So, funny enough, one of the things that I think makes the most sense about the way the church does things has to do with the liturgical season.
The liturgical calendar.
I’ve written about this before, but we’re at the tail-end of our Catechumenate class here at my faith community, and it’s come up again as we discuss the church year.
See, when I was an atheist, the only thing that kept me in the pew was practicing this greater current that we call “the liturgical calendar”; this greater movement that connected all of life together.
Which makes me wonder why all corners of the Christian church don’t follow the church calendar.
Because even though I couldn’t believe, I could sense, I knew, that whether or not there was a God, there was definitely life. And that life had seasons. Not just the outside world, not just flowers and hibernating bears and all that stuff, but my life had seasons.
In fact, in the winters of my life, the ability to practice the season of the church was one of the most important things in the world to me.
Even as someone who had broken up with Jesus as his boyfriend.
And there’s some good wisdom to the church year. Like, for instance, that Lent is 40 days long, but Easter is 50 days long. If that is not an implicit message that your life will laugh more than it cries, I don’t know what is.
Or how that season that we call “Ordinary Time,” the time in the church year of spiritual growth, takes up almost fifty percent of the calendar. Take a look at your life. About half of your life will be spent learning and growing.
Lord, that’s deep wisdom.
And see, the church year helps us to practice these seasons in our lives. It gives us rhythm.
I like to talk about it as breath. The seasons of the church year help me to breathe. If you think yoga is good for your breath, dive deeply into the church calendar as a practice…
Because there are times in my life where I wait, and will have to wait: for diagnosis, for biopsy results, for birth, for a death. Advent helps me wait.
There are times in my life where I’ll need to do some adjustment, some realignment: after a disgrace, after a significant relationship break, in a season of vocational or personal drought. Lent helps me to do the introspective work necessary to live well.
There are times in my life of “Ah-ha” and “feeling most alive”: having a breakthrough, gaining insight, feeling zealousness over a cause. Epiphany and Pentecost teach me to be on the look out for these moments and not pass them by.
And there are times in my life for rejoicing, for birth and re-birth: in reconciliation, after a literal birth, on holidays, after an illness has passed, “sittin’ on the dock of the bay.” Christmas and Easter help me to celebrate well.
And the three days of that time we call “The Triduum,” Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Easter Vigil…well…that’s a whole life-span in one fell swoop. A life of serving, of dying, and of rising. And when it’s honored it is the most important gift of the church year.
It is Christ’s body emblazoned on a calendar. And it helps me see my body and my calendar and how they mix.
There is just such wisdom to the church year. It’s like a Mr. Miyagi for your soul: you “wax on” and “wax off” and think you’re not doing anything but refurbishing a car…and then, boom, you’re forced to wait or repent or celebrate or learn or grow.
And, as T.S. Elliot says, it’s like you “know the place for the first time”…and yet, you’ve been there before. It’s that familiar/foreign experience that this journey with God always puts upon us when practiced well.
A lot of churches are getting away from the liturgical calendar. And they do so at the expense of the Christians they serve. It has deep roots, even deeper than the church itself. The roots of marking time and specific periods goes all the way back to when our ancient mothers and fathers figured out that a dead seed will live again if planted, watered, tended, and nurtured.
And that the thing that grew from that would be good for you.
A friend of mine talked about going to a church on Easter Sunday one day. They had all the attraction details down: welcoming people, if you signed up on a bulletin board as a first time visitor Krispy Kreme donuts would be delivered to your house the next week, the music was loud, the pastor had an engaging sermon.
But they didn’t talk about the resurrection. They just talked about a personal relationship with Jesus Christ that was abstracted not only from Easter as a celebration day, but from the whole history of Christianity.
He said he left feeling…empty.
He had come for food, for deep roots, for a personal relationship in some ways, but also an historical relationship that lifted up so much more than just he and Jesus one-on-one time.
But he didn’t find it there because, Lord, if all we’re offering is shallow theology and Krispy Kreme donuts…well…skip the church service and just go to the coffee shop.
And many people, now, do.
And I think it’s probably because we haven’t really done a good job rooting them in this practice, this deeper rhythm.
Look, Christianity is nothing without Jesus. But Jesus, and a personal relationship with Jesus, is not all there is to Christianity, either. And the deeper undercurrent that speaks truth about the heartbeat of life, all life, that is made plain by the church calendar can and should be lifted up.
And it’s not just about changing church parament colors. It is about living differently in different seasons of life. It is about Ecclesiastes 3, and asking “what time is it?” for our lives personally and communally.
But instead we lift up an empty Jesus devoid of rootedness with my life, with the rhythms of life, a Jesus who is no more connected to the current of life than a Krispy Kreme donut.
And, let’s be honest, I love Krispy Kreme donuts.
But they don’t really feed me.
You have a wonderful way of expressing what I sometimes feel but don’t know how to put into words. As someone who left the organized church for many years and then came back, I know all the arguments for throwing out liturgical seasons and other things that some might consider vain traditions. Now, having come back to the organized church, I find the seasons profound and very inspiring. Thank you for saying so well what I’ve been experiencing.
And thank you, Judy, for your words!
Amen brother – the times when my faith has ebbed, the march of the calendar has kept me engaged. As you so eloquently put, life has seasons, and the church mirrors those seasons. I tried to explain the cycle to a Baptist friend who didn’t understand why we “pretended that Jesus hadn’t been born yet” during Advent. I may go back to him and share your post. You have an amazing gift and I’m so glad you generously share it with us.
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Coming from a non-denominational background, I married a Lutheran. (At first I felt confined and like there was no life at a traditional service. Where’s the band? Where’s the excitement?) What I’ve been learning over the course of a 15 year marriage, is that while it may not be flashy, it’s got some deep, deep roots. I also have never felt like I’ve had to leave my brain at the door. My experience has been that contemporary non-denom FEELS, where Lutherans think AND feel.
I am currently taking adult catechism classes and I have been learning so much about the liturgical calendar. I love this post and have been feeling the same way – wondering why more churches aren’t rooted in the calendar. The Krispy Kreme donut-type church is exactly the kind of church I grew up in. It wasn’t all bad, but I agree that after a point, it becomes kind of hallow and more of a self help seminar than worship.
Thank you again for writing so eloquently what many of us have been feeling, but unable to precisely define.
This is wonderfully “deep.” Really. That’s all I want to say. Oh, and Thank you! 🙂