Below is an amended excerpt from my book, True When Whispered, concerning the liturgical season we entered this past week in the season after the Epiphany, a season known to the church as “Ordinary Time.”
The church has an antidote for overtasking, a mostly overlooked treasure hidden in plain view in its yearly calendar. We call it “Ordinary Time.” On the calendar, Ordinary Time occurs in two places; it comes in one long stretch between Pentecost in the Northern Hemisphere’s spring and Reign of Christ Sunday in the fall; and one shorter stretch between Epiphany (January 6) and the beginning of Lent. Ordinary Time means just what it says—that the time is ordinary, routine, largely characterized by the absence of high feasts and dramatic cycles such as Christmas and Easter. If the Christian year had a voice, then Ordinary Time would be its whisper.
For being so underwhelming an idea, Ordinary Time has much to commend it—especially in this day and age. It speaks of the legitimacy of the plain, the value of the regular, the importance of the familiar. It is time’s understated invitation to practice that “long obedience in the same direction” Nietzsche believed was so essential in heaven and earth. These are the lessons to be learned from those two curious stretches of weeks on the Christian calendar that are no specific time, no special occasion, and no day in particular.
Being an underwhelming idea is precisely what makes Ordinary Time so instructive. The season resists hype and persuasion the way the doldrums beyond a trade wind resist a sail. There is nothing about it to pitch or promote, nothing to harness or bottle or package and carry to market. Just good, old ordinary . . . time. The fact that the season is the longest on the calendar, encompassing over half the year, speaks to the church’s wisdom in understanding that life’s long stretches of level ground are to be embraced as fully as its mountaintops, and held as gently as its valleys. Wide open spaces on the sacred calendar serve to remind us that there is, if we trust it to be so, time for all the rest.
Welcome to Ordinary Time. May the season provide each of us individually, and all of us together, the opportunity to practice routine faithfulness, customary kindness, and a whispered witness to the general goodness of God.
Grace and peace.