Someone raised the question: is there such a thing as a Kairos consciousness? In response to Edwin’s request I offer a few preliminary thoughts in the hope that they might be helpful. Obviously I would like to think about this some more and share in some discussions with all of you.
- Though some speak of a “kairos time”, Kairos is actually a “moment”, of truth, of discernment, of discovery. It is a revelation of the reality we live in, of what is at stake and our responsibility in that moment. It is a moment decisive in history. Not all history but ours, of the times in which we live. In that sense it is unique, for us to see, understand, and act upon. Without seeing, understanding and acting the moment passes us by. Hence the moment is decisive. A Kairos consciousness is a consciousness awake and open to the discovering of, and responding to the decisiveness and uniqueness of that moment.
- A Kairos consciousness knows that the discovery of that moment of truth is not a moment of triumphalist gloating, confirming our own spiritual superiority, but rather of profound and humble joy for the gift of discernment. We are not the truth: the truth has found, recovered and reclaimed us. We are not the light: the light illumines and leads us. We are not the voice: we speak and act because we heard the Voice that calls us to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God.
- The voice that we hear does not come mystically from heaven, even though we know and confess that a Kairos consciousness is a gift of the Spirit of God. The voice we hear and respond to is the voice of the voiceless, the poor and oppressed, those who are the faces at the bottom of the well. It is the voice of those whose dignity, humanity and lives are threatened on a daily basis. A Kairos consciousness knows that the assault upon the lives of the weak and powerless is an assault upon the dignity and worthiness of God.
- The voice we hear is the voice of the victims of injustice, but that is precisely the voice of God. As ones whose consciousness has been touched by the spirit of God, we say: vox victimarum vox Dei: the cries of the victims are the cries of God. I have learnt this from my spiritual ancestor, the reformer John Calvin. This is one of my very favourite quotations to which I return again and again, and in many ways is a most accurate understanding of what I mean by a Kairos consciousness:
- “Tyrants and their cruelty cannot be endured without great weariness and sorrow… hence almost the whole world sounds forth these words, ‘How long? How long’? When anyone disturbs the whole world by his ambition and avarice, or everywhere commits plunders, or oppresses miserable nations, when he distresses the innocent, all cry out, ‘how long’? And this cry, proceeding as it does from the feeling of nature and the dictate of justices, is at length heard by the Lord… [The oppressed] know that this confusion of order and justice is not to be endured. And this feeling, is it not implanted by the Lord? It is then the same as though God heard Himself, when he hears the cries and groaning of those who cannot bear injustice”.
- But hearing the voice of God in the voice of the victims of injustice and oppression means seeing the situation through the eyes of those who suffer and are wronged. A Kairos consciousness looks at the world as Jesus must have looked at it: as a baby from a manger in a stable, one excluded from the warmth and comfort of the inn; as a refugee fleeing from the murderous power of the powerful to the hoped-for safety of a place he did not know; as the child of a single mother who grew up “fatherless in Galilee” (Van Aarde), stigmatized as a sinner, called a “Samaritan” because of his uncertain birth status and his dwelling with people who “lived in darkness”; growing up in the poverty in which the am ha’aretz, the poor peasants of the land in Galilee were immersed. He saw the world through the eyes of one who was a homeless wandering prophet and teacher who knew that the birds of the sky had nests and the foxes holes to sleep in , but he had “no place to lay his head”. Jesus looked at the world through the eyes of one who experienced the relentless oppression and exploitation of ordinary people by the Roman Empire and their cohorts of the Jerusalem temple, who drained the people of every single penny for their own enrichment; as one who as a consequence lived in constant confrontation with those elites in power, challenging their authority because of his conviction of his calling to bring justice on the earth. He saw the world as an accused, abused and judged; then hanging from a cross, a criminal, a bloodied deterrent to those who think they had a right to fight for justice. From this view the world is decidedly different than the world viewed from the palaces of the king, the Roman Procurator or the High Priest. Seeing through the eyes of those who suffer is seeing through the eyes of the Suffering Servant. Through these eyes the truth in every situation is revealed and we can discern truth from propaganda. Eating with outcasts, prostitutes and sinners is decidedly different than having lunch with Herod.
- A Kairos consciousness is a critical consciousness. It discerns and critiques the situation in which we live. It understands that it is a situation of life and death. There is a conflict – between rich and poor, oppressor and oppressed, powerful and powerless, beneficiaries and victims, those who are included and those who are excluded. In that critique there is no room for sentiment and romanticism – peoples’ lives are at stake. The crisis we are facing is not just economic, social and political, it is a moral crisis.
- By the same token, a Kairos consciousness is a self-critical consciousness. This works at at least two levels. There is a conflict, but there are Christians on both sides of the conflict. There are those Christians, and sometimes whole hierarchies of churches, who seek to use the Bible, the tradition and theology to serve and protect to the detriment of the poor, the weak and the vulnerable. On the other side of the conflict are those with a Kairos consciousness – who understand God’s call as a call to commit themselves to justice and the liberation of the oppressed. A Kairos consciousness is critical of the church that takes sides with the oppressor, but realizes that we ourselves are part of that church. At another level the self-critical Kairos consciousness knows that the strongest ally of the oppressed is the mind of the oppressed; that oppressors of all kinds cannot be successful without the cooperation of the oppressed, that through fear or desire for reward or a distorted theology we ourselves might become complicit in our own oppression or that of others. Hence there are choices to be made here, for a Kairos consciousness is one that urges us to make the right choices.
- Certainly choices are made on empirical evidence – social, political, economic analysis, and an understanding of the ways in which power and powerlessness work. But just as certain a Kairos consciousness makes these choices on the basis of faith. Much more than only the liberation of the oppressed is at stake here. Because Christians oppress others claiming faith in the God of Jesus who came to establish justice upon the earth, that faith, the integrity of the Gospel, and the credibility of the witness of the church are at stake here. The moment of truth is a moment to act for the sake of justice and humanity, but also for the sake of the integrity of the Gospel. This calls for critical judgement; hence our emphasis on integrity and humility.
- The situation is one of extreme urgency precisely because the stakes are so very high. This calls for action and we respond with prophetic faithfulness and prophetic daring. A Kairos consciousness is a critical, liberating, empowered and empowering consciousness and allows us to respond to the moment of truth, for the sake of the wronged and the Gospel, precisely this consciousness is a gift of God.
Allan Boesak, March 25 2011