I couldn’t help but feel a twinge of sadness as we put away the Advent/Christmas Liturgy books last week and replaced them with the Ordinary Time books.
Google “post-Christmas blues” and you’ll discover that it’s listed in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders as a mild depression that commonly occurs after the winter holidays, when people feel a little sad and find it difficult to return to their daily rhythm. After the anticipation and excitement of the holiday season passes, the New Year seems to yawn open, a bleak expanse of time filled with resolutions to lose weight, exercise more and generally become “better” people.
For those who have experienced the shift from the high holy season of Advent/Christmas/Epiphany to what is called Ordinary Time in the Christian liturgical calendar, this might be a familiar turn. For me, a dyed-in-the wool Protestant, it has been a wonder-filled first. Not in all my years of faithful church attendance have I experienced an immersion in the treasures of the liturgical calendar. During the slow weeks of Advent and Christmas at the monastery, each day swelled with the mystery of God’s imminent coming. The words of scripture were read and sung to tell a seamless story that culminated in the miraculous birth of Christ.
And so, the return to Ordinary Time now feels like a bit of a let-down.
I feel this way, despite what I know to be true. Ordinary Time is from the Latin ordinalis, which means regular, orderly, numbered. In the Christian liturgical calendar, it refers to all the months counted between Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter. And although I might be tempted to consider Ordinary Time a downgrade, it does not mean less-sacred time.
On the contrary, Ordinary Time is meant to teach me to wisely “number my days,” as Moses counsels in Psalm 90:12. Time, in the Benedictine tradition, is profoundly sacramental. Benedict takes great care in his Rule to outline the way a community ought to spend its time. All who come to the monastery are encouraged to view time as holy, and its expenditure as a precious gift. God makes us a gift of time; it is measured, valuable and shared.
As we shift back into Ordinary Time at the monastery, I am aware of a subtle transformation in my own heart. I have a growing appreciation of having been elevated to a height where I glimpsed something profound, mysterious and whole about God’s story this Christmas. Now, I journey back with fresh eyes for my life, accompanied by the grace of the season’s prayers, inspired by the beauty I witnessed, heartened by God’s kept promises.
The Liturgy of the Hours helps. It encourages all who pray to remember that Christmas doesn’t just come one day a year and then end abruptly. In fact, the gift of God’s coming can only truly be experienced in the common struggles of the every day. Each Morning Prayer ends with the Canticle of Zechariah (Luke 1:68-72), full of prophetic hope at the birth of John who would announce the promised Messiah. Each Evening Prayer closes with the singing of the Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55), Mary’s ecstatic song of celebration over the new life growing within her and the arrival of Christ. The Liturgy of the Hours strives to remind us: every day is Christmas, if we only allow it. Perhaps I can hold onto that gift this year as I return to my ordinary tasks, remembering that this is the grist for the sacred time we share.
Follow this link to read Rosy’s earlier posts: Living in Community – A Benedictine Sojourner’s Journey