Sometimes deadlines seem to sneak up on me stealthily. Such is usually the case with these columns, which sometimes means they roll in late (with apologies to our esteemed editor!) as I try to find that spark of inspiration to share. But this month is particularly challenging, as I knew the deadline was coming, but I sat with a blank screen and a blinking cursor. Sometimes we all have difficulty pulling words from the air and putting them into some kind of meaningful sense—not just logical sense, but meaningful sense.
I know I’m not alone in this, and certainly ministers are not the only ones for whom this is especially difficult. Ministry is one of those vocations where words are important, essential, indeed, words are all we ministers have as we seek to point people to the Word, not just to Scripture but to Christ as the Word. And when the words do not come, when words can be neither mined nor conjured, it so often feels like one is—like I am— left with nothing.
Perhaps you can relate. Perhaps it is not words, but perhaps it is something else.
The grey and overcast conditions as of late (at least as of this writing) do not help. Over the next month there are no special church festivals, there will be no change to the paraments on the chancel. They will remain green, which can feel simply like a visual way of saying “nothing much is going on.” Everything feels so, well, ordinary.
The church calls the time between Epiphany and Lent “Ordinary Time.” This is the shorter block of ordinary time, the bigger one comes between Pentecost and Advent. Over half of the year is ordinary time.
Ordinary (adjective): of a kind to be expected in the normal order of events : See also: ROUTINE, USUAL
But there’s something lovely about ordinary time, isn’t there? But to see the lovely, we need to dig. The term “ordinary” so often gets a bad reputation. We don’t want ordinary, we want extra-ordinary, special, unique, exciting. We want to come in first in a field of ten, not fifth. We want an A average, not a C. We want to be the “world’s best” boss or parent or employee or teacher or student, or what have you. We don’t want to be the “world’s okayest” [fill in the blank].
And so often this bleeds over into the church, as well. It seems that few churches desire to be ordinary, primarily because few people are interested in ordinary churches. It’s not that we are a culture of excellence, excellence and ordinariness can (and often does) coexist at the same time. It’s that we are a people who are so used to excitement and energy and noise and ever-increasing intrigue that ordinary seems boring, it seems like failure, it is unattractive. It’s a feedback loop in which we find ourselves and because it is a cultural level dynamic, it seems as though it’s almost impossible to excise ourselves from it.
One of the gifts of the church year is that it helps us to find a rhythm to our lives. Not just any rhythm, but a theological rhythm. Advent to Christmas to Epiphany to the Baptism of Jesus, a little block of Ordinary Time, which leads us to the Transfiguration, Lent, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday, to Easter, to the Ascension, and then to Pentecost, and finally to a season of ordinary time that leads us to a fresh Advent. As we follow the life of Jesus, year by year, if we pay attention, if we allow it to, this rhythm can root deep within us which impacts not only the Scripture texts that we read on Sundays, but also helps to reframe our understanding of time.
And now we find ourselves in Ordinary Time. I grew up learning about Ordinary Time as “the Growing Season.” It is neither the season for planting, nor blooming, nor harvesting, it is the season for growing, for growing roots in the faith. It’s a time which isn’t very exciting, but it is a time that is necessary. It is a time that gives life and helps to reframe our priorities and perspectives. It almost feels that the church year knows that ordinary is difficult, and so it offers us this small block to help us practice for the real deal, for the long season of ordinary. That time when we feel like it may be right to disengage for a while is the time when we need most to engage.
But we need to be engaged, not because there are particularly special or extraordinary or big things going on, but precisely because there are none of those. Ordinary time is not only the majority of the church year, it is also the majority of our lives. And when we can see God in the ordinary of the church year, we can begin to see God in the ordinary of our lives. And at that point, ordinary ceases to be a bad word and becomes a means of grace.
With deep and abiding love,
The Rev. Matthew J. van Maastricht
Pastor and Teacher