Dr. John E. Johnson

Dr. John E. Johnson

Learning How to Inhabit This Present Season

I can only write as well as I read. Reading, for the most part, informs my writing. Hence, it is important to read, to choose wisely what to read, and to read with care. In her book, On Reading Well, Karen Swallow Prior notes that good reading is no mystery; it simply requires time and attention. Slowing down not only to comprehend but pausing to reflect.

In our fast and furious age, we’re not so conditioned to do this. Social media and Wikipedia have trained us to skim for information. But books—the good ones—invite us to luxuriate in them much like a fine meal welcomes us to savor. These are the books that more than inform—they form us. More than shape, they enable me to write.

One such book is James K.A. Smith’s How to Inhabit Time. I referred to it in my last post. I’m still here, savoring, having just finished “Seasons of the Heart.” More than at any other time in my life, I am conscious of the season I am in. Are you? It’s critical. One of our core disciplines, notes Smith, is faithful temporal awareness. It is important to grasp our “seasonal location” and not waste it.  In a psalm very much about time, the psalmist prays, “Teach us to number our days aright that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (90:12). Time is too precious to squander, the season too important to miss.

In another biblical passage, Ecclesiastes 3 tells us there is a time, a season for everything. Each has its moment, and moments come and go—weeping and laughter, searching and letting go, keeping and throwing away. In this season of my life, I am beginning to see both sides of these lines with greater clarity. Time suddenly looks different.

There is a time to plant, but I have just experienced the inevitable other side—a time to uproot. It’s why I have not written for a few weeks. Uprooting—moving from our cabin in the wilderness—has taken time—time that cannot be simply measured chronologically. It has not been as elemental as renting a U-Haul truck and loading and unloading. Time has been required for a certain mourning of something lost, a reckoning with the fact that keeping this place makes less sense in this season of our lives. I am no longer so keen to drive eight hours, take care of seven acres, and be distant from community. There is, as Smith advises, a time to let go of what needs to be taken from us.

In this season, a time to mourn is also catching up with so many of those times I have danced through life. I am seeing more and more of my family and friends decline and pass. Men who have been my models of travel and adventure and service, are now forced to cut back and move off-stage. At an earlier season, Ecclesiastes 3 was teaching me what to expect. Now I am learning what is expected of me in this period I now live. There was a time to generate class notes, but it is no longer required that I keep them; there was time to speak, but there comes a time to speak less. And yes, in this last clearing out of things, I threw out the last of my trophies, as well as the US Open ball with Agassi’s signature. It was time.

I have noticed we begin to see more clearly when we see from both sides. This does not allow us to transcend our season, rise above it and see the whole with some kind of “spiritual drone.” We do, however, find ourselves more acutely aware we live in the middle zone, between time and time without end, impermanence and permanence, incompletion and completion. What control we have is partial, what command we assume is often an illusion. As Leithart puts it, “this windy world will not stay put in the little labeled file boxes we make for it.” We’re not in charge, we never were in charge…that’s Someone else’s job. What we can do is embrace whatever season we are in. God is behind each one, holding us through them all; hence the sage exhorts us over and over to relax and enjoy the ride (2:24-26; 3:12-145:18; 8:15). And read well.

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