Late last spring we learned about a particular variety of pepper that intrigued us. Even though our other pepper starts were well into their development in the greenhouse and would soon be transplanted into the garden, we placed a bet on a long autumn and ordered the seeds. The plants sprouted and grew, and eventually found their home in the soil alongside the other vegetables. Betting against Iowa’s winter is typically folly, and this year the odds did not fall in our favor. Just as the plants were maturing, just as the peppers were ripening, the temperatures dropped, the frost settled, and the plants were lost.
It was, of course, our fault. We planted too late. The window of opportunity was too short. The calendar worked against us. The happy thought is that this year we have the seeds in hand to sow according to a timelier schedule.
There is that kind of time.
The regimented, methodical exchange between the sun and the moon.
Tick, Tock; sunrise, sunset.
But there is that other kind of time for which it is harder to account. The Greek language actually two words so as to differentiate – “chronos”, referring to that clock-type of time; and “kairos,” that more ambiguous variety. Kairos is that intangible but comprehensible “right” time. Scripture would want to label it “God’s timing.” Kairos is that constellation of things happening or coming to pass, “when the time is right.” One asks another to marry, not according to a mark on any calendar, but “when the time is right.” There certainly is a “chronological” element to fruit ripening on the tree – growing days, etc. – but ultimately the variables of capricious rain and temperatures and sunshine and soil character provide the “kairotic” determination. Regardless of however many days have passed in the season, the apple is ready to pick…when the apple declares that it is ready to be picked.
Every year in late autumn, the chickens begin to molt. It is the simple but fascinating metamorphosis in which the old feathers clothing the bird are exchanged for new. Simple and fascinating, yes, but ugly – scary, even. The first time I observed it I thought a plague had descended on the flock. It turns out, it is what is supposed to happen. Routinely beginning at the neck and proceeding toward the tail, the feathers fall away leaving a scraggly, pathetic little bird to scratch around in embarrassed exposure until the new, lush and downy coat can emerge to cover the gaps. Why the process doesn’t commence earlier in the season, while it is warm and the birds quite likely would enjoy the breeze I have never understood. I’ll add that to my list of questions to ask God once we are face to face. What I observe, instead, is a carpet of fallen feathers in the chicken yard, scratched upon by a flock of silly looking naked hens…
…as the snow begins to fly.
Somehow it works out. By Christmas the flock is, once again, more resplendent than “Solomon in all his glory,” to quote the biblical verse; resplendent, but more pragmatically observed, warm.
And somehow, even though I cannot understand the timing, I nonetheless – and strangely – trust it.
Trusting, as well, the curiously inscrutable “kairotic” movements and moltings at work in me.
Even if, on occasion, it feels uncomfortably cold in the midst them.