TIME PEACE is not quite a devotional, in which each chapter has a neat self-contained take-away message. Ellen Vaughn has written more of a think piece, in which chapters are short essays or nonfiction stories --- Vaughn is a very good storyteller --- that build one upon the other to ultimately present a devotional package.
In part 1, “Experiencing Time,” Vaughn introduces time issues: “Time Flies,” as in hours, days, years seem to go by so fast; “Time Hurts,” as in we age and die and “its passage hurts.” Jumping off from an account of people living and dying in the midst of Europe’s 14th-century black plague, Vaughn contrasts how people of faith can view and use time differently than people of despair. “Time is not our enemy when we are friends with God,” she writes, before progressing to part 2, “Managing Time,” which starts with a curious childhood anecdote of Ellen visiting and accidentally hitting, with her chin, no less, a “lock-down” button in the U.S. Naval Observatory, which keeps or determines the government’s official time. (Visitors are no longer allowed.)
As Americans we have become increasingly obsessed with and enslaved by time and the demands we require of it. “Social commentators call it a ‘time-crunched culture.’ Psychologists call it ‘hurry sickness.’ Everybody else calls it ‘multitasking.’” We’re paying a high price: “Chronic impatience becomes bottled wrath.”
From personal experience, contrasting her college years with her professional life (working with Charles Colson, “an enormously productive triple-A personality”), Vaughn discusses two misuses of time: being slothful and being overly controlling, squeezing the most out of every minute. Neither mode of operation is good stewardship of the gift of time that God has given us, Vaughn contends. “Are we often like Martha, distracted and controlling, acting like it’s our time, not God’s?”
Part 3, “Re-Viewing Time: A New Paradigm,” delves into the science of time, light and matter --- think Einstein --- and then into quantum physics, all packaged within a theological framework. I’ve always “checked out” when someone has tried to explain to me the “new physics”; so just the fact that I stayed with and understood the presentation speaks well of Vaughn’s prose. She briefly mentions someone who tries to discount Christian faith on the basis of quantum physics. But throughout the book, Vaughn returns to a theme of God being beyond finite knowledge or imaginings. The quantum world? Well, wow. God, our creator and redeemer, has more tricks up his sleeve than we had imagined.
In part 4, “Enjoying Time,” Vaughn returns to our personal view and use of time, hooking many of her points to Jesus’s parable of the steward and to the Gospel stories of Mary and Martha of Bethany. One most wonderful paragraph toward the end of the book is expressed in the context of God caring “more about our character than our calendar.” Some Christians, Vaughn says, “become so anxious about time that they regard any interruption as ‘spiritual warfare’; anything messy that slows them down is thwarting the very purposes of the Kingdom, because God needs them to have an immaculate schedule. This mindset can border on human ego rather than Kingdom effectiveness.”
Sometimes Vaughn interjects humor that would prompt laughter from a live audience but doesn’t quite work on paper. “Hmm, Augustine says in Latin. Hummus. He munches a crust of bread dipped in chickpea spread.” Well, okay, now let’s get on with the issue at hand --- what Augustine said about time. Apparently a lot, prefaced with this statement: “It is a problem at once so familiar and so mysterious.” Though she doesn’t say so, I imagine Vaughn started writing her book with the same puzzlement. By the end of her research and analysis, presented in the context of spiritual reflection, Vaughn answers a lot of questions. There is still mystery, but Vaughn comes to see time in terms of peace and takes her reader there also.
Reviewed by Evelyn Bence on May 29, 2007