The Christmas season technically ended yesterday, on the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord. Our extended celebration of the season is a mirror image of the timeline that most of the world uses: We start the party on the 25th (as opposed to the Friday after Thanksgiving), and continue on into January. We sing carols at Mass when Christmas music has been off the radio for two weeks. On December 30th, I saw Easter decorations on sale at a dollar store. It feels like we arrived late to some awesome party, and all the other revelers are putting on their coats just when we’re getting into it. “Hold on. Don’t leave yet,” I wanted to yell on Epiphany. “I brought eggnog!”
It’s a western temptation to rush into the next thing, even for us churchy folk. At two different meetings last week, one at the parish where I work and one here at CFJ, I was involved in discussions about Lent. Indeed, Lent is just around the corner (Ash Wednesday kicks things off on February 22), and we have to get a move on planning events and newsletters, video projects and reflection guides.
But we do have on our hands these six weeks of what the church calls “Ordinary Time,” a small chunk of it compared to the marathon that stretches from Pentecost all the way to Advent.
Ordinary Time seems, well, not that interesting when compared to the richness of the other seasons: Advent’s candles, Christmas’ familiar tunes and nativity scene, Lent’s fasting and quiet feeling, Easter’s flowers and Alleluias. I only know one thing about Ordinary Time: Its color is green.
There must be something important about it, though, or it wouldn’t have survived for 2000-ish years. I decided to look closer.
The first and only stop on my investigation was Wikipedia, which doesn’t have much to offer here, besides Ordinary Time’s Latin name, which is Tempus per annum, literally “time through the year.” So I’ll turn to favorite piece of writing these days, David Foster Wallace’s 2005 Kenyon College commencement address, This is Water. The speech isn’t about the liturgical year per se, but it has that power of good art to shed light on a wide range of experiences. Today, it strikes me as the perfect articulation of what I’ll call “The Spirituality of Ordinary Times.”
If you’re up for it, I’d invite you to stop reading my reflection now and click over to This Is Water, and then come back, if you still have time. (Or you can listen to Wallace deliver the speech here.
Pay close attention to the section describing the checkout line at a grocery store. (A word of warning: the language gets a little crispy at times.)
In the address, Wallace argues that education should enable us to break out of our hard-wired self-centeredness and view the world from the perspective of others. In a terrible grocery store line or in a traffic jam or in dealing with an annoying co-worker or family member, I can feel bitter, angry, and sorry for myself – or I can choose to think about the other, and what they might be thinking or feeling. As a friend of mine likes to say, “We don’t see things as they are. We see things as we are.”
How we respond in the face of the mini frustrations and challenges of daily life says as much about our spiritual disposition as do Mass attendance and time spent in works of service and justice. Finding the face of Christ in a tired cashier is probably the last thing on our minds after a difficult day at work, but searching for God always – in good times, bad times, and ordinary times – is at the heart of our Christian call.