Thursday, 6 July 2017

There's a Time: Graduations, Kairos and Change

By Isaac Withers

Yesterday (by the time this goes out) I graduated from uni (waey) but as I write this, I’m still an undergrad. I don’t know how I’ll feel then/yesterday, but I imagine the same thing will bug me about it then as it does now: finality, change, goodbyes etc. The stuff that always feels fairly weird and bittersweet. That’s the gut feeling.

Moving out of somewhere definitely gets to me the most. Sifting through papers, taking posters down, trying to disguise blue tack damage to walls to get that deposit back, the mould at the bottom of the bin... Of course leaving the place behind is sad because you're leaving the people, but I'd also find myself worrying about the pace of life, the speed of it. After moving out in first year, I realised that if I didn’t figure out a way of processing change, I’d be pretty stuck. This was the best thing my uni life taught me, unintentionally, not in a 9am lecture, this one was free (take that tuition fees).

To tell this story, I’d like to take you to a bygone age, November 2015, the beginnings of my second year. Everything was on the up. I was living with guys I got along with, I was president of the Catholic Society and we were having an amazing time creating a home for loads of freshers. And of course, there was this girl who I’d liked for ages, and we’d just been on a date (my first) and it hadn’t been a disaster, in fact I was pretty sure it’d gone well. I was also spiritually coming off of one of the best summers ever and was in an oasis faith wise. It was bonkers. I have this bad habit of projecting ahead of me though, and my mind already had this picture perfect end of term, where by Christmas, this was all tied up like a movie. Things were so good, I was suspicious at how good they were, I distinctly remember thinking, ‘something bad’s got to happen soon’ and it did.

Within a week, two things happened: the girl I was head over heels for backed away in the nicest way possible, and a guy I’d been in the same seminar with for all of my first year, a friend who I’d sat next to in a lecture maybe a week before, died in a plane crash over Devon with his family.

I can’t really describe what that next week and month or two really felt like. I was kind of in shock and didn’t really know what I was feeling or how to process it, which led me to some really rubbish coping mechanisms. Eventually though, it also led me to a good one, my uni chaplain, a priest I’d become good friends with, Fr Patrick. I went to him and we had a long conversation, but it was something he said much later on that became a bit of a lifeline.
One day I randomly went along to a weekday mass on campus, and the reading that day was Ecclesiastes 3, you probably know it, it’s pretty famous (scripture famous). It goes like this:

‘There is a season for everything, a time for every occupation under heaven.
A time for giving birth, a time for dying,
a time for planting, a time for uprooting what has been planted.
A time for killing, a time for healing;
a time for knocking down, a time for building.
A time for tears, a time for laughter;
a time for mourning, a time for dancing.
A time for throwing stones away, a time for gathering them up;
a time for embracing, a time to refrain from embracing.
A time for searching, a time for losing;
a time for keeping, a time for throwing away.
A time for tearing, a time for sewing;
a time for keeping silent, a time for speaking.
A time for loving, a time for hating.
A time for war, a time for peace.

Ecclesiastes 3: 1- 8

And then, Fr P preached on it. He’s a biblical languages guy, so he stared to open up old Jewish ideas about time for us. It turns out, there are two Greek words for time, Cronos and Kairos. I can’t remember his exact words, so I direct you to another scholar, Wikipedia:

‘Kairos is an Ancient Greek word meaning the right, critical or opportune moment. The ancient Greeks had two words for time: chronos and kairos. While the former refers to chronological or sequential time, the latter signifies a proper or opportune time for action. While chronos is quantitative, kairos has a qualitative, permanent nature.’

I’m used to the idea of chronological time, but I had never heard of Kairos before. Fr P explained it as, ‘the time’ for something to happen, and it was the clearest I ever felt scripture speaking to me. I was struggling with the image of God that I had held up to then, one that couldn't surprise me, one who I didn’t think would let the bad happen to me. But these things, external to me, these changes that I desperately didn’t like, had come out of nowhere. And yet, I felt I was being told, ‘there’s a time’ for what I was in, even if that was grief and confusion. That way of thinking didn’t try and functionalise anything, it just seemed to point out to me that these times would always have come at some point in life, and that November 2015 was the time for them.

Recently, I’ve been reading Questions of Life by Nicky Gumbel’s (the founder of Alpha) and just the other night I reached the page of his own Kairos moment. He was playing squash with a good friend, a father of six, when his friend suddenly had a fatal heart attack. He writes this:

I have never cried out to God more than I did on that occasion: asking him to heal him, restore him, and praying that the heart attack would not be fatal. I do not know why he died.

That night, I couldn’t sleep, so I got up at about 5 o’clock in the morning. I went out for a walk and said to the Lord, ‘I don’t understand why Mick died. He was such an amazing person such a wonderful husband and father. I don’t understand…’. Then I realised I had a choice. I could say, ‘I am going to stop believing.’ However, the alternative was to say, ‘I am going to go on believing in spite of the fact that I don’t understand and I am going to trust you, Lord, even though I don’t think I will ever understand – in this life- why this happened.’

There may be times when we will have to wait until we meet God face to face to understand what his will was and why our prayer did not get the answer we hoped for.’

Questions of Life, Nicky Gumbel

So why bring all this up in the context of graduations and change? This has all got a bit deep hasn’t it? Well, since that time, I kind of took Kairos on as a way of approaching life, that whatever happened, I would take it as the given time and that there is a time for everything. The good, the bad, the uncomfortable, the really good, the tragic, and the gut feeling of ‘I don’t like moving on’. Sometimes that can all just be a really big week. But these are times that we are called to live in, and one day we'll know why.

Some things never feel right, moving on is always bittersweet, and that’s ok. (Now that I think about it, I think this is also sort of the moral of Inside Out. Hell of a movie.) And right now, is the time for a big change. Beyond that there’s also time for a really big summer, an incredible festival (Inheritance plug) and a long journey. And if reading all of the above felt like the cheesy commencement speech you didn’t ask for, then there’s also a time for that. Basically, that’s my gist: There’s a time.

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