Seniors Attend Fall Kairos Retreat (By Dr. Joshua Coleman, Senior Theology)
Teaching seniors is a unique opportunity to see the transformation from the excitement of leading the school and finally being on top, to the uncertainty and anxiety about transition toward the unknown future, to a gradually growing sense of young adulthood, the sobering, yet resolute facing of one’s thrownness into the world.
To authentically engage this process requires deliberate reflection. One primary reason I love teaching seniors at St. Michael’s is the opportunity to be part of Kairos Retreats. The very word “Kairos,” which refers to a conception of non-linear time (as opposed to Chronos), suggests an experience which is not limited by the everyday mundanity of one event following another. It is a conception of time where past and future meet in the present, all coexisting as one, perhaps in the “fullness of time.” It might be that this is the most authentic experience of time, one which we might rarely glimpse in the everyday world.
In class I use the example of a rehearsal dinner at a wedding. Typically, friends and family stand up to give toasts, some story or other (hopefully not too embarrassing) about either the groom or bride’s past. But this story is meant to make a point about the hope and love for their shared future. It is a moment where past and future are tied together in the present. For obvious reasons this can be an emotional moment, but it does not have to be that. The main point is that it is a different quality of time than that of one thing happening after another, a depth of experience beyond the everyday.
This same logic can be applied to religious ritual for obvious reasons. When we celebrate the Eucharist, we do not simply give a nod to the past, but we welcome the coming of Christ in the present. The “do this in remembrance of me” is a reference to that very truth through the word anamnesis, the Greek term used in the New Testament which denotes, in this case, Christ’s presence. When Jesus wishes merely to say something about mentally recalling something from the past, the word used in the New Testament is mnemosunon. For instance, in the Gospel of Mark this is the term used when referencing the woman who anointed Him when He says, “Wherever the Gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.” For the Last Supper, by intentionally choosing the word anamnesis, the New Testament authors wish to emphasize a present reality.The past Resurrection, future Second Coming and present Eucharist all become one right now.[i]
And so Kairos aims to be just this, a time of reflection upon one’s past journey of high school toward an unknown future, a celebration of both in a deeply reverent and reflective present. This depth of the present makes space for a unique experience, one not easily available in everyday chronology. Still, the experience of Kairos can change the way one relates to the everyday. Though the Kairos retreat is often a deep and at times emotive experience, it is ultimately not about this or any other experience as an end in itself. The most important parts of the experience are the seeds of transformation to be watered and fed toward change in everyday, chronological time, and often through great struggle and hardship. When the good feelings subside upon return to Chronos, the fruit of the retreat becomes the ability to struggle in order to see the sacred in the mundane. While emotional experiences are had by many, they are not had by all, yet neither strong emotion nor lack of it says anything definitive about the depth of experience. As the Christian mystics repeat time and again, a unique experience is as good as the ability to take that experience and apply practical changes to everyday life. Even for them experience is about application and continual growth of the virtues, the latter of which does not come easy.
This is my eighth year at St. Michael’s and I have never heard one student say he or she regretted going on Kairos, not one. I urge all students to go, even if their initial motive is to miss school. Here we recall that the prodigal son only went home because he blew his money and had nowhere to go. He went home for the wrong reasons and yet, upon seeing the depth of acceptance and love from his father, is transformed by it. So to seniors and to all teachers and coaches: encourage ALL seniors to attend Kairos. In many ways, this is the apex of our mission as a Catholic school. This is a large part of what sets us apart.
[i]Even without this use of anamnesis/remembrance, the question remains, “Do what in memory of me?” The most traditional answer throughout the centuries in both the Christian East and West (and supported most specifically in Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians and The Gospel of John) is to partake in Christ’s Body and Blood.