How to Inhabit Time

Understanding the Past, Facing the Future, Living Faithfully Now

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Publishers Weekly starred review

2023 Christian Book Award® Winner (Christian Living)

Christianity Today 2023 Book Award Finalist (Christian Living & Spiritual Formation)

Outreach 2023 Recommended Resource (Christian Living)

A "Best Book of 2022,"
Englewood Review of Books

"This incisive and eloquent volume will expand readers' minds."--
Publishers Weekly

"A beautifully written book. . . . [Smith] offers a good, pastoral word to Christians today."--Christian Century

Many Christians live a faith that is "nowhen." They are disconnected from the past or imagine they are somehow "above" the flux of history, as if every generation starts with a clean state. They lack an awareness of time and the effects of history--both personal and collective--and thus are naive about current issues, prone to nostalgia, or fixated on the end times and other doomsday versions of the future.

Popular speaker and award-winning author James K. A. Smith explains that we must reckon with the past in order to discern the present and have hope for the future. Integrating popular culture, biblical exposition, and meditation, he helps us develop a sense of "temporal awareness" that is attuned to the texture of history, the vicissitudes of life, and the tempo of the Spirit.

Smith shows that awakening to the spiritual significance of time is crucial for orienting faith in the twenty-first century. It allows us to become indebted to the past, oriented toward the future, and faithful in the present.

Introduction: When Are We? The Spiritual Significance of Timekeeping
Meditation 1: Ecclesiastes 3:9-15
1. Creatures of Time: How to Face Our Forgetting
2. A History of the Human Heart: How to Learn from Ghosts
Meditation 2: Ecclesiastes 7:10-14
3. The Sacred Folds of Kairos: How (Not) to Be Contemporary
4. Embrace the Ephemeral: How to Love What You'll Lose
Meditation 3: Ecclesiastes 11:7-12:8
5. Seasons of the Heart: How to Inhabit Your Now
6. On Not Living Ahead of Time: How to Sing Maranatha!
Epilogue: History in Heaven


"Annie Dillard memorably wrote, 'How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.' There is only the particular. And the Christian faith gives us a distinct place to stand in the present, formed by a specific history and drawn by the eschatological Spirit into God's future. Yet, as James Smith shows, often proponents of the very faith, which should locate us most clearly in God's time, settle for the parody--'nowhen' Christians. This book has helped me--genuinely. James Smith has helped me think about the subject of time in a fresh way. I greatly enjoyed the distilled wisdom, the broad philosophical engagement, the connecting of Scripture, tradition, and culture. Truly this book is a gift which has engaged my awareness of how we are called to live the gifts which are our lives. My hope and prayer is that the impact of this book on how we live--on the times of our lives--will be exponentially more than the time it took to read it."

The Most Rev. Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury

"'A life is always a lifetime, and ours is a time of toil,' writes James K. A. Smith. But he shows us that time is more than toil. It is a gift waiting to be redeemed, and a central conviction of this book is that 'the Lord of the star fields' is intimately attuned to our haunted, beautiful histories. Dwelling with these lucid, winsome meditations on 'spiritual timekeeping' was like listening in on a lively conversation between St. Augustine, Gustavo Gutiérrez, James Baldwin, and Marilynne Robinson, while Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon played in the background."

Fred Bahnson, author of Soil and Sacrament

"James K. A. Smith's inspired work examines time not as hourglass sand running hopelessly through our fingers but as a divine gift that we can capture just enough to recognize the pearl of life that time shapes. A thoughtful and engaging book."

Sophfronia Scott, author of The Seeker and the Monk: Everyday Conversations with Thomas Merton

"In this arresting and elegant book, Jamie Smith gives us a profound and beguiling meditation on time (and therefore death), on embodiment (and therefore love), on creaturehood (and therefore our orientation toward God). Philosophically rigorous and creatively daring, this original and provocative exploration summons each of us to diligent thinking and unflinching honesty, to (in Smith's own phrase) 'shared vulnerability' and deep prayer."

Charles Marsh, Commonwealth Professor of Religious Studies, University of Virginia; author of Strange Glory: A Life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer

"In How to Inhabit Time, James K. A. Smith makes of his boundless knowledge and crystalline thinking a most evocative/provocative succession of scenes--a sensuous narrative that asks us to recalibrate our idea of time so that we might carry ourselves, with grace and gratitude, through it."

Beth Kephart, author of Wife | Daughter | Self: A Memoir in Essays

"James K. A. Smith draws from biblical, philosophical, and therapeutic insights to weave our lives into a wondrous drama far greater than can be found in the fleeting and distracting present tense. Along the way he courageously tells his own story of finding hope for the future by reckoning with his past, our past, and God's redemptive event that is still unfolding."

M. Craig Barnes, president, Princeton Theological Seminary

"Jamie Smith is a crucial philosopher and theologian. In a time of frightening upheaval over the nature of identity, we dearly need this wise and winsome book about how to inhabit time well. Listen to Smith unpack a song, a poem, a passage from Ecclesiastes, or a philosopher's lifework, and come away challenged, changed, and delighted."

Jason Byassee, Vancouver School of Theology

The Author

  1. James K. A. Smith
    Seth Thompson, © 2017 Green Frog Photo

    James K. A. Smith

    James K. A. Smith (PhD, Villanova University) is a popular speaker and the award-winning author of a number of influential books, including Desiring the Kingdom, How (Not) to Be Secular, You Are What You Love, On the Road with...

    Continue reading about James K. A. Smith


2023 Christian Book Award® Winner (Christian Living)
Christianity Today 2023 Book Award Finalist (Christian Living & Spiritual Formation)
Outreach 2023 Recommended Resource (Christian Living)
A "Best Book of 2022,"
Englewood Review of Books

"[Smith] delivers a lyrical exploration of how faith intersects with history and time. . . . He notes that Christians have a distinct way of keeping time because they 'are citizens of a kingdom that will arrive from the future,' and he urges them to 'inhabit the present' while looking ahead and preparing for the kingdom. The theology's focus on the temporal dimension of Christianity yields novel insights, and the prose is elegant and lucid. This incisive and eloquent volume will expand readers' minds."

Publishers Weekly (starred review)

"In a crowded field of books on time and being present in the moment comes a standout work by the always thought-provoking philosopher James K. A. Smith. He finds a way to usher readers into the topic of time and temporal awareness, while simultaneously mentoring them into a mode of critical reflection and appreciation or wisdom passed down through history."

Ken Wytsma,


"A beautifully written book that is both uplifting and challenging. Smith never lacks an illustration. He welcomes us into his garden; he offers us an earbud to listen to something with him; he invites us to sit down next to him at the old family piano. He allows us to look over his shoulder as he reads James Baldwin, Augustine, and Marcel Proust. He moves in and out of prose to engage our minds and hearts. His provocative questions unfold in a disarming and compassionate manner, with the potential to tear down the walls that have been hardened by the debates and struggles of recent years. . . . In affirming and celebrating God's attunement to the particular histories of our lives, he offers a good, pastoral word to Christians today. To discuss concepts of time and encourage an embrace of our ephemerality in our current moment of mass shootings, systemic oppression, and a global pandemic is daring. Smith is deeply invested in this work. He rejoices in the truth that the God of eternity knows the suffering and pain we have endured and promises to lovingly gather up the broken fragments of life and make it whole again."

Amar D. Peterman,

Christian Century

"I really think [Smith] is one of the most important and interesting writers of our day. His generous and insightful interactions with other authors--from ancient philosophers to contemporary scholars--is notable and his writing is interesting. . . . With examples from the tangible, visible arts to poets and rock singers, with studies from philosophers and social critics, with plenty of Bible and church history, How to Inhabit Time is a masterpiece."

Byron Borger,

Hearts and Minds Books