Friday, November 22, 2013

The Gift of Ordinary Time

At the high school where I used to teach, we held a brief prayer service for the seniors just before the graduation ceremony. As the senior-year religion teacher, I was always given the opportunity to speak. And each year, I began my remarks by sharing a few excerpts from one of the first articles they had been assigned to read:
The ancient Christian church described days of the liturgical year that were not feast days – the Mondays and Wednesdays of our lives … as belonging to "Ordinary Time." The liturgy of Ordinary Time is unchanging; prayers are always the same.
On a secular American calendar, Sept. 10 [2001] belongs irretrievably to ordinary time … It was a day for errands and sluggish freeway traffic and paying bills and running late …
I think of late summer evening descending across America on Sept. 10, I imagine televisions lighting windows and telephone conversations filling the night …
I summon Thornton Wilder, the playwright who was one of the greatest inventors of America because he portrayed ordinary time for the stage. His play "Our Town" is about what happens in an American town on an ordinary day, very much like Sept. 10 …
Emily, a young woman, recently deceased, yearns to revisit the living. She is cautioned by Mrs. Gibbs, a neighbor, long dead, to "… choose an unimportant day. Choose the least important day of your life. It will be important enough." …
There is much to learn about America from the boredom, the freedoms, the mundane achievements and routine pleasures of … Sept. 10 …
This is what Emily learned in the end of "Our Town." …
"I didn't realize. So, all that was going on and we never noticed. Take me back – up the hill – to my grave. But first: Wait! One more look. Good-bye; Good-bye, world. Good-bye, Grover's Corners … Mama and Papa. Goodbye to clocks ticking … and Mama's sunflowers. And food and coffee. And new ironed dresses and hot baths … and sleeping and waking up …"
My final, and perhaps most important, lesson to my students, on their final and most exciting day of high school, was to encourage them to recognize and celebrate the grace they received from the most boring and routine moments of the last four years of their lives. I offer this same lesson today, with Thanksgiving on the horizon and the start of another Advent close behind. It is so easy to ignore the gift of Ordinary Time, especially when we find ourselves face to face with the grand and the glorious, but to surrender to that temptation is to miss the point entirely.

"Look out your window … What do you see? Trees, hills, grass, concrete, metal bars, trash, crap, and all the other debris of modern life? No, you see something wonderful, something magical and wondrous … You see our reason for existence, our life's work and mission: to be a song of praise about life itself. Our grand and glorious purpose on earth: simply to be here, right here, right now."

We were created to be living witnesses to the truth that nothing is mundane. So let us proclaim that each and every day is the most wonderful time of the year.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Monthly Reading Links

"To be prophets of life is to demonstrate God's uniquely personal love for every human life. If we can understand God's love for the least among us – for the poor, the vulnerable, the unborn, or the disabled – we can understand his love for all of us. If we can witness to the dignity of disabled lives, we're likely to witness deeply to all human dignity. Our dignity is rooted not in what we can do, but in how much God loves us."
James Conley, First Things

"Sissy Goodwin is out shopping … He walks through a mall, a linebacker-sized figure in a pink skirt, lacy yellow blouse and five-o'clock shadow; a gold lamé purse slung over his shoulder and a white bow affixed to his receding gray hair. The 67-year-old college science instructor looks straight ahead, ignoring the stares and the catcalls … Back in the car, the object of such scorn puts on pink sunglasses adorned with a tiny red plastic bow. 'I got them in Reno,' he says. 'Aren't they cool?'"
John Glionna, Los Angeles Times

"I felt selfish for finding love when the man I once knew as my dad was disappearing, and for thinking about my future when my stepmother's own true love was receding into the past. But with every visit to New Mexico – barbecuing burgers, chopping firewood, shoveling snow off the roof – David stitched himself deeper into our lives. Every time he left, I missed him more."
Tanya Ward Goodman, Los Angeles Times

"The easy way to look at TOMS is to praise their charitable work. The harder, more troubling way … is to acknowledge [TOMS] as an example of how corporations have assumed work most often associated with self-identified religious organizations: building community, engaging in charity, and cultivating morals … So it is worthwhile to risk looking behind the appeal of charity to the transformed meaning of consumer spending … that occurs in the background."
Lucia Hulsether, Religion & Politics

"When I remember that Blue Ridge panhandler, I always end up thinking of Lazarus and the rich man. The story is a very disturbing parable … There is none of the information we like to have when deciding when or even whether to hand a dollar to someone. We know only that [the rich man] ate sumptuously and dressed well, and that Lazarus was hungry and sick, with no one but dogs to bathe his lesions. That is all we are told of the two men and that, Jesus seems to say, is all we need to know."
Russell Saltzman, First Things

"Like a Third Testament, the changes of the natural world … reveal God's unfolding work of creation. This book of nature, with its seasonal chapter headings, surprises me with each go-around. More than any other, the chapter on autumn stirs the mind and heart to higher things – look how few pages remain! Autumn reminds us that this created beauty is ours, but only for a little while longer."
Joe Simmons, The Jesuit Post

"According to the New Mexico Chile Association, about 78,000 tons of chile were harvested in New Mexico in 2012 – a crop worth about $65 million … The people who pick it, however, barely eke out a living, and some of them can't even afford their own lodging. Sin Fronteras Organizing Project's shelter in El Paso, Texas, opened in 1995 to house farmworkers who don't earn enough to rent an apartment."
Joseph Sorrentino, Commonweal

Follow me on Twitter, @jwbidwell, for additional reading recommendations.