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Celebrating Ordinary Time

Jessica Walters, co-founder of  the magazine Vigil, brings us a beautiful reflection on the marking of Ordinary Time as a part of our Cross Canada Convivium series. 

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Topics: Discipline, Faith, Sabbath
Celebrating Ordinary Time February 1, 2017  |  By Jessica Walters
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In the romantic comedy, When Harry Met Sally, the two protagonists have several chance encounters over the span of about 12 years. From their awkward first meeting to their last romantic encounter, time is collapsed and 12 years is condensed into an hour and thirty-six minutes.

When I married, I was surprised by all the time my husband and I had together. Romantic comedies never depict three hour-long drives to an in-law’s house or years of doing dishes without a dishwasher. As the heightened highs and lows of dating and engagement fell behind us, an expansive plain of time loomed ahead. I had never counted on so many hours when nothing seemed to be happening.

At age 28, I was overwhelmed by all the time that was before me in my journey of faith. The excitement of teenage spirituality, guided by a peppy youth leader had ended. The tumult of university, job anxiety and church hunting was behind me. What seemed like a long, straight, unremarkable road lay ahead. I was left with the question of how to practice faith in my common, every day experiences.

I have often heard people ask: “How can I believe in God when bad things happen?” While I understand the sentiment, I find myself wondering how can I believe in God when nothing seems to happen, when the days before me hold neither tragedy nor excitement. I am left with a question: What should I do with the ordinary passing of time?

I have also wondered where my dissatisfaction with the humdrum comes from?  Where does my hunger for the extremes and the sensational arise? I’ve found my answer in the past. The western perception of time changed with the Industrial Revolution. Prior to the industrial age, time was measured by approximations in relation to the sun and the ringing of church bells. With the Industrial Revolution, household and personal clocks became standard ways of measuring time.

With the introduction of the American dream, Western culture became future oriented, with the emphasis on ever-increasing progress. Time was viewed as useful insofar as it contributed to the project of self-betterment and productivity. Our current view of time still remains future oriented. This perspective is seen in our language. “Time is money” encapsulates the idea that time is a resource to be used for profit. Phrases about climbing the social or corporate ladder highlight our belief that if used correctly, time offers the potential for gain.

While I cannot speak to culture as a whole, I know that when I view time as a means of constant growth, whether spiritually or financially, I see every opportunity as a chance for self-betterment. Ordinary moments are irrelevant to the overall aim of progress. Volunteer experience is useful only because it looks good on my resume. Making a new friend is a chance to gain a new network of social possibilities. My time and experience become a type of commerce, and I wonder if I have gained in personal capital year over year, or if I am decreasing.

An alternative view of time is seen in an agricultural metaphor. In this view, time is seen as cyclical rather than linear or progressive. Death is seen as a seasonal necessity for growth. As Parker Palmer says in his book The Active Life, “decay and shadow, flood and sorrow, must fertilize souls as well as seeds.”

While I can decry my own seasons of fruitlessness or monotony, I see evidence of cyclical living throughout the Bible. I take great comfort in the life of Christ, who in His unhurried approach was no child prodigy. He did not use every minute of his youth to become a young Jewish superstar. He began his ministry at age 30, an age too old to start a career in the NHL, gymnastics or figure skating. He frequently gained and lost followers. Coupled with his ideas about the rich and poor, he would have made a terrible CEO.  Christ’s life exhibits a pattern of life, death and life again.

In a cyclical view of time, everyday experiences are not mechanized in order to become useful and profitable. Rather, everything belongs and is part of a seasonal whole. The nothingness of winter, the heartache of loneliness or loss, solitary evenings, the quiet mornings, all time is unhurried and not to be feared.

When I view my life through the lens of an agricultural metaphor, I see that I am guided by routine and repetition. Rather than fight routine in favour of sensational spontaneity, I find that repetition offers the potential for love.

In married life, my husband and I maintain connection through repetition. Each morning we have coffee together before our respective working days. At times he has had to get up at 5:00 am for work; at times I have at wake up at 4:30 am. Regardless of our schedule, we each get up with the other person. We drink coffee and talk about what the day holds at work, and what the coming workweek entails. In the evening after dinner, we play cards and talk about our days. For us, routine creates the environment for connection.

In my faith, I am similarly guided by routine. I read written prayers and practice centering prayer. I am reading through Robert Ellsberg’s lives of the saints. The daily practice creates a structure that allows for potential connection with God. Monotonous moments are not transformed into something productive. Rather, in their very ordinariness I have glimpsed at something surpassingly beautiful.

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