Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kathleen Turner, Michael J. Fox, and William Shatner have all done it in movies. Though not with each other. In hot tubs, space ships, funky machines, and DeLoreans, among others.
Mark Twain wrote one, “Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court.” Madeleine L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” is a classic children’s book. Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. wrote a time travel story that is a classic novel, no matter the genre: “Slaughterhouse-Five.” And Audrey Niffenegger’s “The Time Traveler’s Wife” was a New York Times bestseller.
Time is a Trap
Apparently I’m not alone in feeling time is a trap that must be escaped, warped, changed, or messed with. Ominous clocks tick down the minutes, seconds, and now, nano-seconds of our lives. They flash at us red and angry from contraptions in every room of our houses. They demand we not be a minute late and hold fearsome deadlines against us. And, as from all bullies, we yearn for release.
Once upon a time, however, most people viewed the passing of time from day to night and night to day as a logical, good rhythm to live by. A gift. Sleep and waking, planting and harvest, birth and death flowed as a smooth river through every person’s life. Some called this “kairos,” “the appointed time in the purpose of God.” Life was seen as a whole not an ugly patchwork of disembodied seconds, minutes, and hours. It was created this way.
Chronos: A Tyrant is Born
Until some German monks in the middle ages invented mechanical clocks designed to mark the passing of an hour.
But mechanical clocks were not intended to be the digitized oppressors they’ve become. Rather, these 12th century monks invented “glockes,” a bell that rang out regularly, to remind the monks to seek God through prayer, stillness, and meditation. Originally glockes marked kairos. The bells drew attention to the ever-present God in whom we live and move and breathe. The glocke was intended to remind us of the rhythm of life: eat, pray, work, pray, eat, make love, pray, work, read, sleep, pray, eat, watch, pray, play, work, sleep. Time was seen as something to live within–not to escape–and, more so, to live spiritually within, according to a spiritual rhythm.
Unfortunately that time is long past. Oh, to enter one of those fictional time machines and travel back to natural time keepers such as sun and shadows, and growth and death. These marked time with a huge sweep of the hand. Now we are ruled by chronos, the segmenting of time. As the Greek myth reads, Chronos then wrapped its serpentine tail around the world and split it apart.
7 Minutes with Who?
Even in our spiritual lives chronos has become our god by dividing and conquering. We worship one day a week for an hour, sharp. If that. A popular book of the chronos age called “7 Minutes With God: Daily Devotions for a Deeper Relationship” advocates a precise, agenda driven appointment with God. Imagine saying to someone you love, “Hurry. We’ve got seven minutes.”
Can God fit in an hour much less 7 minutes? Since living spiritually is about deepening our relationships with God, be warned. It will take longer than 7 minutes.
Need I say it? Time, as marked by inhuman and unforgiving glockes, has become our master, our god. And not a god of mercy or grace.
Jesus, King of Kairos
Yet, Jesus said, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” Today Jesus might say it this way, “Time was made for people, not people made for time.” Jesus never consulted a clock. And Jesus proved time need not be a tyrant, that oppressors, even inanimate ones, can and should be thrown off.
Living spiritually, it seems to me, calls us to travel back in time when we walked in the fulness of the gift of kairos. Free. But we don’t need any crazy machines to get there. We can simply–once again–grab time by the tail and use it to call our attention away from the finite and toward a timeless infinite God.
Eugene C. Scott loves watches and clocks. His two watches of his father’s are his favorites. But ticking clocks drive him crazy. He also hates to be late, though it does happen. You can join the Living Spiritually community by following this blog and clicking here and liking the page. He is also co-pastor of The Neighborhood Church.