This winter was my first full winter as an oil painter. And, as I scoped the scenery for reference photos or places to paint on location, I found myself looking for and noticing more colors than just gray and brown. There was burnt sienna – a rich, reddish brown – everywhere. There were patches of icy green moss and lichen running along trees and ground. The sky was often blue, but on cloudy days, I tried to determine the exact hue of the clouds. Was the gray more leaning towards purple or ultramarine blue or Payne’s gray?
And, although I delighted in my first winter of actually seeing and noticing these subtle shifts of color, I still found myself missing one color. This winter was also my first winter as a dog owner, and when my puppy and I were hiking deep out in nature, we would occasionally encounter this one precious color – on an evergreen tree or bush, on a lush patch of moss – and that green would be like an exhale in my heart.
As I write this, I am looking out my studio window into our weedy, slightly overgrown, but green backyard. And each time I see that color, I find myself breathing a little easier.
As one of the sacristans at my parish, it is my job to help with changing things in the sanctuary with the changing liturgical seasons. As I spent Holy Saturday polishing brass candlesticks, changing the tabernacle veil to white, and making sure the white lilies were watered and the white altar cloth starched and fresh – I couldn’t imagine that in fifty days we would have to return to dull, boring green. How ordinary! How depressing!
Yet, as it is every year, the colors of the liturgical seasons shift from whites and reds to green – and I find myself letting out a deep exhale.
The Consolation of the Ordinary
As a mother to three daughters, and as a trainer and owner of a sweet English Cocker Spaniel puppy, I am all too familiar with the importance of schedule and routine. One thing that both children and puppies have in common is that they thrive on routine. Our school year recently ended, and I immediately set about figuring out our summertime routine. When my little ones know what to expect every day, they are calmer, happier, and freer. They know what to expect from the day, and they don’t have to waste time worrying about what is coming next.
Of course children (and puppies) love holidays and special things. But even if they enjoy them, they also are thrown a bit out of sorts by them. As soon as the holiday is over, they are incredibly happy to settle back into their ordinary routine.
So it is with us, and with ordinary time.
Tenth Sunday of Ordinary Time. Eleventh. Twelfth. There is something infinitely comforting and soothing about the steady plodding along of Ordinary Time. When my daughters were younger and were in Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, they learned a song about the seasons of the Church, and the line about Ordinary Time was, “Green is our growing time.”
As thrilling as the ups and downs of spiritual consolation and desolation may be, the real growth happens in the ordinary, hum-drum days of the spiritual life.
This is true for every vocation – there is the celebration of the initial commitment to the vocation, then the ordinary, hum-drum rhythm of the living out of that call. Weddings are lovely, and many are extravagant – but the real growth happens in the daily grocery shopping, cleaning, meal prep, disagreements, shows of affection, changing of diapers, school drop offs and pick-ups. Those who take vows in religious life or are consecrated virgins likewise make their commitment at beautiful Masses, which are followed by a celebration with their community and/or family and friends. But the real growth for them happens in the ordinary tasks of their lives – a consecrated virgin continuing to go to her job, a cloistered religious contributing to the work and chores of the monastery, an active religious taking part in the apostolate of his or her order, and all of them praying the daily Liturgy of the Hours. And ordinations and first Masses are like glimpses of heaven on earth. The new priest is surrounded by so much love and so much support. His vocation is celebrated and received with joy. His first Mass usually has the finest music, the best homilist to be found (new priests typically don’t preach at their own first Mass), and incense aplenty. But the real growth happens in the ordinary – the parishioner who chews him out after Mass because they didn’t like his homily, the penitent who spends extra long in the confessional with him with unspeakable pain weighing on their heart, the time spent in an empty confessional waiting for penitents who never come, the middle of the night call to someone’s deathbed, and the exhaustion of waking up for an early Mass after a late night tending to a member of the laity in need.
God accomplishes the work of our growth in the ordinary, mundane, hidden times of growing.
Ordinary Time and Nazareth
Jesus spent three years in his public ministry – preaching, teaching, working miracles, and accomplishing the work of his death and resurrection.
But he spent thirty years living a mundane, ordinary life. He lived in an ordinary family, in a small town, learning the work of a simple, lowly trade.
There is something in Ordinary Time that is reminiscent of Nazareth. The world looks to great accomplishments, fame, and wealth. But God shows us, through his incarnation, the great gift of the ordinary and hidden. He is calling us to Nazareth. He is meeting us there in Ordinary Time.