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Those who imagine they inhabit nowhen imagine themselves wholly governed by timeless principles, unchanging convictions, expressing an idealism that assumes they are wholly governed by eternal ideas untainted by history. They are oblivious to the deposits of history in their own unconscious. They have never considered the archaeological strata in their own souls. (195)

Whether in my own spiritual life or, say, the lifelong journey of a marriage, recognizing the reality of seasons can be incredibly liberating, not only because it changes our expectations but also because it attunes us to receive God’s grace in different ways in different eras of a life. The spiritual dynamics of time and history are at once communal and individual, personal and political. We must attend to our history just as I face my own. Reckoning and hope scale to both soul and society. (249)

Like trees whose rings tell the story of fires and droughts from a distant past, our character and capacities reflect histories that long preceded us as well as the personal histories that amount to our own story. A faithful Christian life is a matter of keeping time with the Spirit. But what the Spirit asks of us always reflects history—our own, but also the history of the church and the societies in which we find ourselves. “What do we do now?” is one of the fundamental questions of discipleship. (268)

This is the fundamental conviction of catholicity: the Spirit continues to guide and lead into the future, across history, still guiding, convicting, illuminating, and revealing, which is precisely why ongoing reform is necessary. The story is still unfolding. Listening to the Spirit is not an archaeological dig for some original deposit but rather an attunement to a God with us, still speaking, still surprising, still revealing. (413)

Meditation 1: Ecclesiastes 3:9-15

Our inability to see the whole is not reason to despair. Our being subject to the conditions of temporality is not a prison but a focus. Gifted with boundaries, we are given room to be happy, to find joy, to enjoy time and—perhaps?—even toil. “That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction [“pleasure” even, the NRSV says] in all their toil—this is the gift of God” (3:13). The Teacher’s counsel is provocative, even table-turning: lean into your creaturehood; live into your temporality; dig into your toil. There are gifts you might never have imagined: pleasure, happiness, joy. (490)

Chapter 1 - Creature of Time: How to Face our Forgetting

  • “For everything created, to be is to be temporal…”
  • We pickup and carry our entire history as we roll through time
  • Phenomenology - school of philosophy on how we experience the world
  • “My history makes me ‘me’” because it’s the past experiences that propel us into the future.
  • Existence is highly contingent
  • Our responsibility is to play from the contingencies of the cards we’ve been dealt.
  • “Our past is not what we leave behind, it’s what we carry”
  • Our institutions embed our past in ways of doing things.
  • We often unwittingly spurn inherited gifts, oblivious to the borrowed capital we’re depending on.
  • Often it’s a negative legacy that continues to reverberate (slavery, oppression, etc)
  • One common way of forgetting is nostalgia:
    • We only selectively remember the past, dismissing parts that might propel us in a different direction
    • Another form of this is primitivism
    • It is frequently leveraged to advocate for a romantic ideal of “the way things used to be”
  • Mirror image is the ideal of “progress,” idealizing a future version despite contrary evidence from the past.
  • Related is “doomsdayism” - demonizing the future
    • examples- rapture-ready, environmental disaster, etc.
  • Discernment involves interpreting our place in history rather than seeing it as something to be done.
  • The irony that our man-made problems are frequently caused by the wrong use of God’s gifts in our pride and arrogance. What we need is contrition.
  • Neibuhr - “Consciousness of an ironic situation tends to dissolve it”
  • Discerning the present and what God expects is difficult but necessary.

But the only hand we have to play is the hand we’ve been dealt by the history that has come before us. Because we are heirs of such history, possibilities open up for us. Thrownness is not a negative thing. Because I’ve been thrown into the life and time in which I find myself, I have a future that calls for me to realize possibilities latent in what has been handed down. (631)

The mirror image of nostalgia is a rosy, idealist notion of “progress,” a tendency to romanticize the so-called arc of history as the inevitability of our own virtue. (747)

Our situation, rather, is ironic: so many evils are of our own making, and yet so many of those evils are generated by our blinkered virtues and the unconscious shadows of our best intentions. “The evil in human history is regarded as the consequence of man’s wrong use of his unique capacities. The wrong use is always due to some failure to recognize the limits of his capacities of power, wisdom and virtue. Man is an ironic creature because he forgets that he is not simply a creator but also a creature.” (831)

Chapter 2 - A History of the Human Heart: How to Learn from Ghosts

  • Discussing how the perspective of an Arctic winter and summer challenges our view of time.
  • Just like we cannot compare “equal sunlight” in the arctic and tropics, we cannot compare ourselves with others.
  • Our past oozes into the present (like oil from a whale)
  • Muscle memory
    • Not only is the past with us, sometimes it grates against our present
  • We are thrown into a specific time and place which sets the horizons of possibility. Entrusting to God is partly acknowledging that he has thrown us.
  • Grace writes a new chapter, not erasing all that’s past.
  • It is my unique blend of past & personality that make up the poiema God is creating with me.
  • This extends back to the generations before.

We are thrown into a time and place, thrown into a story that is our history, and these form the horizons of possibility for us—our temporal halo we described earlier. That is not a limitation as much as a focusing, a gifted specificity. This corner of earth I’ve been given to till. These neighbors I am called to love. These talents I’m exhorted to fan into flame. This neighborhood in which to birth a future. (1032)

Just as the resurrected Christ bears the mark of his wounds—his “history” with the Roman Empire—so the new self in Christ is the resurrection of a self with a past. The “I” is saved only if this me with this bodily history rises to new life. If all that I’ve lived through was simply erased by grace, then “I” am lost rather than redeemed. If all that I’ve become and learned and acquired and experienced was just overwhelmed and made null by grace, then salvation would be an obliteration rather than redemption. (1116)

everything I’m able to dream and hope and chase in the future is because of what has been bequeathed to me by those who have preceded me. There is a mystery of inheritance at work here: I am no doubt an heir to dispositions and habits and even pretensions from ancestors I’ve never met. God’s grace enables me to make friends even with my ghosts. (1191)

Meditation 2: Ecclesiastes 7:10-14

Every nostalgic impulse to turn back the clock is a foolish willingness to sacrifice all we’ve learned. (1220)

Here is counsel for mortals, for “those who see the sun”: Look at what God has done. There is an inexplicable mystery about it. You couldn’t have imagined your life, its bends and pivots, its zigs and zags. The crookedness of your unlikely life is not a failure. The wending paths aren’t mistakes. The looping route that looked like it was going nowhere was a switchback climbing a mountain. The jagged line that is your story tracks the path of God’s companionship and care. Who, indeed, can straighten what God has made crooked? And why would you wish it were straighter? Look what God has done: that crooked line is one he drew with you. (1225)

Chapter 3 - The Sacred Folds of Kairos: How (Not) to Be Contemporary

  • Church paintings that seem to bend history into an eternal present.
  • Are we further from God, the longer we go after the incarnation?
    • Kierkegaard says no - the point is to make followers, and an eyewitness does not == follower
    • “History matters, but how it matters makes all of the difference”
  • No one can follow without God’s grace, and if it is granted, you are at no disadvantage
  • The liturgical calendar reflects the bending of time around the incarnate Christ.
  • Similar to how the 2nd generation in Deuteronomy is addressed as if they were primary witnesses.
  • The contingency of time, and the agreement among nations in the 1800s to standardize time.
  • In a sense the Church’s liturgical calendar is there to keep time for the source and people of God.

As Kierkegaard puts it, the God who arrives in history as Mary’s son in first-century Palestine is not looking merely for eyewitnesses; God is looking for followers, learners, disciples.6 We shouldn’t confuse eyewitness contemporaries of Jesus with followers. While the historical revelation of God is a condition for encountering the paradox, being contemporary with the God-man is not sufficient for such an encounter. “Knowing a historical fact—indeed, knowing all the historical facts with the trustworthiness of an eyewitness—by no means makes the eyewitness a follower.”7 Why? Because the difference between an eyewitness contemporary and a follower is how they relate to this historical appearance. (1322)

On the road to Emmaus, not even resurrection immediately translates into recognition; something else has to be given. There is a grace needed to glimpse the God who graces history. (1360)

In the vivid descriptions of the trials of Israel and Yahweh’s enduring faithfulness, Moses’s speeches make later generations witnesses of past events in the same spirit that Kierkegaard’s later followers are “contemporaries” of Christ. “At one remove, the members of the historical audience of the Book of Deuteronomy are implicitly invited to imagine what their forebears actually saw, to see it vicariously. The midrashic notion that all future generations of Israel were already present as witnesses at Sinai is adumbrated, perhaps actually generated, by this rhetorical strategy of the evocation of witnessing in Deuteronomy.” (1450)

Chapter 4 - Embrace the Ephemeral: How to Love What You’ll Lose

  • As we age, we often feel a sense of Autumn in our lives.
  • Finitude is part of our design and should not be resented. We should embrace our mortality and contingency as a gift.
  • Every time we seek to capture a moment, we lose it. This major problem with outsourcing our memories to camera.
  • The ephemeral is a feature of finitude. To live as a mortal is to embrace it and treasure the joy in it.
  • Sin has left us facing mortality as a disaster.
    • Is there mortality w/o sin?
  • There is an art to losing, so we can be prepared and it’s not a disaster.

Perhaps the reason I didn’t feel sad about the onset of fall when I was younger is only that I was younger, with my whole life still ahead. In those days my only worry was that my real life, the one I would choose for myself and live on my own terms, was taking too long to arrive. Now I understand that every day I’m given is as real as life will ever get. Now I understand that we are guaranteed nothing, that our days are always running out. That they have always, always been running out. (1580)

This is temporal contentment: to inhabit time with eyes wide open, hands outstretched, not to grasp but to receive, enjoy, and let go. Sometimes knowing this won’t last forever compels us to hold hands in the present. (1640)

Here might be the deep lesson of the Teacher’s wisdom in Ecclesiastes: to not bemoan our mortal estate but to face it, accept it, and find rhythms in sync with the fleeting nature of time. One might say it is an exercise in redeeming vanity. “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love,” the Teacher counsels, “all the days of your vain life that are given you under the sun, because that is your portion in life and in your toil at which you toil under the sun” (Eccles. 9:9). The sticky words here, “vanity” and “toil,” are demoralizing and sit uneasily with the Teacher’s opening injunction: “Enjoy!” Enjoy vanity, emptiness, meaninglessness?…This is not a counsel of despair or resignation but rather an invitation to reframe expectations such that I can “enjoy” what’s before me, who is with me, fleeting as their presence might be. The question isn’t whether we can escape this condition but how we will receive our mortality, how we will shepherd what’s fleeting yet given. (1682)

The trick, Augustine says, is to learn to love what you’ll lose. That doesn’t mean despising what can’t endure or hating what is transitory. It means holding it with an open hand, loving it in the ways appropriate to mortal things. When love is rightly ordered, we can embrace even the ephemeral. (1822)

Meditation 3 - Ecclesiastes 11:7-12:8

  • The teacher’s meditation defies despair and passes wisdom to the next generation.
  • Life is a fleeting vapor, but it is not meaningless. Rejoice in your youth, as elders grant to the youth what you long for.

So rejoice, you young, while you are young. Be young, even though it’s hard to understand youth until you’ve lost it. (And you elders: remember what you wasted and grant the youth what you now long for.) Remember whose you are, as creatures who bear the image of your Creator, creatures whose very fleeting breath is given. Get rambunctious in your creaturehood while you have the energy and dreams and distinct joy of youth. (1870)

Chapter 5 - Seasons of the Heart: How to Inhabit Your Now

  • (Definitely the most “woke” of the chapters in the book)
  • Discussing the Geometry of the earth and the resulting seasons. The irony that harvest comes at the end, from dying plants.
  • Our always-on approach to food disconnects us from the rhythms of nature’s seasonal foods. We settle for second-rate all the time vs. high quality at the right time.
  • Preservation is a lesson we learn from seasonality. To store up in harvest because winter comes.
  • The eras of life are perhaps the most accurate way to view our “when”
    • For example, the years of “birth” when a couple is childrearing
  • Knowing what time it is takes discernment
    • For example, discerning the priority of one of your callings in a given period
    • Recognizing the call to care for an aging relative
    • This also applies collectively, discerning the season as a community or institution
  • One cheat code to getting outside of our immediate fray is developing intergenerational friendships.
  • It’s important to understand that seasons happen to us and are not who we are.
  • Our experiences with God and the way we understand Scripture also ebb and flow in seasons.

Fast food culture is driven by its own kind of atemporal idealism that floats above the realities of time—it contrives a “nowhen” by making everything available everywhere, all the time. “We have been conditioned to expect the endless bounty of summer foods through every season, even though that’s simply not how nature works.” This fabricated fiction that makes me live as if it’s always strawberry season both warps my expectations and undermines my attunement to the goods of the world. (1919)

Seasonality means that, rather than being governed by the unceasing ticks of a minute hand, our lives unfold in eras. While minutes, days, and years carve up and measure the cosmic time of Earth’s course around a dwarf star, for temporal creatures like us, the season is perhaps the most natural form of timekeeping. The answer to the question “When am I?” isn’t six o’clock or 2022; it is more like youth, middle age, chapter 3 of a life. (1981)

If there are seasons in which we should expect certain kinds of experiences to befall us, there are also times when certain actions are expected of us. While some of these seasons arrive without our bidding (birth, death, weeping, laughing), much of what the Teacher counsels here assumes our agency. In this sense, Ecclesiastes is both teaching us what to expect and also exhorting us to recognize what’s called for, what’s expected of us in different seasons. Sometimes we are called to embrace; in other seasons we might best bear witness to justice by refusing to embrace some pseudoreconciliation. There will be times when we should be building, launching, founding; but in a transitory world, sometimes wisdom will be knowing when to shut it down and dismantle. It might be hard to imagine there could ever be a season that calls for us to tear; shouldn’t we be weavers, menders, repairing the social fabric? Yes, but sometimes that will mean tearing down the flags and monuments that have functioned as barriers for full inclusion, mementos of terror that only deserve to be torn down. We will be primed to ask ourselves, “Is this a season for me to be quiet?” without fretting we’ll never be heard again. (2037)

In the later chapters of a life, we might find that, whatever we might have had planned for that season, the Spirit is calling us to attend to a loved one who is ill and fading. To answer that call is to recognize a vocational focus for a time. Giving ourselves over to that might be difficult; we may also have to mourn what we had planned. “We must be willing to let go of the life we had planned,” says E. M. Forster, “so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” (2095)

However, there is one way to almost cheat and get outside your now. If you want to transcend time, build friendships across generations. Though you can’t stand outside your season, you can hear from those who’ve lived through such seasons. In my experience, this is one of the great gifts of multigenerational friendships. Friendship, in this respect, is akin to time travel. There are patterns of a human life that, despite our claims to utter uniqueness, are in fact repeated and shared.(2153)

Discernment is not well served by self-congratulating histories that simply narrate our founding mythologies and confirm the stories we tell ourselves. Discernment requires an attention to history that is willing to be vulnerable to what we’ve buried, ignored, and would rather not hear. Only when we face those facets of our history will we properly understand when we are and who we’ve become. (2209)

You will also find that Scripture sounds different, depending on your season. Or rather, depending on the sort of season you find yourself in, you will find yourself differently attuned to the same Word you’ve heard a thousand times before. Part of the profundity of the Bible is the way it can give itself to us so differently across an entire life—indeed, across millennia and generations, like a never-ending, cascading waterfall whose presence is steady but whose notes and sounds are constantly different.(2250)

Chapter 6 - On Not Living Ahead of Time: How to Sing Maranatha!

  • The Time Being - that time between, waiting for consummation
  • The world to come is imagined to us in terms we can understand from our own sense experience
  • We must resist the temptation to rush the kingdom in.

A “practical eschatology,” as I’m calling it, is the lived wisdom of knowing when we are and hence living a harmonious life, individually and collectively, that holds together the tension of the already and not-yet as a chord. It is the chord that sounds on the edge-point of spending time with the future and not living ahead of time. But practical eschatology is not just about the soul’s destiny or life after death. Eschatology is primarily about how we occupy ourselves in the now, how we live in “the Time Being” in a way that bears witness to the reality of what we pray for when we long for the kingdom to come. That is why eschatology is more political than personal. An eschatology is a theology of public life, the life we share in common in the meantime. Eschatology is about how we live in the now, and that “we” is as wide as humanity, even if we’re not all keeping time in the same way. (2487)

God’s gifts are not just miraculous incursions into the present; they are more often legacies of God’s influence on the cosmos handed down to us in the snowball effects of history. For example, there are many ways in which the institutions and practices of liberal democracy are the distinct fruit of Christianity’s impact on the political institutions of the West and (now) wider world. The political goods of representation, checks on power, even mercy in judgment, are distinct effects of the encounter between the gospel and political life. And the legacy of that redemptive impact of grace on our common life is a gift that benefits many of those of other faiths and those with no faith at all. It is a legacy that shines upon the just and the unjust, so to speak.(2613)

Leisure is an eschatological discipline of stilling hubris and resting in the God who has raised Jesus as the firstfruits of what is to come. “Having enough time” is an act of hope. Building margins into a life so you can respond to opportunities to muse, play, talk, pray is its own defiant act of trust and expectation. (2726)


The God who saves is a mosaic artist who takes the broken fragments of our history and does a new thing: he creates a work of art in which that history is reframed, reconfigured, taken up, and reworked such that the mosaic could only be what it is with that history. The consummation of time is not the erasure of history. The end of all things is a “taking up,” not a destruction.