My very being dwells in the flux of time’s flow. I must learn how time has shaped me. James K.A. Smith
Last week I checked out a book from the library called How to Inhabit Time by James K. A. Smith. As I consumed the pages with delight, my annoyance grew as I could not write in the margins or underline the beautifully crafted sentences that captivated my imagination. So, Amazon delivered my copy today. There goes my decision to buy books on Kindle or check them out from the library to keep a lid on my ever-growing book collection.
The genre of this book is Christian Philosophy. The theme: We cannot ignore our collective and personal histories because we carry them into our present. Smith says we often ask ourselves, “Where am I?” or “Who am I?” but even more importantly, we should be asking, “When am I?“
Smith says, “I won’t know who I am until I know when I am.” This question requires awakening to how history lives in me. It is discerning the spiritual repercussions of a past that precedes me, lives in me, and shapes my future.
Our past is not past; it oozes into the present.
The author shared about a life-changing therapy session when his therapist asked him to draw a map of his childhood home. As he illustrated the split-level house on Snakes Trail Road, memories flooded his mind of a family who fell apart amid the wood-paneled basement, the hi-fi with 8-tracks, and the hot rods and snowmobiles in the garage. Painful feelings of rejection engulfed him as he drew the blue flowered couch where his parents told him and his siblings it was all over and they must leave to make room for his father’s mistress and her children. This therapy session was the first time he confronted his past in his childhood home. He realized he wasn’t simply drawing a map but inhabiting a history.
All houses have memory. Every house is a clock. David Farrier
I thought about the blue flowered couch the author drew and what it represented in his life. So that got me thinking about the red suede couch I am sitting on as I write this. It has been my place of rest and contemplation for the past ten years. I have strategically placed it in the living room of four homes with addresses in three states. I have spent countless hours reading the Bible, journaling, dreaming, and crying out to God on this sofa. An inanimate object has come to represent how much loss I have experienced since the first time I sat on it in the furniture store.
In the first home, I sat on my sofa as a married woman with a daughter in high school without a clue that I would be divorced one day. It sat next to a picture window that framed our front patio, where a lemon tree flourished in the California sun. So many prayers and dreams were spoken out loud to God as I looked out the window. I often felt rushed in the morning to get off the couch and get ready for work at a corporate office in Irvine. Leaving the house with makeup, jewelry, curled hair, nice pants, and a blouse took time away from my introspection on the soft red seat.
In my second home, the couch sat against the wall of our home in Bend, Oregon, with a view of a sliding door that led to a patio and fenced backyard. By this time, my daughter had graduated high school and attended community college. My husband was 60 and retired at this point. Every morning before I headed up to my office to work remotely for my California company, I would sit in silence as I journaled my hopes and dreams for our life in Bend. However, on this couch, the most painful conversation in my life occurred with my husband. We divorced, put our house up for sale, and moved to separate cities in Oregon.
In my third home, the couch sat next to another picture window with a view of the most beautiful tree that marked the four seasons as I mourned the loss of my marriage and the death of my mother and sister. The fading red sofa was in a townhome I bought as a single woman in Medford, Oregon. I sat on its worn cushions for countless hours crying, journaling, and watching the tree go from bare to fresh green leaves to the most intense red to naked again. My daughter lived with me in this house while attending Southern Oregon University. One morning, while sitting on the sofa, I joyfully journaled that my daughter was graduating from college today.
In my fourth and current home, the sofa sits next to a bay window with a view of the most beautiful tree that marks the four seasons of my life in Denver, Colorado. My daughter still lives with me but pays rent with her hard-earned money from her full-time job that allows her to live as a 20-something single. I am still working remotely for my California company. Now I sit on the sofa mourning my life in a church fellowship I was a part of for 45 years. I had decided to walk away and get therapy for the trauma I had never dealt with while in that church which resulted in changing my theology and attending a church that teaches me to live in God’s grace.
I will cry my eyes out the day I give away my red sofa. Whoever inherits this old worn-out couch will have no idea of the way it transformed my heart to trust God through challenging and confusing times. Every stain, every missing thread, and every lost object within its cushions tells the story of my life.
After reading How to Inhabit Time, I looked at my red sofa and ask, When am I?
The answer I heard: You are now, and that now is embedded in your history. Time is like a river flowing and you are in this river being shaped by the wind, rain, and snow. Do not forget where you came from and do not look to your future with the lens of shame. Your history is who you are, and God is in your History.
Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom. Psalms 90:12