A Synod? It’s about time

Ellen Mady
By Ellen Mady, Co-Chair of the Diocese Synod Organizing Team

In learning how to count as a child I picked up on certain significant numbers. Some never change—God willing I’ll always have 10 fingers and toes, two eyes and one nose.

Other numbers do change. There are no longer nine planets. None got sucked into a black hole, but in 2006, the International Astronomical Union downgraded Pluto to the status of “dwarf planet.”  This galactic change might not be earthshattering, but it may have led to a change in diet.  When there were nine planets, many of us were learned their names by remembering the sentence, “My very educated mother just served us nine pizzas.” Now she only serves noodles or nachos.

I also grew up hearing that there are five senses. But then there’s common sense. And what about the “sixth sense” of intuition, which is perhaps as valuable as the other five put together? So just how many senses we have is up in the air.

It’s the same with the days of the week. The simple answer is seven. The snarky answer is two—today and tomorrow. But the transcendent answer is eight.

When is the eighth day in a seven day week? Both never and always. It’s a dimension of time rather than a 24 hour sequence. It’s a reminder that time is both chronos, or a form of measurement that marks change and growth, as well as aging and dying, and kairos – transcendent time, potential for transformation.

If chronos deals with the breadth of human life – all the things that we have going on and must tend to, kairos deals with the depthof human experience. When wisdom literature reminds us that there is a season for all things, it refers not to seasons of the calendar, but seasons of the heart. Grief, joy, wonder, sorrow and ecstasy.

There is no need to rush past or crowd out the feelings we don’t understand. There is time to be gentle on ourselves, and time to challenge our assumptions. Time to wait, to accompany, to listen, to speak. Not all things need to be understood in an instant; sometimes the questions, the searching itself is the guide for our journey.

Kairos is akin to the eighth day. We don’t simply wake up and find ourselves in the eighth day – we insert ourselves into it by recognizing the transcendent in the now.

For the Jews, the Sabbath, or day of rest, was the seventh day. Since Jesus died on Friday and lay in the tomb on Saturday, it follows that he rose on Sunday, thus associating the notion of the new creation with the day after the seventh day, or the eighth day. This symbolism is also found in the Catholic liturgy. The Mass concludes with a new beginning – the blessing of sending forth. The original words—“Ite missa est” reflects the connection between Mass and mission; both words are related to “missa.”

The message is the same: there is no end. While limited by time, we are also not limited by it. Eternity is both to come, and already here.

What, you might be wondering, does all this have to do with the synod? Everything.

While there are many logistical questions about when, where and how participation on the diocesan level will take place (and please, keep checking http://www.diopitt.org, as answers to such practical questions will be forthcoming in the upcoming weeks), the synod is really about kairos.

It’s not intended to bring immediate answers to philosophical, theological or structural divisions within our faith community. It’s intended to help us reorient, at least a little, to our ability, as a community, to seek – and find – the transcendent together. To remember that, as we rush through all the chaotic elements of life, we are also living the eighth day even now.

On the one hand, it does mean being patient, and waiting for things to develop. Answers aren’t always available right away. Usually this has less to do with time per se and more to do with human experience – we are part of the answer, not just individually, but collectively. We have conversations now that become meaningful in the future. We begin processes now that find their fulfillment later. 

Hence the wisdom of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke: “Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.” (Letters to a Young Poet)

Through this synodal process, we are called to live the questions. It is only in doing so, and truly hearing the perspectives of others, that we will together be part of the answer.

When synod meetings get scheduled in the coming months, please show up, and bring a friend. You bring a unique experience. You reflect the image of God in a unique and unrepeatable way, and your participation matters. We give thanks for each of you, and the gift that you are.