Ordinary Time. For the first three weeks of February this year we find ourselves, as we did straight after the Feast of the Baptism of Our Lord, in what is depressingly known as “ Ordinary Time”. I say depressing because it seems on the surface to reflect the dark days and the grim weather we get at this time of the year on these islands. The light and joy of Christmas have evaporated, though hopefully we did not abandon Christmas as speedily as my neighbours did, throwing the tree out on December 26th. Then Lent looms on the horizon. Spring, lighter evenings, Easter all seem a very long way off.
Yet there is, in another sense, no such thing as ordinary time or ordinary life. Ordinary time is where we spend most of our lives. In the Church’s year there are 34 weeks of Ordinary Time, and in our personal lives we may go for a long time without special days. Just reflect on the last 12 months and count the days which were extraordinary, special, worth remembering. The ones you have photos of! For most of us I think the ordinary days will outnumber the memorable ones. It is there, in the ordinariness of daily life and work, familiar relationships, duties, ups and downs, joys and sorrows, anxieties and hopes, that we live out our call, our vocation, as baptised Christians, as Benedictine Oblates, to carry the light of the Incarnation, to become the person we are each called to be – not in some extraordinary, exciting place or job, but here, where we have ended up, where we find ourselves today, with these maybe annoying people, in this irritating group, in a less than perfect family, with health issues, with the increasing needs of parents or partner. In a life which may or may not be what we dreamed of.
What matters, surely, is how we live the ordinary days. The liturgical colour for Ordinary Time is green, green which reminds us of growth. Life is not static. If we look back we might consider: what was my ordinary life 5 years ago? 10 years ago? What has changed? How have I grown? What specific moments of growth can I spot in my inner life? Where have I heard God speaking? How did I respond, or have I not paid attention? Have I allowed God to get on with the job of remoulding me?
I started a short pottery course recently, and my beginner’s efforts at the wheel reminded me of the passage in Isaiah 64:8 “you are our Father, we are the clay and you are our potter, we are all the work of your hand”, and Jeremiah 18:4 “The vessel he was making in clay was spoilt in the potter’s hand, and he reworked it into another vessel, as seemed good to him.” God can renew and re-form us, but we must allow God space in our lives for his creative action.
We will hear what God is calling each of us to do and be by listening, daily, to his Word, and to those whose lives touch ours, even very briefly. We will grow into the people we are called to become by our love of God and of our neighbour, by our compassion, our readiness to smile, to help in tiny ways to make other people’s days better. The genuine smile is such a gift to others. Is my face open in a group meeting, for instance? On Zoom? Do I bring engagement and openness to human encounters? How hospitable is my heart? God’s invitation to me when I meet people today is to see each person as God does. People may not remember exactly what I did, or what I said, but they will remember how I made them feel.
“God’s word pushes us to go out of ourselves so as to encounter our brothers and sisters solely with the gentle power of God’s liberating love.” Pope Francis on Twitter, 20/1/23
This is my mission for ordinary time. It is in ordinary time, in my ordinary life, that God loves me. It is in ordinary time, if I let God love me, that I will grow, that I will notice which aspects of my life need growth, need nurturing, if I am to love with an open heart. I am called daily to conversion, to renewal of life, to live consciously and with deepening joy in the accompanying presence of Our Lord, Emmanuel, God With Us. If we believe that in the Incarnation God entered the vulnerability and messiness of human existence, then there is nothing ordinary about today, about any one of our days. Each of them is a precious gift.
Mary Cockroft, Oblate of Stanbrook Abbey