Jesus had an interesting notion of time. In Scripture, we see him chiding the scribes and Pharisees (and his disciples) for being so insensitive to “the signs of the times.” They, Christ’s contemporaries, while not being short on the smarts regarding the outer “signs of the times,” were boorishly insensitive to the inner weather, the storms and calms inside the human heart.  They, like us, knew and understood chronology: They knew what it meant when a child was born, when a new day dawned, when the sun set, when storm clouds menaced and when a human body began to lose its vigor and health. But they were virtually blind to the inner weather of the heart: They did not know, nor understand, what it meant when new hope was born, when new possibility dawned, when hope died, when a cataclysm menaced and when a human heart began to lose its health. They measured time by chronology.

For Christ, this was too narrow. In his view, time was not simply chronology, the unfolding of moment after moment. Rather, real time was measured by the unfolding of the movements of the human heart. This is chronology of a different kind. The Kairos, he called it. Unlike chronology, which tells time by pegging itself to the rhythms of nature and outer change, “kairology” tells time by marking the moments of change within the human heart.

Time is a curious phenomenon that we have never really understood. I remember as a young student in philosophy involving myself in long discussions on the metaphysics of time. We argued endlessly, and fruitlessly, whether there was a metaphysics of the present: “What moment is the real? The past? The future? Is the present real or is it in the past by the time we experience it? But the past isn’t present so it can’t be real! And the future is not yet here, so how can it be real?” Critical questions to preoccupy idealistic students in classrooms and beer halls! In truth, we live neither fully in the present, past or future. We live in a certain communion of past, present, future. We experience in the present, but virtually all we experience is haunted by both our past and our future. Very seldom do we simply live in the present. Rather elements from our past – half-remembered lullabies from our childhood, a forgotten face, a past hurt, a past love, a past guilt, a past terror – impale themselves upon our present, coloring it in ways far beyond what the moment itself is offering. As well, a future hope, an approaching decision, an impending visit from a friend, or a fear of sickness or death can impale themselves upon our present causing feelings far different from what the present is dictating.

The present never comes to us pure. It takes color from both our past and our future. It has its own time! Kairology. But this curious and unpredictable mixture of time in us, this interplay of past-present-future which provokes within us an inability to live in the present moment, is precisely what makes the human spirit human. It makes our hearts different from the hearts of animals because it breaks our hearts – it breaks their simple link to the present and to chronology and gives them a time all their own. Daily, hourly, each minute of our lives, our past and future impale themselves upon our present and cause a break. And in that break, that crack, the future and God’s spirit (Love) can flow into our lives in a totally new way: the exhilarating illumination which can lead to a new vision; the sudden regret which can lead to new repentance and forgiveness: the inexplicable melancholy that can lead to renewed risk in love. Unfortunately, not only grace and God’s spirit are capable of flowing through the crack. New forms of melancholy, guilt, and despair can flow through equally as easily.

However, for a Christian, if our life is grounded in faith, hope and charity, the crack serves mainly to let in new and positive possibilities: new resurrection, unexpected novelty, unhoped-for hope and seemingly impossible possibility. In fact, it is precisely because of this dynamic interplay of past-present-future that the Christian cannot, ultimately, despair. The very fact that our heart’s rhythms are not tied to chronology is a fact that forces us to move beyond the resigned: “nothing-new-under-the-sun” attitude. Always there are new possibilities, spawning new hope, urging renewed trust, pushing towards new repentance, demanding fresh risk. Always there is an opening in our hearts for the influx of grace and God’s spirit in a new way. This is also true regarding our lives of friendship, intimacy, love and sexuality. Every deep human friendship comes laden with a complexity that is almost too much for a human to cope with. Interplays of past-present-future create an “inner weather” that is now infinitely more complex because there are now two hearts involved. However, again, the very complexity of it all is the final cause for hope. The complex interplay of two hearts causes huge new cracks…hearts break, and, through the cracks, grace, the Holy Spirit, and love can pour in in ways which, prior to that relationship, were unimaginable. Thank God for complexity!

Our task is to be sensitive to the “inner weather” of our hearts, to watch for the moments of grace… and to keep within ourselves enough faith, hope and charity, so that, when our hearts break, previously unimagined grace can pour in.