Ordinary time


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Ordinary time

By Bobby Neal Winters

As I write this, it is the Season after Pentecost, which is also known as Ordinary Time. In fact, as I sit here at the computer, it is All Saint’s Day. This is the last month of the last season of the church’s year, and by its end we will have started a new season with Advent.

I grew up in a different tradition that did not divide the year in this way. We had lost it all after the Protestant Reformation like expensive perfume leaking from a crack bottle. By the time I was old enough to know, the only special days my local church still marked were Christmas and Easter. Sometime around Christmas we had a party and handed out sacks with nuts and candy, and on Easter there as an egg hunt.
That was the extent of it.

There was no Christmas Eve service, no Maundy Thursday service, nor any thoughts of either, so when I became a Methodist sixteen years ago, the liturgical year was something I had to learn about. My original attitude was that of toleration maintained by a frequent skipping of church services. If you don’t go to church very often, it is easier not to notice any nuances.
However, as even a blind chicken gets a grain every now and then, a boy from a country church can learn to appreciate what he used to consider just a bunch of mumbo-jumbo.

I learned about Lent first because Lent puts demands on you. You are supposed to give something up or take something up. You are supposed to examine yourself and repent. When confronted with that as a part of that other tradition, I’d’ve said that we are supposed to do that all the time. This is true, yet if one doesn’t set aside a particular time for some things they do not happen.

After I learned about Lent, I learned about Advent, which is the season that will start (already!) quite soon. It is the season when we simultaneously prepare for Christ’s birth and his Second Coming. It was through this, I learned the calendar can also delimit certain activities. As I’ve shared in this space before, the church I grew up in went through long periods when we heard about the Second Coming to the exclusion of all else. Advent sets aside a time for it—and that time is relatively short. This important part of the Mystery of Faith can be contemplated, but so can the other parts.
Advent is followed by the Christmas Season, which is followed by the Season of Epiphany, which is followed by Lent, which is followed by Easter, which is followed by the Season after Pentecost, which (along with the Season after Epiphany) is called Ordinary Time.

I would like to say I’ve found something wonderful about each of these seasons, but the truth is I am still learning about them after sixteen years. The Christmas and Easter seasons are beautiful and festive, and Lent can be dour.

I now find myself thinking about Ordinary Time.
What strikes me about Ordinary Time is its length. For instance, the Season after Pentecost runs from the end of May to the end of November, from the tail of spring well through fall. While less than half the year is spent in some form of celebration or repentance, the remainder is just Ordinary.
This seems right to me.

Without the ordinary, there would be no such thing as the Special. If everyday is a party, no day is. Were there only celebration and repentance, we would spend every day of the celebration dreading the repentance. The ordinary gives us the ability to appreciate.

I believe I understand this better in some sense having spent the first 27 years of my life entirely in the undifferentiated year-round ordinary time of my former tradition. It is ironic that I can appreciate the seasons better for not having had them, but I wouldn’t wish to deprive my children of them even for the greater appreciation. I suppose a man who grew up hungry wouldn’t want to deprive his children of food even if it made them appreciate it more. Ordinary time does in the first case what fasting would accomplish in the second. Let us praise the ordinary even as the first of the Advent candles is about to be lit.

(Bobby Winters is a professor of Mathematics, writer, and lay speaker in the United Methodist Church. You may contact him at bobby@okieinexile.com. He is the author of two books Grandma Dipped Snuff and Confessions of an Ice Cream Socialist.)