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Out of the ordinary

Lucy Winkett

WinkettSometimes, working in a cathedral can feel like living in a twilight zone. Not content with following the church's year for Sunday gatherings,  we hold four services every day, which means that we become very sensitive to the calendar and the passing of the church's seasons.

Since the beginning of 2010,  there's been a lot going on. We had the excitement of Christmas followed by Epiphany, where we hear the stories of God's revelation in the world. A short break is followed by the austerity of Lent, the trauma of Holy Week and then the outbreak of joy at Easter. Weeks of rejoicing follow, then the mystery of Pentecost, the brain stretch that is Trinity Sunday, the thankfulness of Corpus Christi and now there are ahead of us weeks and weeks of what is called 'Ordinary Time'.

Being in the world as a Christian is in so many ways no different from being in the world as any other human being. We react to the news, our work, our family, often not primarily from our Christian faith but from well worn patterns of behaviour. But Christians do have a particular way of living in time. We believe that we live in it and also in eternity. One contemporary theologian has written of the 'eternal now' and we have digested too a way of living  that recognises the 'sacrament of the present moment'.

Our language about time reveals a confusion in us as humans whose only way of understanding time is to commodify it, to think of it as something we can measure or  be the object of our action, as we try to  'save' it, 'spend' it or even 'kill' it.  

Our attitude towards time is itself part of our spirituality. It's not always easy to see time as a gift, but that's what it is.  How we measure it reveals something of our underlying fears and fantasies. Someone has said that trying to understand the world by the news cycle is like trying to tell the time by watching the second hand on a clock. You will eventually get your bearings but not before you have become giddy, even nauseous as you try to keep up. Perhaps church time is more like watching the hour hand. It moves imperceptibly, and at times is right on noon, causing the bells to let everyone know where they are. The rest of the time, it takes a slower, more gradual journey.  

I have recently spent time with a friend who is in the early stages of a terrible grief.  He is shocked. The one he loves has died after an unforgiving and emaciating illness,  and the minutes, having raced past when it seemed they didn't have enough time, now tick by so slowly.  Although he says he catches himself waiting for this to be over, he is slowly realising that this is his new normal. This is his new 'ordinary time', without her and it is the hardest lesson of all.   

In the end, no time is simply ordinary - and one person's ordinary is another person's exceptional. But the rhythm of God's time is what we are asked to join in opposition to the hurrying society that urges us to avoid the deeper truths of life and death revealed to us when we recognise our lives as immersed, soaked, drenched in eternity.