the gift of ordinary time

I have a sneaking suspicion this is what matters most.

Not the anticipation of Advent, the celebration of Christmas, the long journey of Lent, or the exuberance of Easter.

But the everyday of Ordinary Time.

Lately our kids have been grumbling about the Christmas decorations being packed away. The house looks so plain, I hate it.

And they’re right. There is something melancholy about tucking away the trappings of such a happy season.

At first glance we see only absence. The gaping space where the tree stood. The empty mantel where the creche was displayed. The bare door frame where grinning faces of friends and family beamed down at us from Christmas cards.

But there is welcome relief in slipping back into the ordinary, too.

Rediscovering the beauty of what was already around us, hidden behind the holiday lights and ornaments. The walls and windows of our own world. The places and peace that we had already worked to cultivate.

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I have noticed over the past few years a stirring within myself. Pulling away from the excitement of The Big Events and drawing towards the quiet everyday.

Part of this awakening came with motherhood, which taught that I am an introvert. A solitude-seeking soul who craves calm. Someone who needs to cultivate space for silence, even in the midst of this good work of raising a busy family.

But part of this shift came from stepping back from the whirl of our culture, its constant reaching for The Next Big Thing, its frantic need to fill the stores with the next holiday’s decorations the second that the latest over-hyped celebration ends.

I’m tired of being bombarded with Valentine’s pinks and reds as soon as New Year’s hats are whisked off the shelves.

I want to savor the spaces in between.

So at home, I’m growing grateful for bare windowsills and sparse shelves. For the glow from a single lit candle. For the quiet dark of winter nights.

And at church, I am remembering how much I love Ordinary Time, too.

I am whispering thanks for the wisdom of a tradition that knows our human need for time and space in-between.

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Jesus did most of his living and working in ordinary time. Thirty years before his ministry became public. We don’t know the ordinary stories from those decades, but they must have been filled with the regular routines that fill our own lives: work, family, learning, growth, rest, repeat.

All of Jesus’s ordinary time added up, slowly over seasons and years, to make him who he was. A son, a friend, a neighbor, a prophet, a healer, a teacher, a leader.

I wonder who we are each becoming in our ordinary time, too. As we wash the dishes, dry the laundry, do our work, love our families. How are we shaped by the routines and regular living of each day?

They are something to celebrate, these unassuming weeks of Ordinary Time. They shape us, slowly over seasons and years, into the people that God dreams we will become.

I suspect this ordinary time matters most. Do you?

. . .

A normal day! Holding it in my hands this one last time,
I have come to see it as more than an ordinary rock. It is a gem, a jewel.
In time of war, in peril of death, people have dug their hands and faces into the earth and remembered this. In time of sickness and pain, people have buried their faces in pillows and wept for this. In times of loneliness and separation, people have stretched themselves taut and waited for this. In time of hunger, homelessness, and want, people have raised bony hands to the skies and stayed alive for this. . .

Normal day, let me be aware of the treasure you are.
Let me learn from you, love you, savor you, bless you, before you depart.
Let me not pass you by in quest of some rare and perfect tomorrow.
Let me hold you while I may, for it will not always be so.
One day I shall dig my nails into the earth, or bury my face in the pillow,
or stretch myself taut, or raise my hands to the sky,
and want more than all the world your return.
And then I will know what now I am guessing:
that you are, indeed, a common rock and not a jewel,
but that a common rock made of the very mass substance of the earth
in all its strength and plenty puts a gem to shame.

– Mary Jean Irion, from the essay “Let Me Hold You While I May”
in the book “Yes, World: A Mosaic of Meditation” (1970)

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8 thoughts on “the gift of ordinary time

  1. Really big love!!

    We are still battling the plague. I really hope you guys don’t get this. I puked 25+ times in one night. So awful. But we will overcome, right? And the plus of sleeping all day yesterday is getting some blessed is she work done this early morn. I’m so impressed with the Lenten book!!! So proud of your hard work!!

    >

  2. I so relate to this! I didn’t know I was an introvert until I got married and became a mother. I definitely have a social side, and when I was single I was lonely a good amount of the time, so it didn’t occur to me that I was an introvert. But once I started sharing space with my husband and then my son, I realized how much I crave my alone time! I’m sure this is partly my innate nature and partly all those years of living alone that made me accustomed to me-time. I definitely struggle with putting away the Christmas decorations, especially because this time of year is so dark and cold that it helps to have some sparkle and liveliness in the house. But now that they’re put away, I am enjoying the simplicity. There is something very freeing about being able to appreciate the beauty in that simplicity. It reminds me a lot of my motherhood journey. I’m an infant/toddler/preschool person, and it is heartwrenching that those days of my motherhood are behind me. Yet there are so many joys in my son’s current age, and I’m sure there will be when he’s older too (well, maybe not adolescence…). The devil is trying very hard to let my mourning over the end of the early years steal my current joy, and I have to constantly guard against letting him do it.

    1. Yes, Claire – I am right there with you! In introversion, in nostalgia, in the tension between wanting to savor what is right now and longing for what was or will be. I always love when you share your perspective here – thank you!

  3. As I started reading your post, I thought of that “normal day” poem/essay, which I came across many years ago. We have two friends whose spouses have cancer, one actively dying, so the treasure of a normal day is especially poignant to me at present.

  4. Laura. This post is so very beautiful. I love the presence of it. I love how it draws you into embracing the little. Love it! It reminds me of. Fr. De Caussade’s book on the sacrament of the present moment. After reading that, my whole world took new light. My very presence felt so purposeful. There really is so much good even if it’s hard to remember. At least I know for me after a few nights of little sleep, and on my good days for that matter, I’m not finding the beauty in my ordinary as much as I know my heart would love me to.

    1. Amanda, thank you for these beautiful words! I love that book, too – you are inspiring me to pick it up again! It is truly a 180 turn to look at the world and our lives so differently, in such a grace-filled light. The beauty in the ordinary is such an important thing.

  5. Mary Jean Irion was one of my father’s favorite writers. I don’t know how he discovered her — we were not Catholic — but he so admired her!
    I, too, am an introvert, and so identify with appreciating Ordinary Time. Thanks for writing, even when you’re being overwhelmed. Praying for the twins and for your family.

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