Joan Chittister

Ordinary Time

There is much to appreciate about Joan Chittister’s book The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life. It’s a well-penned introduction to the foundational narrative of Christian discipleship framed against the backdrop of its requisite ecclesiology and its own sense of time, a time inimitable because grounded in the one unique narrative of Jesus Christ and enfleshed in the body with which he has so incontrovertibly and enduringly bound himself. To be exact, the sense of time – the liturgical calendar which ‘puts in relief the full array of Christian mysteries and spiritual cycles for all to see’ and which contrasts so powerfully with the civic metanarrative – is a given time, graced time, time which outlasts all times.

And while each of Chittister’s lyrical and informative elucidations of the feasts and seasons of the Church year provide much fare for reflection, it is what she has to say about ‘Ordinary Time’ – that time between Christmas and Lent, and then between Pentecost and Advent – that struck me most, and which I want to share here:

‘Ordinary Time refuses to overwhelm us with distractions, even religious and liturgical distractions, regardless how pious they may seem. Instead, it keeps us rooted in the great, driving truths of the faith: Jesus was, is, and will come again. In those three insights is all there is to know. In that conviction we have enough spirituality for a lifetime. Everything else is in apposition, is simply a modifier, an explanation, an example of the truth of it. But that takes a lifetime of contemplation, of pause, of reflection. That takes an understanding of the value and purpose of Ordinary Time’. (p. 99)

‘It doesn’t take a lot of living to realize that life is more than simply a series of highs and lows. By and large, existence as we know it is not a display of moments marked either by excitement or despair, by dazzling hope or formidable tragedy. It is, in fact, basically routine. Largely uneventful. Essentially predictable. Life is, by and large, more commonplace than exciting, more customary than electrifying, more usual than unusual. And so, not surprisingly, is the liturgical year.

Because the liturgical year is a catalog of the dimensions of the spiritual life, it is not unlike life itself. It, too, is made up of the habitual and the common coordinates of what it means to live a spiritual life. What’s more, it is precisely this routine of holiness-as-usual that is the ultimate measure of the quality of a soul’. (pp. 182–3)