the penultimate WORD

Series 2007 - November
Circadian rhythms...


The Irvine Tartan  My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican






Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.

Psalms 46:10  The Message


How does the seasonal juggling of an hour between Daylight Saving Time and Standard Time affect our circadian rhythms, those daily routines that our bodies and our cells live by?  Do you find those rhythms more affected by the amount of sunlight than the advance and retreat of digital numerals displayed on a clock?  

I happen not to use an alarm clock, but I know that each spring I start waking earlier in the morning.  And every fall I find myself nodding out in my chair earlier in the evening, but that may be one of those ingrained rules from my childhood: if the streetlights are on, it’s time to be home and in bed.

Every spring, many of us are just not the same until the hour stolen from us is returned in the fall.   When we do “get that hour back”, most of us “spend” that time sleeping in.  All of this is an illusion of time.  Just the same, we do have routines and habits – ways that we intentionally fill our days with appointments and obligations independent of sunrise or sunset.  We also have ways unintentional, automatic we might say: those circadian rhythms of our bodies.  More subtle than a pocket secretary, our biological clocks tick away straining with every adjustment in our daily pattern.

A circadian rhythm is a roughly 24-hour cycle in the physiological processes of living beings. The term “circadian” comes from the Latin circa, “around”, and dies, “day”, meaning literally “about a day.” The formal study of biological temporal rhythms such as daily, weekly, seasonal, and annual rhythms, is called chronobiology.

In a strict sense, circadian rhythms are endogenously generated by an “inner clock”, although they can be modulated by external cues such as sunlight and temperature.  The household clocks may be adjusted in a few minutes while the rest of us take a day or two to recover from the jet lag.  Only a few jurisdictions ignore the annoying convention and never adjust the metronome.

The passing of time measured in birthday candles tells only part of the story.

Greeks have two words for time, chronos and kairosKairos is a word meaning the “right or opportune moment,” or “God’s time.”  Chronos refers to chronological or sequential time, while kairos signifies “a time in between”, a moment of undetermined period of time in which “something” special happens. What that special something is depends on who is using the word.

Our reclamation by God provides a locus where time intersects with itself.

Chronos is quantitative, while kairos has a qualitative nature.  The Scriptures proclaim, and the Creeds affirm, and we believe that when Pilate was charged with the governance of Palestine, Jesus was crucified, died and was buried.  And that on the third day he rose again.  The conflict shook the very foundation of creation and redemption was wrought on an anvil of catholic proportions.


Conflicts in time still arise, but in far less cosmic proportions.  The adjustment of the microwave clock is only a reminder of a recurring reality that touches us all.  We are familiar with the imperative “woulda, coulda and shoulda” of the right or opportune moments and the sequential order of time captured in tradition and history and our mantel timepiece.

Caught in the rush of the moment, we are urged by the Psalmist to step out of the traffic.  Then we will see more than the passage of time that has gravity inexorably overtake us.  Then we will recognize the opportunities that we may address with challenge or regret.  Then we will find chronos converging with kairos.

Opportunities missed slide by unnoticed as arms move on an analog face in a world too busy for moments of Presence “in between” the relentless footsteps of the march of time. The time in between is a moment of undetermined period of time in which something special happens.  Redemption and reconciliation are examples of such in between time.  There are others.  Such a witness is not outside of time but is in the mix of time, opportune and efficacious. Jesus showed the way. 

He wrestled with circadian rhythms that made a Day on Golgotha an occasion of something special.  The sequential order of Church and State, Ciaphas and Pilate, and the vanity of securing order in the march of time wrestled on a holy hill with God’s time.


Copyright © 2007 James T. Irvine

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Background Midi: Syncopated Clock


 Series 2007

Sermon delivered at St Matthew's ELCIC, Fredericton