course of fate. Kairos was the god of lucky chance. He personified numinous moments of time giving birth to novelty and surprise.
"Drawing on these ancient mythic images, we can revisit the two kinds of time with deeper understanding. Kronos is mechanistic and deterministic, time that is ruled by the dead hand of the past. Kronos devours us with remorseless certainty. Kronos turns life into stone. Kairos is creative and serendipitous. Kairos is time that is energized by the living dream of the future and presents us with unlimited possibility. Kairos turns fate into destiny.
"We are not helpless to tip the balance in the direction of kairos over kronos. We can temper our fear and our fixation on sequential time. We can deepen our quest and our experiences of numinous time. In such synchronicity of kronos and kairos lies our deepest consolation and our steepest aspiration."
My father passed away several years ago, but these words are a bittersweet reminder that timeless wisdom often extends beyond a chronological life's last breath. By embracing the idea of kairos, we move beyond chronology and begin to view our time and our entire life in nonlinear, expansive terms, opening up to rich opportunities for inspiration. Through this simple change in perspective, we begin to see how we too can travel through time, and how we can even connect to eternity, as our words, art, and actions of today can reverberate throughout the universe forever, just as my dad's words are echoing here in this chapter.