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  • Writer's pictureSam

Orientation Times Four

We call getting our bearings straight getting “oriented.” This is because ancient maps made in the western world had the Holy Land (Israel) at the top. The Holy Land was in the Orient.

Therefore, to “orient” a western map meant to put Israel (the Orient) at the top.

I once went on an outdoor adventure called an “Orienteering Marathon.” Our job was to find our ways through a dense forest in upstate New York using nothing but a compass and some vague directions about landmarks. It was both great fun and a great challenge.

When first responders come across someone in distress, they will often assess that person’s condition using four questions to determine if the person is aware of self, space, time, and event: (1) Who are you? (2) Where are you? (3) What day or time is it? (4) What just happened to you?

If the person can answer all four questions, he or she is said to “Oriented Times Four.”

This is not a bad paradigm for a person in the process of recovery and restoration.

1. Who are you? We often this question in terms of what we do (“I am a student.” or “I am a teacher.”). Sometimes we answer in terms of our relations (“I am Beth’s husband.” or “I am Joe’s grandson.”) Sometimes we answer in terms of nationality (“I am an American.” or “I am a Native American.”) But none of these answers gets to the core of who we really are, apart from status, relationships, jobs, etc. Try to answer the question “Who are you?” without using any of those “external” descriptors. It gets a little tougher, doesn’t it? It drills down to our sense of self as a fully integrated whole person, apart from any external reference points. This question has motivated and bedeviled philosophers, theologians, scientists, and regular folk like us since time began. It’s worth some of your time, too.

2. Where are you? Again, of course we can answer this question with reference to myriad points: in a chair, in a house, in Virginia, in America . . . etc. ad infinitum. But, again, drill deeper. Where are you in relation to your recovery, your partner, your dreams/goals, etc. Where are you in relation to people about whom you care, not just geographically but also relationally—are you close or distant? Are you moving closer or further away?

3. What time is it? As the band Chicago asked: “Does anybody really know what time it is? Does anybody care?” As Bob Dylan noted, at any given point in time, we are either “busy being born or busy dying.” The Greeks had two words for time: kronos and kairos. As you might have guessed, kronos was clock time. It is the sense of time to which we 21st century Americans are addicted. In many ways, it defines us. As someone once said, “Our datebook is the only autobiography many of us will ever write.” Do we spend time or invest it?

The more important use of time, however, is captured by the Greek word kairos, which is sometimes translated “opportunity” or “occasion.” Kairos happens when the supernatural intersects the natural. Kairos moments are measured in memories, not minutes. Are we using our kronos minutes to create—or at least be open to—kairos moments?

4. What just happened to you? Have you ever gotten to the end of the day and not be able to remember what you did during the day? Does life “happen to us” or do we make it happen? Are we curious about what is happening or do we just watch life drift by?

What is our orientation? Times four? Three? Two? We have to choose daily to engage in life and to be fully aware. “Orientation Times Four” is within reach. Grab it.

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