“The Church rocked through time- a cradle, an ark- to rhythms of sorrow and joy, marking the passage of man. The Catholic calendar in my bedroom was printed by W.F. Gormley and Sons, morticians. Every month there was a different Bible picture in beautiful colors. Every day was something. The calendar noted ferial and ember days, fish days, and the feastdays of saints. (My birthday honored St. Ignatius Loyola.) There was another ‘regular,’ calendar in the kitchen (Capital Savings and Loan). It noted full moons and crescents and the official change of the seasons. My mother used the regular calendar to write down our doctors’ appointments (shots; teeth).” –From Hunger of Memory by Richard Rodriguez
We live in an impatient world—one prone to collapsing the time between the recognition of a desire and its satisfaction. Worth is measured by productivity and efficiency. We scout out ways to make “lasting contributions.” We tend to be unwilling to “rock through time.”
A thin understanding of time—viewing it as a tool of organization, something to be spent, or an indicator of when shots and dentist appointments occur, is related to a thin conception of God. If time does nothing but tick, then it makes sense that God would be a disinterested watchmaker.
Sheldon Wolin says that Christianity gifts the world a sense of time, or better yet, an understanding of the meaning of time. It’s helpful to remember the content of this gift with the end of advent, amidst the Christmas season, and as we marked a secular celebration of time this week with New Year’s. There is a tension between the two calendars we inhabit—the calendars of W.F. Gormley and Sons and Capital Savings and Loan. We need to remember that time is where God’s grace unfolds, where the healing and enlarging of creation occurs.
Through the church calendar we relearn, we remember, we recommit ourselves to the newness that is Christ, continuing to recognize the difference Christ makes. The calendar helps God’s people remember and renew who they are in light of God’s story. The story of Christ stays the same, but we do not. Each year we come to it changed, altered, with new sets of joys and laments. Through the movements of the church calendar we attune and re-attune ourselves to what our confession of Christ as Lord means. We are brought more fully into our own time by remembering what time has meant in the story of God’s people. During Christmas (and the rest of the church calendar) we rethink time amidst time; we pass through the time of what God has done. The peculiar mode of sanctification that is the church’s calendar is how we are brought into God’s time, into the fullness that creation moves towards. The movement of the liturgy breathes this future into the current movement of creation.
However, the church calendar doesn’t just mean something for us, it means something for time itself. Time and space are creatures—creatures created by God and affected by the fall. Time is damaged, warped, currently standing as the “measurements of death.” However, just as our bodies will be rekindled, transformed, so to will time. The life and work of Jesus—specifically the passion, “lies at the heart of time.” Time is reordered, reformed and with the cross and resurrection—the drumbeat of death is undone when the God of Israel pierced time with his presence. As Karl Barth says:
“Yet even as time begins in grace, so God in His covenant offers again to humanity the time of grace. In such a grace time does not flee but flows, it is not empty but fulfilled.”
With the work of Christ time flows towards the day when creation and humanity will be brought into their fullness by the work of God. Time full of grace flows on a trajectory towards healing instead of an un-ending circle of wounding and re-wounding. Time becomes the space where God comes amongst us, drawing us into the reality of what God has done. The six months that tell the story of Christ in the church calendar (from Advent to Pentecost) shows us what ordinary time is full of—the person and presence of Christ. God is with us in time itself. In a different sort of advent reflection, Marilynne Robinson observes:
“According to the Christian proclamation, God as man lived quietly in the world for more than thirty years before he called his first disciple, drawing no attention to himself or to his presence with us. His voice was not heard in the street. We must assume that sunlight was no lovelier those thirty years, or time less inexorable. The Romans, who made synonyms of order and desolation, tramped the roads of his holy Judea. If we take it to be true that he walked in the cool of mornings and the breeze of evenings among Adam’s children, who were at no special pains to hide their transgressions from him or to put a gloss of piety on the good they did, and that he saw them sometimes comfort the lame and welcome the outcast, as people will do, then surely he rejoiced in them, and in the unutterable good he intended for them. Still, every day was like any other day through those thirty years, miraculous and God-haunted as the world was in the beginning, is now, and always will be.”
There is something to the reality that Christ lived quietly in the world; this mass of ordinary time stands in the background of the gospel narratives. God walked in the cool of the Garden of Eden, and Christ walked along the dusty streets of Nazareth. The Christ who lived from one minute to the next, who “rocked through time,” is the same Christ who redeems time itself.
Half of Christianity is about learning what it means to hope well—to hope amongst the slow speed of time’s sanctification. The church calendar reminds us redemption will not be rushed. The story cannot be told faster. Time is a gift, a gift in need of redemption, but still a place to encounter the transformative presence of the God who is life incarnate. To the waiting Israelites Isaiah said:
“Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you;
therefore he will rise up to show mercy to you.
For the Lord is a God of justice;
blessed are all those who wait for him.”