I grew up in a Catholic family, attended Catholic schools at all levels including graduate school, and fully acknowledge that the better part of a lifetime immersed in Catholic traditions, liturgy and theology have left their indelible impressions. As a child I looked forward to the great feasts of Christianity and their celebration in a Catholic context. The solemn days of Lent followed by the glorious days of Eastertide, and of course the anticipation of Advent followed by the joyousness of the Christmas season. And in between it all lay “Ordinary Time,” which to a Catholic schoolboy seemed like nothing more than the long days spent waiting for the more important days to reappear.
As an adult I became involved in my Catholic parish’s liturgical life, especially the process referred to as the Rite of Christian Initiation of Adults, or RCIA. For the better part of 17 years I taught scores of Catechumens preparing for their Baptism, including sponsorship of three, and led retreats that generally were held shortly before some liturgical rite of passage, including Baptism at the Easter Vigil. It was in the context of helping to guide these people seeking conversion that I began to learn about and greatly appreciate Ordinary Time.
The Latin phrase used to denote Ordinary Time, Tempus per Annum, translates literally as “season through the year.” During Ordinary Time the Christian is encouraged to consider the entire lifetime of Jesus, his teachings, the signs and miracles he performed, and the mystery of his death and resurrection. During Ordinary Time one is called to absorb the lessons of Christianity, an act of contemplation (in Latin, theoria), and bring those lessons to life, an act of practice (in Latin, praxis). Theoria is the work of bringing one’s awareness alive to the presence of God. But contemplation absent praxis is empty, devoid of spiritual growth. Christian theoria enlivens our hearts, but it is in praxis on that life of the heart that we draw nearer to God.
Today I choose to live outside of the boundaries of any organized form of religion. As much as Catholic life formed me, and as permanent as that formation has proven to be, I’ve moved into a different spiritual way of being, seeking awareness to be alive to the presence of the hearts I encounter during the course of an ordinary day, throughout the seasons of the year that mark our shared ordinary time. My practice has become meditative rather than ritualized, both in solitude and in my relationships. Within the context of this new way of spiritual ordinary time I have found many occasions for feast and celebration, some of them associated with traditional religious or secular events, but more often in the pith and marrow of deep connections with other hearts. As extraordinary as these connection events can be, I still find deep solace and peace in my newfound ordinary time.
Our mindfulness practices are celebrations of ordinary time. Day to day we are called to be fully present to the emerging events that seem mundane, yet carry the crux of our enrichment. A simple encounter at the grocery store, noticing some sadness in our neighbor, perhaps, responding with a smile or a word of kindness. Walking mindfully down a crowded city street, noticing the feeling of the sun, even the cold sunshine of a wintry day, feeling joy arising in my chest. Staying as fully present for my friend or acquaintance who is angry as I do for my young grandsons as they are curious and playful with me. Every day is ordinary time, but it is in the ordinary moments that we find our satisfaction and contentment.
To the Buddhist enlightenment is not some far off land of Nirvana that we strive to reach. Instead, to be enlightened is found in the moment in which we “have…seen and pierced through the surface and have got beyond the shadow and the disguise” (quote from The Asian Journal of Thomas Merton). Again quoting Thomas Merton, “every moment and every event of every man’s life on earth plants something in his soul.” Being mindful means being alive in each of these moments. Each day is ordinary time, but that is when life is actually happening! Are we present for life? Do we recognize the source of our enlightenment in the eyes of each person we meet each day, including the antagonistic as well as the loving?
Cherish your ordinary time. Wake up in each moment! To be mindful means your heart is open, alive, and curious. The feast days are grand, but those feast days are brackets around the full measure of your life. Awakening happens now.
I’ll leave you with this lovely poem from Diana Faulds, “Awakening Now.” She speaks with such eloquence, more than I can muster!
Awakening Now by Danna Faulds
Why wait for your awakening?
The moment your eyes are open, seize the day.
Would you hold back when the Beloved beckons?
Would you deliver your litany of sins like a child’s collection of sea shells, prized and labeled?
“No, I can’t step across the threshold,” you say, eyes downcast.
“I’m not worthy” I’m afraid, and my motives aren’t pure.
I’m not perfect, and surely I haven’t practiced nearly enough.
My meditation isn’t deep, and my prayers are sometimes insincere.
I still chew my fingernails, and the refrigerator isn’t clean.
“Do you value your reasons for staying small more than the light shining through the open door?
Now is the only time you have to be whole.
Now is the sole moment that exists to live in the light of your true Self.
Perfection is not a prerequisite for anything but pain.
Please, oh please, don’t continue to believe in your disbelief.
This is the day of your awakening.