Most of us can finally agree that Christmas is over. It took a long time, but even your local Catholic Church has finally removed the poinsettias and Nativity scenes. The priest is wearing green again, and Lent is more than a month away. We’re back to as normal as normal gets. We usually think of this as a time in between the special seasons. We call it Ordinary Time. This same liturgical season resumes after Easter and lasts until Advent, reinforcing the sense that it is simply a way to label the time when nothing better is happening. Blah.
My thoughts on this supposedly ordinary time have shifted dramatically however. The ordinary doesn’t have to be boring if we bother to notice the everyday enchantments that surround us in this God-soaked world we’ve inherited. After all, Jesus spent most of his life in between Christmas and his sojourn in the desert, and most of that time apparently wasn’t newsworthy enough to be reported on. Why should the lives of his followers be any different?
For me, Ordinary Time has become an icon of the Incarnation. By God taking on human flesh and walking among us, the sublime mixed with and saturated the mundane in a whole new way. On another level, this divine initiative revealed to us the sanctity already present in the normal circumstances that we could otherwise dismiss. If 2,000 years ago shepherds became evangelizers and a carpenter became a Messiah, what are the possibilities for today?
Allow me to share a classic story about a rabbi that will be familiar to some readers.
There once was a monastery that was falling into dysfunctional ruin. The number of monks was dwindling as the quality of community life and the richness of their common prayer diminished. The abbot, recognizing the dismal state of the monastery, confided in his good friend, the rabbi of the nearby town.
The rabbi told the abbot that among the local Jewish community, there was a secret belief that the messiah would come from that very same monastery.
Leaving his friend, the abbot returned to his monastery filled with wonder. Could it be true? Could the messiah even be among his brothers who were already there? He began to view each monk with new tenderness, treated each with increased kindness, prayed with new fervor, and shone with new joy.
The transformation in the abbot was unmistakable and it didn’t take long for one of the monks to ask him about the source of his renewed spirit. He shared the rabbi’s expectation that the messiah would come from among them and may be there already. Word spread quickly among the other monks, leading each to a similar transformation that soon overtook the new monastery.
It didn’t take long for the number of visitors to increase for prayer and Mass, further contributing to increased vitality and a sense of God’s presence. It wasn’t long before new novices entered and the monastery sprang back to life.
In the story, new life came from an expanded openness to the mystery of God’s presence dwelling in settings and people that had become dull with familiarity. As we begin this new stretch of Ordinary Time, what perspective will help you to be open to the magic hidden amidst the everyday?
This week’s “ear candy” speaks explicitly of the need to live with one another in a spirit of racial harmony. More to the point, I think the very title reminds us that we are all normal, everyday people who need to figure out how to get along each and every day. The “brain food” is a short poem that has grown on me over the years. To me it speaks of the crucial necessity of the ordinary.
Ear Candy: “Everyday People” by Sly & The Family Stone
Brain Food: “The Red Wheelbarrow” by William Carlos Williams
Come back next Saturday for a new post!