James K. A. Smith
Brazos Press, 208 pages | Published September 20, 2022
James K. A. Smith’s How to Inhabit Time: Understanding the Past, Facing the Future, Living Faithfully Now is part memoir, part academic reflection on time. Smith weaves his own experiences with the lack of awareness about time, the flexibility of time and his experiences with the church’s relationship to time. His personal narrative sits alongside a wide array of views on time, from modern reflections on the COVID-19 pandemic to extensive quotes from St. Augustine and Clement of Rome.
I expected another Christian self-help book on time management. I quickly reset those expectations as Smith articulated the “art of spiritual timekeeping — living out the faith with a disciplined temporal awareness.” It’s likely that most of us won’t understand every quote or reference, but Smith offers something for everyone, drawing from historical figures over the last 1,800 years, jumping from theologian to theologian and interspersing pop culture references with respect to how history and time are essential for the church and the individual.
Smith offers something that we don’t see enough of these days — a book published after the immediacy of the COVID-19 pandemic that doesn’t set out to “fix” your ministry. You won’t find a silver bullet, but you’ll be drawn into a deeper reflection on how to live in the moment without being forced to stay culturally relevant. By considering time from Gregorian, liturgical and lectionary perspectives, Smith ties together both the Christian and secular views of time into this little book. Although it won’t fix your ministry in a few easy steps, How to Inhabit Time reminds us of the importance of our past, present and future. When we remember where we came from, we are obligated to live outside of our schedules and forget our impatience. In an American world full of rush and calendars, Smith offers an alternative: we are to rest.
Though Smith uses his sources to make great points, the jump from St. Augustine to James Baldwin or from Kierkegaard to Star Wars can lead to a bit of whiplash. This is a book for academics, philosophers and those with the ability to savor it over a period of time. This isn’t a book to read with a group of congregants on a Wednesday night or to send home with your session. It’s dense, but there’s a lot of value one can get out of the deep theological reflections. With the right seminary background or a willingness to check out a quote from an original source (even if that means diving into Augustine’s Confessions), this can be a valuable book.
Smith writes, “(w)hile an eschatological orientation will be characterized by a kind of holy impatience, there should also be something unhurried about an eschatological people.” For Smith, a distinctly Christian and clearly countercultural way of life takes shape in the form of sabbath rest and a patience in the present. This book offers the more academic reader another way: slow down and see the world around us.
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