Thursday, December 02, 2010

"Sorry About the Wait"

TITLE: "Sorry About the Wait" - spiritual thoughts on kairos moments and chronos times
Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 2 Dec 2010

Sitting at Starbucks one day, I cannot help but hear the way the common conversation goes. Typically at the popular coffee haunt, there will be at least two to three servers behind the counter. One will be taking orders. Another will be busy making some handcrafted drinks. The third will be scurrying back and forth to ensure that coffee or pastry stocks are replenished. For larger shops, there will be more workers, especially during rush morning peak hours. Everything runs like clockwork. Yet, despite the world class efficient turnaround, when demand exceeds supply, there will be a line of people waiting to give orders and to receive their drinks. One gentleman was waiting for his latte.

"Sorry about the wait." says the nice lady behind the Cappuccino machine.

"No problem." comes the reply from the gentleman.

What wait? I ask myself. Is 5-10 minutes too long to wait? Is 'waiting' such a bad thing in our society? I suppose when people are targeting their own schedules and agendas, their time is most precious, and anything that sucks away some of that time is a target for irritation.

1) Waiting in the 21st Century
In our modern era, nobody likes to wait. Drivers honk the cars in front to rush ahead the moment the traffic lights turn green. At Four-Stop junctions where vehicles negotiate their turns on a first-come-first-serve basis, there are frequent incidents where impatient drivers will insist on going first even though they land on the stop line late.  At supermarket queue lines, some people will rather leave their chosen groceries behind when there is a particularly long lineup. Many of the larger supermarkets have also developed a self-serve checkout for individuals on a hurry. The idea is that if one is doing a self-serve checkout, not only will the grocery chain save on personnel costs, shoppers only have themselves to blame if the checkout is slow.

There is a bank commercial that trumpets their competitive advantage in terms of time savings. They tell us that our time is 'most important,' and so they are open for extended hours so that we can leisurely do our banking activities, and to 'save our time.' For what, I ask.

2) Modern Symbols of Busyness
There are many symbols of busyness in our culture. The dominance of the microwave oven is one of them. Food that is fast is not necessarily good to eat, though they claim to be. Think of instant noodles in a cup. It may taste 'good' but the amount of calories and unhealthy chemicals inside are anywhere but 'good.' Think of coffee. Coffee drinkers who have tasted drip coffee will say 'Blech! Yuck!' at the slightest thought of instant coffee. The same goes for pizza or instant meals. Nothing beats the real deal. A pepperoni pizza direct from the stone oven is a million times tastier than instant pizza from the freezer. No frozen chicken pie can match the patiently baked pies whose smells are already inviting enough for the hungry. In a nutshell, good food is never instant. The best food take time.

The Chinese soup is a great example that highlights the need of waiting. Food that is boiled over time, like food in a slow cooker tastes better, though only after about 8 hours. Meat that is slowly cooked retains the juices inside. Quick heating at ultra high temperatures will scorch the poor meat instead.

Another symbol is the computing and telecommunication gadgets we have. Speed is often a highlight in selling computers. People upgrade their cellphones frequently as the latest and the greatest can not only do more stuff, but do them all faster. Slow and old gadgets are sold or even given away cheaply. The difference is not because the gadgets do not work. The key thing is people simply cannot wait. Waiting seems to be something they try to avoid altogether.

3) Waiting is a Lost Art
Why is waiting so detested? Why are people so afraid of waiting? Perhaps, this is because the 'fear of waiting' has become a default mode. People presume that individuals are simply not able to wait. This is why 'Sorry about the wait' statements are increasingly the norm whenever anybody is made to wait. It is as if waiting or making others wait is a small crime, a 'sinful' thing altogether. Thus, society unquestioningly gives waiting a thumbs down.

Like a parent held at ransom by a crying baby throwing a tantrum, society nowadays treat people as if they are ready to throw a tantrum of impatience. We too tend to presume time as more important than anything else. Look at how we rush one another.
  • "Time and tide waits for no man."
  • "Time is precious."
  • "When is the expected day of completion?" ; "Yesterday."
 This begs the question: "Is waiting really something to be detested? Is waiting really bad?"

4) A Spirituality of Waiting
Unfortunately, even Church people nowadays are becoming victims of this disease of impatience. They frown if the sermon goes beyond the allotted time. Any disruption in time schedule automatically impacts the Sunday School, the children's programs, and the various events organized around the Sunday service. Yet, there is an important aspect of spirituality that deserves great attention: Waiting on God.
"Yet those who wait for the LORD will gain new strength; They will mount up with wings like eagles, They will run and not get tired, They will walk and not become weary." (Isa 40:31)

Wait for the LORD. Rather than simply presume one's time as being so precious, to the detriment of other considerations, why not presume God's time as being timely and perfect? Why not consider God's timing attentively, rather than assume man's time inattentively? Why not wait for God's prompted time, rather than a clock-time?

There are two Greek words associated with time in this aspect. The first is 'chronos' which is roughly understood as clock time. Such time is essentially the kind of time we are familiar with. Rushing for time. Ensuring all our schedules run according to the clock. Time to wake up. Time to go to office. Time to pick our kids. Time to go to Church. Time to eat our breakfast, lunch or dinner. 'Chronos' time is what we deal with when we are so called in a rush. This is where time management gurus make most of their money. There is no need to assume whether people needs more time or not. Everybody wants to save time. Everybody wants things fast. Everybody hates waiting. This is a gold mine (both real and imagined) for time management consultants.

Unfortunately, this is wrong. Not all time is chronos. There is another kind of time. This is called 'kairos.' This second term can be understood as 'timely,' 'the right moment,' the right timing. It is not subject to rush and hush of life. In fact, it is the right time that rings the sweetest chime. Talk about the fifth millionth visitor to a major International Airport, who gets showered with loads of prizes for no reason, except for being there for that special moment. Think of the wide smile by the birthday girl, being given a surprise party. Think about the person, seeing the loved one at his last surviving moment, to have a last good conversation before he dies. Timely moments are far more precious and memorable, than rigidly followed time clocked schedules. The former liberates while the latter boxes one in. 'Kairos' moments are times in which money cannot buy. 'Chronos' time is like a commodity in which our activities can be repeated at any other time. Kairos time is far more valuable, than assuming chronos time for all of our lives.

I believe that waiting on God is precisely waiting for God in 'kairos' moments. We need to cultivate our waiting in terms of such 'kairos' moments instead of rushing mindlessly into all our 'chronos' assumptions of time is precious.

5) Waiting as Willing God's Time
Simone Weil, one of my favourite writers on spirituality, says three things about seeking God's will. In "Waiting for God," she points out the three domains as follows. Firstly, the will of God is something completely 'independent' of us, meaning it comes from outside us, not within us. It comes from above. It comes from God. This means we cannot will it ourselves. We can only respond to God's prompting. Secondly, waiting on God is obedience to God in terms of recognizing our duty in God. We cannot simply wait in passivity by not doing anything. We must actively wait, in terms of obeying God in exercising our daily responsibilities. In other words, I read it as while we work out 'chronos' time, we have an eye on 'kairos' moments. Thirdly, active waiting is not enough. There needs to be a recognition and an obedience to God's prompting. Such a 'pressure' to obey God must come even at sacrificing one's meticulous following of 'chronos' time. When God calls, we need to obey. In my experience, I know such moments especially when in prayer. Seeking God's will is most readily understood when we pray, and adopts an attentiveness to God, rather than man-made time tables. The exception takes over the norm. God's ways overwhelms man's.  Let me give a few glimpse of what 'kairos' moments look like.
  • A loved one in trouble, or extremely ill;
  • That tender moment where love is expressed;
  • When truth is shared painfully but honestly;
  • When a mother needs to cross a busy street, to grab her kid who has wandered away from her;
  • When God calls us to serve Him, and requires us to lay down our usual set of responsibilities;
The more we pray, the more we prevent 'chronos' time from dominating our lives. We allow 'kairos' moments to fill our hearts, minds and souls.  God's time and tide, waits for all men and beckons all to wait for God.

One more thing. There is an antidote against the mindless assumption of chronos time. It is to serve with a smile. I note how the lady at Starbucks render her "Sorry about the Wait" with a smile. That moment, she connects with the customer. Any built up irritation melts away at the sign of human warmness. When the customer feels he is being treated respectfully, he gives back generously with a 'No problem' response.

Hello world. Rush along if you must, but always treat one another as fellow human people. Everybody's time is important. If all of us treat others more important than ours, this world will be a better place. When all of us, treat God as most important, and let it transform our lives to loving God and neighbour, this world will be the best place to be in. In Kairos moments, there will be no time for being sorry, but all the time to be grateful. Let our waiting be for more of such kairos moments.


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