Ordinary Time

Christmas is over. Lent doesn’t start for a few more weeks. We are in part of the church calendar that is called “Ordinary Time.” Ordinary Time occurs twice in the liturgical calendar–after Christmastide ends at Epiphany and after Eastertide ends at Pentecost. We tend to focus on the special times like Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter and Pentecost, but most of the church year is considered Ordinary Time.

This first week of Ordinary Time, I am taking a week-long class at Brite Divinity School called “Transitions in Life and Ministry,” so I have been doing lots of reading and thinking about transitions and time.  William Bridges writes in Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes that in all transitions, “First there is an ending, then a beginning, and an important empty or fallow time in between.” Bridges also calls that in between time the “Neutral Zone.”  He claims that we don’t do a very good job of living in that in between time. We rush to get to the next beginning without taking time to even always recognize what has ended. But it is in this Neutral Zone that real transformation happens.

In Exodus 23:10-12, the Israelites were commanded “For six years you shall sow your land and gather in its yield; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, so that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the wild animals may eat. You shall do the same with your vineyard, and with your olive orchard. Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest, so that your ox and your donkey may have relief, and your homeborn slave and the resident alien may be refreshed.” In the fallow times, not only does the landowner rest, but the entire community has a time of rest and renewal. Imagine if we all stopped everything for a year. Would we be more likely to hear the voice of God calling to us?  Would we take time to notice what had ended and prepare for what is to begin?

Taking a sabbatical year certainly isn’t possible for all (or even most) of us, but maybe we need to be better about taking time in the Neutral Zone. Life continues while we wait there, but we can notice what we need to pay attention to during that time.

Maybe that’s why the liturgical calendar is set up the way it is. After Christmas, do we rush to send Jesus to the cross without spending time noticing the rest of his life and ministry?  After Easter, are we in a hurry to have the Word made flesh once again without stopping to wonder at the resurrection? Are we too often waiting for the next big thing instead of noticing the thing right in front of us?

In class today, we were asked to write a poem inspired by another book that we read in preparation for this week, Parker Palmer’s Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation. Palmer asks readers to sit in the fallow times and listen for the voice of vocation. I close with the haiku I wrote this afternoon:

The voice asks if I know all
the ordinary.

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