Ironic Ordinary Meditation #1: Ordinary Time Again
Yesterday we began ordinary time again.
Ordinary time again. That has a kind of ring to it. A dull ring. OK, maybe not so much a ring. Let’s say it has a kind of thud to it. Ordinary time again. THUD!
“What the heck are you talking about Ben Camino?” I hear several readers say, most of them, as usual, named Jennifer. Except my friend Jennifer who is an Episcopal priest. She knows what I’m talking about. Also, being Episcopalian, she wouldn’t say heck.
For folks who either aren’t part of a liturgical tradition or who are but like to spend their sunny summer Sundays at the lake house or at farmer’s markets or just sleeping in and binge watching True Blood, I’ll first clear up what the heck I’m talking about and then, if I get rolling, talk a LOT about it.
Yesterday, June 24th was sort of the reboot of what the traditional church (sometimes known as the Roman Catholic Church or the One True Church or Pope Francis’ Neighborhood) calls “Ordinary Time.” Even the most liturgically deprived of my readers, whether named Jennifer or Zsa Zsa or Fred, I assume have heard of Christmas and Easter. The great feasts we call them.
Some of you, a smaller but still substantial group, have at least some notion of what is meant by Advent and Lent, the two great fasts. You might not know that they are thought of as “fasts,” but you at least know about the universal practice throughout church history of giving up chewing gum and high-fructose corn syrup (which is in everything) for Lent (I sometimes changed that up a little as a kid and gave up Brussel sprouts).
So, the easy way to think of this is that if you are in the Advent, Christmas, Epiphany (which follows Christmas), Lent (which precedes Easter), or Easter seasons, you are NOT in Ordinary Time, no matter how boring your Christmases might have been, Jennifers. This is one of those circumstances when the liturgy, representing something higher and loftier than dates on a calendar or even your self-esteem, says to you, “I will tell you what that day meant, regardless of how underwhelming the scene was around the table at Granny’s.”
More recently, since Easter that is, we have celebrated a series of BIG DEAL DAYS, which get their own liturgy, their own emphasis, and sometimes their own cool little customs (although, sadly, the concept of cool little customs related to the liturgical year seems to be fading away as visits to lake houses and binge watching vampire shows increase).
So after the seven Sundays of Easter (yes, Easter is longer than you think, dear reader), we celebrated Pentecost (40ish days after Easter), Trinity Sunday, Corpus Christi (a feast begun in the Middle Ages to make a big deal of the doctrine of the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, but also to have parades and plays and pageants and big celebrations), and . . . finally, yesterday, it was the Twelfth Sunday of Ordinary Time. The first chunk of Ordinary Time was way back between Epiphany and Lent.
Since then we got into BIG DEAL TIME. But now that’s over. It’s a little more complicated than I’m making it, but I’m trying to give you a break and get to the good stuff.
Assuming I come up with some good stuff.
Anyway. Or anyways as Jennifer Lynne Ricke would say, thud! It’s ordinary time again. Everybody’s like lookin’ around, waiting for something cool to happen, maybe an angel of the Lord talkin’ to Mary, maybe dead people walking around alive again, gotta’ be something wild or outstanding or extraordinary or worth a present or at least a fast.
Well no. Not really. Or yes, but not that way.
Yes, there is still bread and wine. And maybe, ancient witnesses suggest, more. And if you listen carefully to the gospel readings during Ordinary Time, you will get a big dose (maybe bigger than you want) of the teachings of Jesus, especially the ones that tell us how to live, how to love, how to be human. Sometimes they are parables, but, with a few exceptions, they aren’t nearly as hard to figure out as, say, the Book of Revelation (or the extra season of X-Files for that matter).
One cool thing I always liked about Ordinary Time was that the liturgical color, to the degree we use a liturgical color, is green. Bright summery lively . . . green. Ordinary, everyday, natural, look-around-you (unless you live in Arizona, in which case don’t) green. The ordinary. Maybe the beautiful ordinary which we lost sight of even though it was right under our noses. Maybe nothing golden, but then, as we know, nothing gold can stay.
Ordinary Time, like the teachings of Jesus, which were, for the most part, less other-worldly than that of the other-worldly preachers who have followed Him. Don’t resent your broken brother; welcome him back. Take care of that guy who fell among thieves, even though the religious leaders don’t. Take it easy Martha; come out and sit and relax and talk with us. We’re talking about forgiveness and stuff. Quit praying so loud in public. Quit giving so . . . loud in public. And so on.
Ordinary time sounds easy. But it isn’t really. For example, the local church, even the one in New York or Paris, isn’t renting a camel for a big pageant on the Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time. The choir may even take a few weeks off (you guessed it, to go to their lake houses). There may be babies but they won’t be Jesus and they won’t be nearly as tender and mild as the one in the songs of Christmas. There will be wise men, but unfortunately for you, they will all be called Ben Camino.
The “strong liturgy” of the feasts and fasts grabs us and makes it difficult (though not impossible, obviously) for us to wander too far off from the message. We know where we are (Third Sunday of Advent--check, The Baptism of Our Lord--check, Holy Thursday--check, etc.). And, if you're like me, you hope (and maybe worry) that it’s all really making some difference in what we like to call “reality."
But the softer liturgy (my phrase, like it?) of Ordinary Time calls us to attention, calls us to attend, in another way, a more subtle way. Instead of placing us in the larger story quite so specifically, perhaps Ordinary Time asks us to find the story in our specific situation. Child-rearing, friendship, working in the garden or on the assembly line, toast, making love, breaking up, arguing, settling (or not) a dispute, cleaning house, driving down the road from Jerusalem to Jericho, a relationship with a brother, fishing, swimming, dealing with depression (ours or someone else’s), welcoming (or not) a refugee—these and many other actions make up the gospel story of Ordinary Time. It’s one that may become extra-ordinary, perhaps. Or not
Or maybe it’s not so important whether ordinary time becomes extra-ordinary. Perhaps that is the point. The ordinary is not necessarily less worthy, less valuable. It just might be less interesting or less spectacular. Less “extra.” And it would be a shame for us to mix up those categories (though we often do).
Don’t neglect your babies, even though they aren’t born in Bethlehem and laid in a manger. Don’t neglect repentance even though nobody is putting ashes on your head.Take care of that person you wronged, although nobody else is watching, nobody else will know.
Bless the ordinary. Bless the weeds you just pulled. The water you just poured. The prose you just wrote. The lips you just kissed. The tears you just cried. The emptiness you just felt. The meal you just ate. The moon and stars you looked up to see while walking the dog. Oh, and don’t forget the dog. The life you just lived. The child you just burped. The candle you just lit. Or blew out. The flowers on your table, in your garden, pressed in your book, or growing out by your lake house.
The ironic church of an ironic God says, come, let us celebrate ordinary time. It’s no big deal. It’s just everything. Everything.
It’s ordinary time again.
Glory be to the Lord of the ordinary. The everyday. The good old green. The under-our-noses everything which, altared (my word, like it?), becomes the sweet stuff of the kingdom of heaven.
Feel free to share your ordinary time with the rest of us in the comments section.