Back when I was an atheist Catholic (maybe I’ll write about that later), my favorite part of the liturgical calendar was “ordinary time.” The time between feast and fast days. The color of the vestments of ordinary time is green– the everyday green of life, of growing, of hedges and trees. The green time of not having to do anything special to make time sacred.
We can get caught up in the peaks and valleys of life to the point of missing the beauty of ordinary time. Rituals of ordinary time for me include morning hot coffee and a walk down the same sidewalk, day in, day out, greeting the trees. Eating a bowl of cheese grits sprinkled with roasted peanuts. Holding a newborn baby at the clinic where I work, listening to her heart’s music, and talking to her parents. Giving my adult son and daughter a good, long hug. Ordinary, ordinary, ordinary, and full of the deepest beauty and pleasure. Worth savoring. It never gets old.
Yesterday, I went walking with my sweetheart, a long trail, on a perfect fall day. We met several hikers on the way, many overtaking us– going slowly, in no hurry, an ordinary pace. One man opined the hike would be much better “without all these leaves on the trail”, because of the slipperiness, and I don’t think he was joking– I hid my laugh and just smiled back, thinking to myself maybe he’d rather go walk in the mall. Half an hour later, my own foot slid on a slick rock, and I fell. Ha! Maybe I should walk in a mall myself! On the other hand, those leaves did give me some cushion. Thank you/no thank you, leaves. My sweetheart cried out “are you ok?” as I was falling, and my answer “I don’t know, let me finish falling first and then I’ll tell you” has already in the course of one day become an inside joke. (I’m fine, only bruised elbows).
Several times along the way, hikers returning from the waterfall told us “it will be worth it”… as we returned, we were asked “will it be worth it?” from those still headed out. Which struck me as another hilarious notion– for me, going along at my snail’s pace, the measure of worth was already in each step, not in relation to the destination. I have a lifelong thing for trees, and some of the time I felt myself to be walking in a tree-like manner, as if I were an Ent. I tried to give those we met as sincere a smile on the way back as on the way up, and I enjoyed thinking that they probably didn’t know I was a disguised Ent.
This morning I read an article by Reza Aslan, promoting pantheism– the closing statement proposed a stark choice between believing the universe “originated from purely physical processes… without cause, value, or purpose” or that the universe is an “animating spirit” in itself, including us. It seemed to me a sadly false choice, and the roots of Aslan’s confusion may be caught up in not appreciating ordinary time, ordinary steps on a path– needing value to have a context instead of standing on its own. How could a material universe stop us from valuing what we value, a sweetheart, a beautiful fall day, laughter? Why would any of this need to be connected to a larger purpose or a destination to be meaningful in itself? We are temporary. In fact, we are partly new beings every moment. Does our transitory nature make us less in some way? I can’t see why it would.
It reminded me of a lecture recently by one of my favorite local psychiatrists, in which he discussed some (questionable, because of the tendency to remember negative events when one is distressed) research about traumatic life events in childhood causing adult illnesses. As a reason to reduce cruelty to children. There are holes in the research about physical punishment of children causing specific later effects. But why do we need justification? I was surprised to find myself the only person in the audience who questioned the idea of needing an adult reason to be kind to children. I don’t consider children valuable in relation to their future adult selves, but instead as persons like the rest of us, valuable in themselves, at this very moment. I do not like to be hit or traumatized, and I’m betting you feel the same. There are laws to prevent me being hit– why? Because the majority of people agreed they didn’t want to be hit. Why not extend the same civility to children? Whether it causes them trouble years later or not? I don’t say “don’t hit me, because you might cause me an illness later.” I say “don’t hit me– it’s against the law and against my rights as a human. And you wouldn’t like it if I did it to you.”
Ordinary time. Ordinary, brief, temporary beings. Not a moment, not a breath, not a tree, not a being replaceable. Let us cherish our ordinary time, in all its singular beauty.