During the course of the liturgical year, the colors of the paraments in the sanctuary change. Advent is blue. Lent is purple. Easter is white. Pentecost is red. From November to May the colors change heralding Christianity’s high points like the birth of Jesus and his resurrection and “low” points like his suffering and crucifixion. After Pentecost there is about a six-month long season known as “ordinary time” and its color is green.
There are actually two periods in the year that are identified as “ordinary time.” The longer of the two is the one noted above. During this time there are no high days or holy days. In ordinary time the human spirit is left to fend for itself, no feasts to give us a boost, no particular occasions to prompt us in our faith.
The shorter of the two seasons of “ordinary time” starts in January. It is time between Epiphany, January 6, and the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday, which this year is February 18.
Dr. Renita Weems suggests an interesting way to think about ordinary time, especially this shorter period of ordinary time. She suggests that it is something like a timeout period for headstrong toddlers. Timeouts for children are sometimes used so that the child may compose themselves, gather their thoughts, calm down, think about what they are doing, and find their way back into the give-and-take of relationship with others.
Maybe this shorter period of ordinary time between Advent/Christmas/Epiphany and Lent/Easter serves as a liturgical timeout for us – a period to gather our thoughts about life and faith, and reflect on all that has happened in the previous seasons, and then find our way back into the give-and-take intimacy of relationship with God. When life is busy and crazy and hectic we long for time just to sit and be still with our own thoughts.
“Ordinary time” was not a way of calling that time mundane or common, but rather came from the word “ordinal”—which means “counted time.” It was time to be counted, weighed, used, and invested. Ordinary time, as time to be counted and invested, is not exclusive to liturgical calendars. Ordinary time is a common experience for every single person. We live mostly between the extreme highs and lows of our lives. Most of our lives are spent in “ordinary time.” It’s walking with one foot in front of the other, every day, slowly, steadily, devoted. We’re tempted to think of this time as somehow less “spiritual” than the highs or even the lows of life. But ordinary time is not only spiritual, it is essential for the Christian life because the Christian life is grounded upon relationships, and relationships require time, lots of time, lots of ordinary time doing ordinary things which add up to what we know as friendship and faith.
I invite you, in this New Year, to observe, maybe even to covet, that “ordinary time” and to make good use of it.