The Church Calendar and Ordinary Life

“As the liturgical year goes on every day of our lives, every season of every year, tracing the steps of Jesus from Bethlehem to Jerusalem, so does our own life move back and forth between our own beginnings and endings, between our own struggles and triumphs, between the rush of acclamation and the crush of abandonment. It is the link between Jesus and me, between this life and the next, between me and the world around me, that is the gift of the liturgical year… In His life we rest our own”

Joan D. Chittister, The Liturgical Year: the Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life

In the afternoon of each work day, I have my coffee ritual. I take the homemade cold brew of locally roasted beans out of the fridge, along with some alt milk and protein powder, add a dash of sweetener and cinnamon, and blend. As the dark coffee and light-colored cream mix together, a beautiful brown hue emerges. I fill my glass with ice, carefully pour the frothy coffee, and at first sip I am renewed. As I wrap up my work day and look ahead to what’s left to do, my afternoon coffee ritual marks the transition toward evening.

After years of making my mid-afternoon miel, I read how rituals are grounding for us; rituals reorient us and bring us back to what is fundamental. We tend to respond well to ritual or rhythm. We see this displayed in creation. Consider the cycles of the sun’s rising or setting, the moon’s orbit, the change of seasons, the tides, decomposition, and the emergence of new life. There is a “prescribed order” in nature, and each day provides a new opportunity to do it all over again. Ritual suits us.

When the summer wanes and we shift toward the fall, it’s common to hear people say they’re excited to get back to a routine. Even though I am no longer tied to a school schedule, I find myself craving the same thing. Ritual and rhythm root us. They create a sense of belonging and hem us in. They “walk us home,” and carry us through transition.

A rhythm we share across many denominations and traditions is the church calendar. As we look forward to Advent, how might the rhythm of the church calendar ground us more deeply in our faith?

The church calendar has become special to me because it marks various times in the year, through ritual, of the acts of God to redeem his people. This didn’t start with Christians, and we can look back to the Old Testament and see how our forebears marked different parts of the year with feasts to recall and celebrate the works of God. As Christians, our church calendar focuses on the fulfillment of those feasts: the first coming of Jesus at Advent/Christmas (that anchors our hope and stirs anticipation for his second coming) and his death and resurrection from the dead at Lent/Easter (that restored our relationship with God).

The longest season of the church calendar is referred to as ordinary time, the stretch in the year between Pentecost and Advent. There’s something significant to me even in that! Our lives are lived daily—we wake, dress, eat, work, play, prepare, decompress, sleep, repeat—what’s ordinary is the mundane. Then occasionally, light breaks through—we see a prayer answered, we witness a heart change, the Word comes alive, delight is had, a relationship mends, and fruit is born through hardship. Much of the Christian life is mundane, then suddenly, Advent! 

Life doesn’t get more ordinary than a midweek workday. But then, coffee! The ritual forces me to pause, reflect on what’s been, and anticipate what will be. Of more timely significance, the rhythm of Advent will highlight that we are a people who wait with hope; we remember the redemptive act of God sending his Son to dwell among us. Now, we anticipate when he will come again to make all things new. 

For centuries these ideas of rituals which ground us have been explored, and we still benefit from these conversations today. A mentor of mine, when talking about marriage and our union with Christ, once said to our class that a person who is married for ten years is not “more married” than a person who is married for two years. But by God’s grace, the hope is that there is a deepening relationship between spouses. As we deepen our love for God and our union with Christ (from a human perspective), I think our observance of the church calendar can help keep us. These rhythms root us in the story of redemption, God’s story, and thus: our story.

What’s a ritual you perform on a mundane weekday? When you get away from it for a time and return to it, what happens within you? Do you feel renewed? Maybe you take a daily walk, practice evening prayer, make chicken stock, water your plants, read your children a book, or blend your coffee. A wholesome habit practiced regularly can anchor us, reduce stress, create a sense of belonging, quell anxiety, fill us up, and keep illness at bay. And if our rituals can care so much for our own body, how much more can the rhythms of the church calendar care for the church body! 

“In His life we rest our own.” This Advent, give ear once again to the gospel story. Let this liturgical rhythm guide you to look back on the incarnation and ahead to the consummation, the Second Advent when renewal will be our ordinary.

Morgan Heberle has an MA from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia with an emphasis in counseling. She works in donor relations for a non-profit and serves on the board of a local counseling center. Morgan and her husband John make their home on the west side of Cleveland, and are active in a new church plant.

Photo by Jarek Ceborski