Ordinary Time

I’ve been thinking about the quality of time, and what the constantly shifting seasonal cycles mean in my life. I heard the term “Ordinary Time” mentioned by the Rector at my church recently, and it reminded me how much I’ve always liked that phrase. Ordinary time — plain time, time without end, simple time. I envision it as a calm sort of place. (And yes, ‘place’ is the word I mean, since I tend to think of time and space as essentially the same thing.) To me, Ordinary Time sounds more like the undefinable time of God’s eternity, than the sort of flustered, turbulent time we live in most of the … pardon me… time.

When I looked for a definition of “Ordinary time” I came upon an Episcopalian website that began with the words, “The Church year is a drama.” Ha! Isn’t much of our life taken up with self-imposed drama? We like drama, and many of us who come from disturbed families find it familiar. Drama breaks up the perceived monotony of “Ordinary time” doesn’t it? You know, the time when all we’re asked to do is move through one day after another, perhaps sharing a little bread and wine (or in my case, grape juice) with each other, trying to do the next right thing, listening for the voice of whatever Ineffable Guiding Principle we turn to (God, inner voice, spirit guide, etc…), and simply living, or living simply.

Ordinary time, I am told, is defined by the Episcopalian church as ordered or numbered time, but I think that hardly does it justice.

Bear with me here, while I go through the church year, or, if you know this stuff — just skip it!

The church year–okay, yes, it’s a drama–begins in Advent, a penitential (designated blue) season in which we prepare ourselves for the coming of the infant Christ but also for his Second Coming in glory.

(At least, that’s the party line — since I am something of a heretic and believe that the spirit called “Christ” by Christians is always in a state of imminent arrival, of being here, and of just having left [all at the same time — I told you I think about time a lot], I consider Advent a season in which to fully experience the hope and expectation of that Spirit’s imminent arrival, while at the same time understanding that Spirit is always with us, always has been and always will be.)

But I digress. Okay, onward.

After Advent comes Christmas (white), which lasts for 12 days, from the traditional midnight mass to the feast of Epiphany(sometimes called 12th Night). Epiphany celebrates the “manifestation of Christ to the gentiles,” symbolized by the coming of the wise men; it is also the season in which we mark Christ’s baptism by St. John the Baptist. Then a nice bit of “ordinary time” (green). Next comes Ash Wednesday, that great day of penitence that marks the beginning of Lent. (The day before Ash Wednesday is Mardi Gras, the last blowout before Lent.) Lent is a time of fasting, prayer and penitence that culminates in Holy Week and that greatest of all festivals,the Feast of the Resurrection, commonly called Easter. Then follow the Great 50 Days, that culminate in Pentecost Sunday (red), celebrating the gift of the Holy Spirit to the Church. This is followed by Trinity Sunday and then a long stretch of ordinary time (green) leading to the next Advent. For devout Episcopalians, the rhythm of the Church year becomes a part of their lives, informing their spirituality at every step.

The Church year is designed as a temporal retelling of the narrative of Jesus Christ’s life.

Aren’t we a busy little bunch of bees?

I find it so interesting that we give colors to these seasons, just as the First Nations people give colors to the seasons, and the corresponding four directions. Lovely bit of crossover, that.

So, “Ordinary Time” occurs twice during the Church year, first after Epiphany, and lasting until Ash Wednesday, and then again after Trinity Sunday, all the way through to the next Advent.
And there are 33 weeks (well, sometimes 34) of “Ordinary Time.” The span of Christ’s life.

It’s all such a lovely metaphor.

Now, here’s something I particularly like, which I found on a site about Catholic Culture:

If the faithful are to mature in the spiritual life and increase in faith, they must descend the great mountain peaks of Easter and Christmas in order to “pasture” in the vast verdant meadows of tempus per annum, or Ordinary Time.

I couldn’t agree more.

Which is the point I’m getting to, at long last. When I work with people trying to stay sober, at first, it’s quite a bit of busywork. There are steps to do — 12 of them — in which the person does a lot of reading, self-examination and reflection, and makes some hard decisions. She learns a great many new things. She takes inventories and makes character defects lists, and more lists about the people she’s harmed. She talks to a lot of those same people, and apologizes and makes amends, and generally spends a great deal of time clearing up the wreckage of her past.

And then, inevitably (hopefully), the Big Steps 1-9 are done, and now what? Well, now there are three more steps, what might be called Recovery Ordinary Time —

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. 11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out. 12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

The Maintenance Steps, as they’re sometimes called. And this, I tell my friends, is where the work really starts. It is the same for people in recovery as for anyone else, although I sometimes think having a nice big addiction to overcome helps with deepening one’s spirituality and relationship with The Ineffable. There’s nothing like a little life or death moment to provide some urgency to the matter. But if if you don’t have that added bonus, if you’re one of those normal folks out there in the world, isn’t it still a little difficult to move through the quiet days? Doesn’t it get a bit boring? Don’t you find yourself planning something special to look forward to? A vacation? A party? An affair? Some wee family drama or other?

But what if you didn’t try to worm out of it? What if you stayed simply and quietly in “Ordinary Time?” What might you hear, by listening? What might you see, by observing? When we’re busy with feast and lists, rituals and amends-making visits, we are in training, I believe, for Ordinary Time. But it is there, like the Catholic site mentioned above, we must pasture in those verdant meadows of one day after another, living simply and putting into practice all those things we’ve learned.

For me, the great heroes of the planet are not those folks who rise to fame and glory and celebrity, filling the magazines and television shows and newspapers with their drama. No, for me the great heroes of the planet are those folks who get up every morning, day after d
ay, and go to do their jobs, quietly and without complaint, with neither fanfare nor drama — the factory workers and miners and farmers and office workers and bus drivers and construction workers and teachers and postal carriers and so on. People who work and live with constancy and humility because to do so benefits the people they love, because it’s the right thing to do, day after day, on and on, one foot in front of the other, Heroes in Ordinary Time.

On page 55 of my copy of THE 12 STEPS AND THE 12 TRADITIONS, it talks about being one in a family, a friend among friends, a worker among workers, a useful member of society. A humble desire, perhaps, but one that points me to a balanced, simple, ever-deepening spiritual life — the very essence, in my mind of the extraordinary gifts of “Ordinary Time.”

Copyright 2008 Lauren B. Davis For permissions: laurenbdavis.iCopyright.com

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