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How To Inhabit Time: Learning To Reflect With James K. A. Smith

As we begin a new year, the Busted Halo Show welcomes back author and philosophy professor James K. A. Smith to discuss his new book, “How to Inhabit Time: Understanding the Past, Facing the Future, Living Faithfully Now.”

“That pivot from New Year’s Eve to the New Year, it’s a reflective moment,” James says. “People are taking stock of what were their favorite movies for the past year, they’re setting goals and things for the new year. I think there’s something sort of natural and human about that, and I think finding time to reflect on when we are goes a long way to sort of deepening the intentionality in our life.”

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He explains that his book is not meant to help you with a new years resolution, but rather how to reflect on our place in history. “I’m much more interested in catalyzing reflection on, what does it mean that we are historical creatures? That we are heirs of a past, that we inherit things that have been handed down to us, and that we each carry a history in our bones.”

James also notes, “I think there are a lot of facets of American culture that kind of mitigate against reflection, just to understate it. We’re sort of perpetually distracted, which is what frustrates the capacity to engage in introspection, reflection and contemplation.” 

Father Dave explains one action he takes to be more present as he celebrates Mass, and explains two definitions of time that James also discusses in his book. “I remember learning that the Greeks would have different words in different notions. One is chronos, and one is kairos,” Father Dave says, with chronos marking sequential time and kairos being more qualitative. “When I celebrate Mass, I take off my watch for a couple reasons, because the Apple Watch, it lights up and it’s a little distracting…but hopefully, even in a busy day, that puts me out of what we call the chronos time and put me into a little bit of a kairos time.”

James continues, “Kairos is this kind of pregnant, generative, infused possibility of time, where we are taken up into, you could say, the coming kingdom. Like it’s almost little foretastes of kingdom come.”

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They also discuss different seasons of life, from young parents to middle-aged adulthood. Father Dave notes how Krista tries to be present with her young daughter, rather than document every moment. James expands on this and says, “So much of our experience now is about accumulating experiences by what we can capture on our device, as if that’s going to somehow help us remember it and be present to it. But the result is, we never actually experienced the thing firsthand, we just experience it through the screen. I think this is another part of embracing the finitude and embracing the ephemerality of things. Things come to be and pass away.”

He continues, “I think it’s about living into our creaturehood in a way that we realize, God is faithfully present to every season in which we find ourselves. That’s exactly why there’s the joy of surprises in what’s to come.”’

Originally published January 12, 2023.