This little reflection was inspired by my friend Emily, who blogs at The Pastor and the Bartender. I’ve known Emily these four years since we began at Vanderbilt Divinity School, and now that life has taken to different geographies and different locations, I continue to be proud to count her among my friends.
When she asked me to reflect on what the liturgical season of Ordinary Time meant to me, I seized the opportunity to write the following.
Does the church year really mimic the academic year, or has my experience lead me to that conclusion?
For nineteen years of my life, I have had my seasons dictated by the school calendar. It is hard to suddenly think of the year beginning in November instead of late August (or for that matter, January). But this isn’t meant to be a reflection on the start of the year, but the middle. Or rather, the first long stretch.
The Christian year begins with Advent, and then comes Christmas and Epiphany. Soon after, Lent arrives to mark the road to Easter. Easter comes and goes, then begins the even longer season of Ordinary Time. Unlike Lent, Ordinary Time is not marked by a sense of anticipation or special longing. It is the first long stretch of time in the church year when there is nothing hovering just along the horizon.
In my academic career, Ordinary Time has always coincided with summer–vacations and blissful forgetting of all the lessons learned the previous year. When I was growing up, this was a season of low attendance at my church. No one said it aloud, but I got the impression that it was acceptable to miss some church in the summertime because nothing really “important” was happening. Jesus wasn’t being born, baptized or executed, nor was he rising. Mary wasn’t waiting patiently, and we weren’t fasting or feasting. Instead, it was a time for parables and summer reading lists. Not terribly exciting.
But now that I have been outside of the academic pattern for over a year–and I haven’t had the ending and beginning of a school year to approximate Ordinary Time–it’s starting to sink in just how odd this understanding of this season really is. Ordinary Time is by no means unexciting (as a time devoid of other more thrilling things) but this popular perception fails to recognize just how exceptionally ordinary the rest of the year is, too. This is the first season of Ordinary Time in which I’m not gearing up for some new beginning: I’ve just been chugging along in my life at the intersection of love, worry, work, and food.
How much of my life really is wrapped up in those four things: love, worry, work, and food–even and especially in those other more exciting seasons of the church (even in those other more exciting semesters of schooling). And now that I don’t have a new semester or a new thrill to look forward to, I’m beginning to fully realize it.
So perhaps this is more a reflection on how much my life’s seasons have been dictated by the school year rather than the church year. Or perhaps this was a chance to muse over how much I love Ordinary Time’s insistence that the everyday matters just as much as the exceptional (otherwise, why devote a whole season to it)? I rejoice in the ebb and flow of daily life… in the knowledge that this first long stretch of the church year is in many ways more like our everyday lives than the other seasons: the long quiet stretches when we get to practice life without glamour or pretense or any other “event” to make life meaningful. It just is. And that’s the wonder of it.
In a way, this is a season for me to regret all the past seasons of Ordinary Time that were nothing more than filler between things that I thought were more exciting. It is a time to give thanks that–despite all the imbued glamour we give to other seasons of the church–life itself is fantastically (miraculously) ordinary.