"All I’m looking for is a signal of your humanity."
Updated: May 31
" 'You know, Colonel, there’s absolutely nothing you can give me. I don’t want your money. You can’t give me my husband back. All I’m looking for is a signal of your humanity. And if I see that through acknowledgment, through humility, then I, as a vulnerable human being, am required to explore the possibility of being reconciled to you.'" ~Nyameka Goniwe
"'Well, OK, let’s sit down and let’s negotiate a different kind of future.' My boss, the archbishop, said it’s a miracle. I used to say to him, 'Well, excuse me, Father, it’s a miracle, but my task is to deconstruct your miracle.' What is it? What is it? What is it? What are the ingredients? What’s the recipe that helps this to happen? And I’m still working on that one." ~Charles Villa-Vicencio
Kairos...Today I was wishing to find more depth around this word Greek word for a kind of time that is different from sequential time or Chronos. But maybe I need another word. I am curious about the many times each day that I find myself in another kind of time--time with more space in it. Wikipedia says Kairos is related to both archery and weaving--the accuracy and coming together of forces for the right moment to release the arrow or slide the shuttle through...That foucs on the singular moment does not quite match the fluid or spacious time I am talking about, where we meet for meditation or Dharma dialog. But Kairos is also said to be the "'tunnel-like'" gap that temporarily opens and through which the arrow or shuttle passes..well, maybe we are nearing a similar experience. My work and Dharma are, in fact, a lot about what is "beyond time and space" and "the timeless" or "the deathless"--what is fresh, ancient, familiar and also spontaneous. But it is especially interesting, during meetings carefully scheduled across time zones, to find ourselves as a group in that other kind of spacious time. How do we honor the importance of "losing track of time" while still tending to the schedules of carpool or the bread in the oven?
Today I came across this interview on Truth and Reconciliation...while looking for another onbeing.org interview about how Desmond Tutu, during the Truth and Reconciliation process, after inordinate intensity, would call for singing and dancing. A funny coincidence--my wondering about Kairos, then looking for Tutu's dancing, and then finding Kairos in a different article about the Truth and Reconciliation process...maybe the coincidence has something to teach about living in Kairos while also living in a body and in a community...maybe movement, and singing, and getting nonverbal together help us be in all our bodies, and beyond them. The interview and the coincidence bring more questions into my musings, rather than bringing answers. Charles Villa-Vicencio and Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela Truth and Reconciliation with Krista Tippett on On Being https://onbeing.org/programs/charles-villa-vicencio-and-pumla-gobodo-madikizela-truth-and-reconciliation/
Here are some excerpts from the transcript, and I have added some boldface on some of the more exquisite lines:
Krista Tippett:..[South African Christian leaders, both people of color and white--]wrote about "the Church’s complicity in the injustices of apartheid, and it called on every individual person of faith in that country to work to bring about a new form of justice. This was called the Kairos Document. Kairos is a word for time in New Testament Greek, but it does not imply chronological time so much as a moment of truth. And Villa-Vicencio says that invoking a religious sense of time was useful for expressing the urgency he and others had begun to feel.
DR. VILLA-VICENCIO: The Kairos, in a sense, it’s a moment in time. It’s an opportunity. But that opportunity is, in a sense, there beyond that moment. God’s grace is always there to be responded to. But when that opportunity comes, one needs to grasp it. If there was a Kairos in 1985 that said, “The time’s come, this is it,”...
...there is a new Kairos in South Africa today, even a more difficult Kairos. And that Kairos is an opportunity for us to learn to live together.
MS. TIPPETT: You know, you mention that some people criticize the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, or that whole idea, for being too Christian. But I’m curious about how you felt about imposing political structure and political imperatives on these theological values.
DR. VILLA-VICENCIO: This was always a tension. It was always there. How does one link—let’s not even say Christian or theological concept, let’s say moral aspirations. How does one operationalize these? And certainly I’d always try to say in those days, and I think most of my colleagues were saying that we as a government commission—and that in the end was who we were. The archbishop was our chair, but he happened to be paid by the taxpayers. He was in government, he was a civil servant, as we used to try and remind him. As a government commission, we could not reconcile the nation. We couldn’t offer forgiveness. We couldn’t provide God’s grace. All we could do was to try and create a space within which people listened to one another, damn it, listen to one another. I think that was our theme. “Are you hearing what your enemy is saying?”And to the extent that a greater depth of understanding, of being aware of what caused people to do things—their motives, their aspirations, what drove people to do these dreadful things—as that understanding began to emerge, so the morality began to flow in. If you like, the theology was revisited and people began to realize that amidst this political structure, there was a need to deal with deep, deep, human, theological, spiritual, ethical issues.
MS. TIPPETT: So here we’re talking about large theological values like forgiveness and reconciliation happening communally. And it seems to me that they’re so difficult on the individual level, it’s hard for me to imagine how much more complex it is communally. But have you seen this be possible?
DR. VILLA-VICENCIO: You know, you’re a theologian. And I cut my theological teeth about a hundred years ago on Reinhold Niebuhr, who wrote a wonderful book called Moral Man and Immoral Society,that it’s easier to be a moral individual than a moral community.
But you find the oppressors of the past and the liberationists of the past sitting down and working together. Do you know what? They don’t love one another. They don’t even fully trust one another. But they are saying, “If we’re going to get ourselves out of this mess, we’ve got to learn to cooperate.”
I talk about my colleague, Nyameka Goniwe, whose husband was Matthew Goniwe, one of the Cradock 5 who—one of the Cradock 4, excuse me, who was killed by the security police. We created a situation where she sat down with one of the security police who gave the order for her husband to be killed. And she said to him, “You know, Colonel, there’s absolutely nothing you can give me. I don’t want your money. You can’t give me my husband back. All I’m looking for is a signal of your humanity. And if I see that through acknowledgment, through humility, then I, as a vulnerable human being, am required to explore the possibility of being reconciled to you.” In that moment, given my background, I witnessed the presence of God.
...the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission was not the first truth and reconciliation commission. I think it was number 19 or 17 or something.I can’t remember my mathematics anymore.
MS. TIPPETT: But it was really qualitatively different, wasn’t it?
DR. VILLA-VICENCIO: But—that’s what I was going to say. It caught the public imagination. It was a transparent, public event. And that’s what made it different. I think it was also because it happened in South Africa where, in the late ’80s, we were all expecting Armageddon. We were expecting the worst kind of slaughter. But it did capture the imagination. And since then a number of other truth and reconciliation commissions have emerged....
Charles Villa-Vicencio: ...I think one of the miraculous things in South Africa is that Mr. Mandela, who showed remarkable, unbelievable statesmanship, but F.W. de Klerk who said, “Well, OK, let’s sit down and let’s negotiate a different kind of future.” My boss, the archbishop, said it’s a miracle. I used to say to him, “Well, excuse me, Father, it’s a miracle, but my task is to deconstruct your miracle.” What is it? What is it? What is it? What are the ingredients? What’s the recipe that helps this to happen? And I’m still working on that one.