Monday, February 1, 2016

Ordinary Time

By Denise Morris

Between the exhilaration of Beginning
and the satisfaction of Concluding
is the Middle-Time
of Enduring … Changing … Trying…
Despairing … Continuing … Becoming.

Jesus was the person of God’s Middle-Time
between Creation and Accomplishment.
Through him God said of Creation ‘without Mistake’
and of Accomplishment ‘without Doubt.’

And we are in our Middle-Times
of Wondering and Waiting
Hurrying and Hesitating
Regretting and Revising—
we who have begun many things
and seen but few completed—
we who are becoming more, and less,
through the evidence of God’s Middle-Time—
have a stabilizing hint
that we are not mistakes,
that we are irreplaceable,
that our Being is of interest,
and our Doing of purpose,
that our Being and Doing are surrounded by Amen.
Jesus Christ is the Completer of unfinished people
with unfinished work in unfinished times.
May he keep us from sinking, from ceasing,
from wasting, from solidifying,
that we may be for him
Experimenters, Enablers, Encouragers
and Associates in Accomplishment.
                                    —David Adam, Tides and Seasons

Several weeks ago, our community used this reflection to begin our Community Sunday time together. How appropriate, I thought, for someone (me) who is in the ‘Middle-Time’ of my Affiliate year of discernment: “Enduring … Changing … Trying … Becoming.”

But I also marveled at how fitting it was for the ‘Middle-Time’ of the Church year, which many Christian traditions refer to as Ordinary Time. In the Church year, this time is broken into two periods—the shorter period of time after Christmas between Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan and Ash Wednesday, and the much longer period of time that follows Pentecost and lasts until the first Sunday of Advent. And while I realize we soon will leave the very short first span of Ordinary Time to enter Lent (which is followed by the Easter season), I encourage us not to overlook the beautiful gift that is Ordinary Time.

In both the Church year and our personal lives, it can be tempting to think of Ordinary Time as just, well, ordinary: mundane, familiar, trivial, humdrum, routine. In the context of the Church year, we’re not feasting like we are during Christmas and Easter, nor are we fasting like we do in Advent and Lent. In the context of our personal lives, we’re simply living, perhaps even just surviving: we get up, go to work or ministry, come home, complete our chores, and do it all over again the next day. It can sometimes seem as though we’re just eking out an existence, and it’s tempting to diminish the ordinary down to the daily routine in which nothing exciting or significant happens. But nothing could be further from the truth.

We need only to look at the liturgical color of the season—green—for our clue. Why green? It signifies a time of growth. Of Possibility. Of hope. Of Change. And where does that most often occur? In the ordinary events and relationships of real life—the hopes and disappointments, adventures and annoyances, fears and frustrations, and in the joys and challenges of being human. As the reflection above so beautifully expresses, REAL life happens not so much in the rich feasts and repentant fasts but in the “Wondering and Waiting … Hurrying and Hesitating … Regretting and Revising … we who are becoming more, and less, through the evidence of God’s Middle-Time.”

Isn’t it Jesus’ “ordinary” life—the 18 or so years that are unaccounted for in Scripture—that most intrigue us? Why? I propose it’s because we deeply desire to know that during the “ordinary” time of Jesus’ life, he was doing the same thing we do during the “ordinary” time of ours: working things out. It’s where we, like Jesus, wrestle with the deep and significant questions: Who am I? What is my purpose? What is God inviting me to do? And to become? It’s also where we, like Jesus, learn to be in compassionate, merciful relationship with others. With ourselves. With community. With family. Friends. Religious authorities. And with God. And sometimes—okay, A LOT of the time, if we’re honest—our ordinary, everyday lives and relationships don’t feel very holy at all, but instead messy, muddled, chaotic, cluttered. That, however, doesn’t make them any less sacred.

I like to think that it was during Jesus’ own Middle-Time—the time between the exhilaration of beginning his earthly life and the agony of concluding it—that he worked out who he was called to be—in all its sacred messiness and confusion, and even amid his own doubt, fear, and resistance. Aren’t we doing the same?

In a beautiful email I recently received from my cousin, she shared that Ordinary Time is her favorite because it’s when and where she finds Jesus most accessible:

“Ordinary time is what I love best, so much more preferable than Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, and other celebrations. Jesus’ hidden life, those years when he worked as a carpenter, comforts me in my daily routine as a wife and mother. Even when I think of Jesus’ public life, I like to picture myself walking with him between towns or sitting beside him as he converses with others (sometimes leaning my cheek against his chest, listening to the heartbeat of God)—the ordinary times of his public ministry.”

What a tender, intimate image—Jesus walking with us as we remain steadfast and devoted to our daily tasks and responsibilities.

When Jesus called Peter, James and John, he came to them in the natural rhythm of their ordinary, holy lives. He didn’t pluck them out of their familiar, daily work as successful fishermen, but rather blessed it with even deeper purpose: “Do not fear; from now on you will be fishing for people.” Jesus desires to dignify the daily grind of our ordinary lives, and I find that both comforting and affirming.

Over and over again in scripture, Jesus uses ordinary events in the ordinary lives of ordinary people to reveal God’s extraordinary love and mercy. Yes, the high feasts and holy fasts are glorious, even necessary seasons that call us to heightened awareness and deepened reflection. But they shouldn’t diminish the sacredness of the Ordinary. We need not wait for the mighty wind, seismic earthquake, or consuming fire to encounter Jesus. Like Elijah, we can trust that Jesus will come to us in the whispers of the natural rhythms and routines that are ‘ordinary’ life. We can trust that the Ordinary, Middle-Time is indeed sacred, because it’s where God resides. 

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