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Wednesday, November 26, 2014

"Slowing Time" (Barbara Mahany)

TITLE: Slowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door
AUTHOR: Barbara Mahany
PUBLISHER: Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2014, (208 pages).

For the racer, speed is king. For the high achiever, quick results means efficiency. For the impatient, any time saved is never really good enough. As a result, the world spins faster and faster turning life into a giant rat race. Many of us have become so accustomed to such a lifestyle that "fast-paced," "busyness," and "quickly" have become norms in our culture. As the task grinds on, and as exhaustion wears one down, work increasingly looks more like a chore. The clock runs ceaselessly pulling people in and breaking people up. Something must change. We cannot live on speed forever. Machines may be light-speed capable, but man is very much "life speed." Life is about telling a story not rushing a storybook to meet a human deadline. The big question is how. If everybody is so busy, who would have time to look at the slower things in life? Enters author Barbara Mahany, who knows what the benefits of slowing down are.

In a book that adopts a seasonal framework, Mahany is attempting to narrate what life is about in one word: Wonder. With intentionality to pause and not to let the rush get into the mind, she learns to pay attention to the ordinary things around. She is aware of the tyranny of the familiar, in which busyness and frantic living can make us miss out the little ordinary beauty so near us. Do not expect to see large discourses about life. Instead, the brevity of observations and thoughts will pleasantly make us pause to say: "Hey, why didn't I see that?"

Writing from a Catholic background, Mahany observes the spiritual life from two faith perspectives, Christian and Jewish. For her, Winter is a time of deepening as the weather turns colder. With poems to slow our reading, and fourteen blessings to trigger our gratitude, and significant dates in the calendar to help us remember, we are invited from the mundane to the humane, from the ordinary to the holy, and the place of rush to a posture of wonder. Notes are there to help us pay attention and to dream. Come Spring, we anticipate a season of quickening. We are ushered into the Season of Lent, of fasting and praying in a time where things are plentiful. She makes several insightful notes. Like the temporal and quick blossoming of the Japanese cherry blossoms, relating that to the importance of cherishing the limited time of life. April Fools' Day is a day to be prepared for the unexpected. Mother's Day brings back a sense of appreciation for one of the most important persons of our lives. Thoughts on faith are always nearby, with reflections on the Sabbath, life and death, faith and hope, "unscripted life." In Summer, we see the beauty of abundance, something Mahany calls a "season of plenitude." Here, we note the longest day of the year, Independence Day, and even National Blueberry Muffin Day! Simple pleasures and events deserve our reckoning and savouring. It is also known for rains to remind us that life is not just smiles and laughter, but also moments that remind us our our mortality and the multiple dimensions of life. The wise farmer would do timely harvesting. The prudent will keep watch. The rest of us can participate on living with love and care. Then comes Autumn, a season of awe. With another fourteen blessings to peg down the tents of rush and hush, Mahany tries to "amplify the awe" element. Beginning with the nature of Autumn, the falling leaves and the changing colours will naturally cause one toward gazing in wonder. She goes back to October 4th to remember the Feast of St Assissi, the patron saint of ordinary creatures that surround us. We have a lot to learn from this amazing saint. We are reminded that we "possess sparks of the Divine." There are many opportunities for contemplation and prayer. I like how Mahany describes the Sabbath as "holy time again" and the image of a "holy spiral" as a "geometry of climbing" upward to heaven.  Readers are then brought full circle to Winter once more, this second round as a "season of stillness."

I suppose Barbara Mahany, has written something rather counter-cultural in our mad-paced world. She writes against a culture that sees doing more or going fast as the norm. In fact, we can do a lot more with less. We can embrace life better with slowness and intentionality. With fourteen blessings per season to slow us down, we are in some special way 'quickened' to increase our sense of wonder. Awe and wonder are attitudes that cannot be rushed. They need to be invited. Like a squirrel peeking out from a bush, people need to know when it is safe enough to come out, to be ourselves again. There is much to learn about God's creation, for we are created by God in the first place. There is much to learn about nature, for we are called to take care of nature. There is much to learn about life, for we are called to live well. As Christians, we have a lot more reason to do all of the above, to care for the environment, to respect one another, to revere God, and to be the people God has called us to be.

Mahany has prescribed a powerful antidote for us to live with wonder and grace, in a world that has too often run ahead of itself. We are reminded that we are not created for "light-speed" but life-speed. We are to pace ourselves according to the wonder of God, lest we fall under the tyranny of the urgent. Thanks Mahany!

Rating: 4.25 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Abingdon Press and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.


  1. dear dr. yap, blessedly, i stumbled just now upon this dollop of kindness, and i wanted to thank you for your careful and thoughtful read. i am deeply grateful to you, and send profound thanks on this the american holiday of deep gratitude. bless you.

    1. Hi Barbara,

      You're most welcome. Happy Thanksgiving!