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The Gift of Ordinary Time
HI hi hi hi hiiiii everyone! Merry Christmastide and happy New Year and glorious Epiphany! We had actual influenza sweep through the household which made me so so glad that we Catholics celebrate Christmas for 12 days, because this 25th of December was one of the least merry in Donaldson family recent memory. Now that we’re finally all on the mend, there’s still some Christmas to celebrate.
Though, the older I get, the more I appreciate Holy Mother Church’s great gift of Ordinary Time. Don’t get me wrong, I love the rhythms and pulsing of feasting and fasting. I love how the Church, a lone bastion in this current world of excess, teaches us to do both well, and properly ordered. But, in stark contrast to teenaged and young adult Cari, I find myself longing for the sweetness and stability of Ordinary Time more and more.
In our house, Christmas decorations go up slowly, over a period of a couple weeks, beginning December 1st. In years past, I’ve tried to keep Advent differently, fasting from any sort of Christmas celebration, from lights to songs to tinsel, until Christmas Eve. But I found that doing so caused so much strife, so much anxiety and tension in the household that I suspected the practice was doing more harm than good, and so I abandoned it. Now, Christmas comes like a slow crescendo, a growing glimmer in the darkness, building to that glorious morning.
We undecorate the same way. Things come down slowly, with the nativity sets the last things to be packed away for the year. Now, I know I’m not alone in this feeling, but it still fills me with confusion to admit there’s some degree of relief to see the house, our diets, and our daily schedules settle back into the routine of the ordinary. How can I love Christmas so much, marvel at the great gift of the Incarnation, and not want to celebrate it every moment of every day?
I look to the wisdom of the Liturgical year to help clear up that confusion. Even the least educated of Christians understand that Easter and Christmas are the most holy, so why doesn’t the Church split the year into four sections- Advent, to fast and prepare for Christmas, Christmas to feast the Nativity of the Incarnation, Lent, to fast and prepare for Easter, and Easter, to feast the Crucifixion and Resurrection? Rinse and repeat.
My mind recoils just typing that out. Can you imagine how exhausting it would be to run like that year after year? To bounce from fast to feast and back again, never pausing to catch our breath? Yet I see myself doing just that during my days. What is all that mindless scrolling on my phone doing, if not flinging me from hilarious reel to outrage-inducing news headline? What is the point of the media I consume, if not to manipulate my emotions to extremes of highs and lows? I’ve trained my brain to view boredom with horror, and so it reaches for that digital dopamine hit the moment life offers me the smallest space to just breathe.
I know people look at New Year’s resolutions with a jaded eye. Maybe rightfully so. But I like them. I like the thought of so many people across the planet, united in one specific moment in time, resolving to make themselves and the world a better place. This year, I’ve resolved to fully settle into Ordinary Time. That starts with my mornings. No more falling into the wake up/check your phone trap. Oh sure, I tell myself it’s just to check the weather and my email, but what always happens is a literal hour of my day is sucked away, as I mindlessly scroll through digital highs and lows. Then, with my brain primed to seek dopamine hits from the phone pipe, I repeatedly find myself with it in hand, Instagram or Candy Crush opened and running, with little memory of having even picked the dang thing up.
This year, I’m going to try and retrain my brain to stop bouncing from feast to fast, from giggling at a cat meme to immediately having an anger response over a non-news story occurring in a community a thousand miles away. This year, I’m going to observe Ordinary Time on a micro level, in my little domestic church. I’m going to try to celebrate the space to breathe, to instill routines, to seek quiet and stillness. I’m searching out the God of the Ordinary, who I suspect is all around me.
For a little while, at least. After all, Lent begins in 47 days.