Recently I had a holiday at Uluru, the iconic sacred site in central Australia which used to be known as Ayer's Rock.
It is a fabulous place, and we enjoyed a number of opportunities not only to see the Rock in different lights, at different times of the day, but also to go to other great places such as King's Canyon and Kata Djuta (formerly known as The Olgas).
I learned a lot more about indigenous cultures and also about the land and the animals. One of the things I reflected upon was some interesting facts about critical timing in nature.
For some years I have been fascinated by the way kangaroos are born and nurtured.
In Australia we have these unusual animals which give birth to their young while they are still not fully formed. There are some marsupials like this in Papua New Guinea and one or two other places, but the big ones like possums, kangaroos and wallabies are unique to Australia. The babies are born before time, as it were, and their bodies are not in proportion to what they will be. Their front legs, for example, are bigger than their back legs, and that is not how a kangaroo should be! The baby is not what it will be; so that little embryo must do the most amazing thing. It virtually swims—it is a crawling action, and is done by an over-arm action exactly like what we call the 'Australian crawl', the free-style swimming stroke. By sheer instinct it ‘swims’ its way up through the mother's fur and into the pouch; and there it attaches itself to a teat and thus begins the next stage of its growth.
So Joey lives with its mother, in the pouch, while she can travel around, gathering the nourishment she needs for herself and the little one. She will go where she needs; she will fight if she must, to protect her little one. All the while Joey just goes along for the ride, not knowing where it is going, perhaps even that it is going, and all the while enjoying the food.
Recently, though, I learned something more about these animals. In times of drought, such as we have been having in Australia for the last 8 years or so, the mother kangaroo does another amazing thing. The tiny embryo just stops growing. It does not die; it is not aborted; it just stops growing. Something in the mother's body triggers this recognition that now is not the time to be born, so the foetus stops growing, and then starts again at the right time.
In Central Australia, there are also many trees of the species called 'Desert Oak'. These trees are fascinating in another way. They look the most scrawny of trees, as young saplings. They have a thin branch, and foliage that hangs down, long and thin, like a willow. The amazing thing is that these saplings can be like this for many, many years. What is in fact happening is that the tree is putting down a tap root, which can go a long, long way down into the ground, till it finds water. Then, at the right time, when this tap root finds a source of water, the tree is transformed. It develops a broad trunk and the tree branches out, with an entirely different shape.
These are examples from nature of something that is common in biology, the critical time for something to grow, develop or even die. But this notion of a critical time is of wider significance. There is often in our lives a sense that it is, or maybe it is not, the right time for something.
In the New Testament, we find two different ideas of time, and two different words for time. Our normal, everyday idea of time, the measurable time of hours and minutes, days and years, is chronos time, from which we get words like 'chronology'. But there is another idea of time, kairos, which has this sense of the decisive or critical time, 'the right time'. The most notable example is found in Mark's Gospel, chapter 1, verse 15, where Jesus begins his preaching ministry by declaring, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the good news.'
The first clause, 'The time is fulfilled' contains this idea of kairos: it could be translated, 'The right time has come'.
There is a right time: a time for waiting, and a time for action. There is a time of gestation and a time to bring forth what is now ready to live, to take its place in the world.
One of the challenging things about Uluru is its amazing, awesome presence. I called it its 'thereness'. It is just there, whether you look at it or not. It is there, and has been, and will be, for millenia. And for that reason, it causes one to think about the trivialities which consume our lives, energies and fill up our lives. What are we doing with our time?
In the presence of this rock, I found myself asking about the right time, not only for kangaroos and trees, but for our lives.
Is this a time for waiting? And if so, for what?
Is this the right time to venture forth? And if so, for what?
These question call for wisdom, to wait, to discern and to act, with courage and hope. There is an encouraging presence, in the waiting. It is called Holy Spirit. She knows what it is to wait: and at the right time, she brought forth the Son, who in turn, at the right time, spoke the Good News.