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.