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A Kairos Moment?

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Time. It’s on my cell phone, on the microwave, and by my bedside looking at me all night long in dim red letters. It’s “chronos” or clock time measured in seconds, minutes, hours, days, etc. And on it flows in well-ordered sequence, day in and day out, month in and month out.

Time. An opening, a window in which something of great magnitude can happen. In theological terms, it’s “kairos” or a moment when humans finally respond to God’s present, gentle urging. Such moments may bring about profound acts for peace and justice. In my life, I’ve known a “kairos moment” applied to dangerous periods of Cold War tension when stalemate was broken, or to the dramatic end of South African apartheid, or to even to the hopes for Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation.

Might we be on the cusp of another kairos moment?

Just weeks ago, we witnessed the extraordinary visit to the United States by Pope Francis. Amidst the saturated media coverage, he reminded President Obama and all who would listen, “…it seems clear to me also that climate change is a problem which can no longer be left to a future generation. When it comes to the care of our “common home,” we are living at a critical moment of history.” He called on Congress “for a courageous and responsible effort to redirect our steps and to avert the most serious effects of the environmental deterioration caused by human activity.” And, at the United Nations, he told the assembled delegates, “Any harm done to the environment... is harm done to humanity… We Christians, together with the other monotheistic religions, believe that the universe is the fruit of a loving decision by the Creator, who permits man respectfully to use creation for the good of his fellow men and for the glory of the Creator; he is not authorized to abuse it, much less to destroy it.”

And now, nations of the world are headed to Paris. From November 30 until December 12, a gathering of official representatives of 195 countries will come together in COP21—the 21st meeting of the Conference of the Parties. At the macro level, they are charged with preventing “dangerous anthroprogenic interference with the climate system.” As one author has described, “In plain English, it means global collapse.” At the detail level, the representatives will work to create a legally binding agreement on climate with a goal of keeping warming below 2 degrees C (3.6 degree F) over pre-industrial levels. It all has to do with slowing the onrush of human-induced climate change: more extreme storms, prolonged drought, lengthened fire seasons, expanding wildfires, sea level rise, ocean acidification, species extinction, and more. 

Will COP21 in Paris succeed? Will the urging of Pope Francis, countless other faith community leaders, and millions of persons around the world move the representatives to a binding agreement? Might the Divine presence break though in a kairos moment, marking a turning point for creation and all the living creatures which inhabit it? We may hope, but we do not yet know.

My faith walk has taken me to extraordinary places. I’ve been shaped by hundreds of sermons, joyfully led countless Sunday School sessions, traveled in mission service to former communist states in Europe, met and marveled with others from different faith traditions, and delighted in the amazing diversity of life on this planet.

Yes, I pray there is a kairos moment ahead. I ask for the in-breaking of the Spirit to change hearts and set us on a new direction of diminishing fossil fuel use and greater reliance on sustainable energy. But, no matter what happens in Paris, you and I can still strive to live more gently on the Earth. As Pope Francis said, it is our “common home.”

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Gary Payton Gary Payton is on a Faith Walk that takes him to Russia, Eastern Europe and Sandpoint, Idaho

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climate change, Garys Faith Walk, Gary Payton, kairos, COP21

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