Our whirlwind holiday trip to the Western Hemisphere has come and gone…
The Chanukah-Christmas-New Year season has come and gone…
(Posadas with the Mexican family)
(The Texas family at Mom’s Christmas party)
(Goofing around by the Christmas tree)
(The Trail of Lights in Austin with Will and Kris)
(Little Red Riding Hood at a New Year’s Costume Party)
(Celebrating Ecuadorean New Year’s traditions with a mini-Año Viejo in Texas)
Even the incredible Jerusalem Snowpocalypse of 2013 has come and gone. We survived the worst storm in 20 years in our area, and it was interesting trying to get through that without central heating and with our Internet dead for a solid week. I think the low point was when we had a really important email to send on a Friday night and we trekked out to the public square about a block away after dark in subfreezing temperatures to “borrow” a neighboring building’s WiFi and sit in public with a laptop (read: prohibited machine) on Shabbat. And, of course, the trackpad doesn’t work with gloves. So that was fun.
But it was a tradeoff, because the eight inches of snow were breathtakingly beautiful.
The excitement has died down, the hustle and bustle have died down. All that’s left is Ordinary Time.
In the Catholic liturgical calendar, Ordinary Time is a period of time that happens between Christmas and Lent and then continues later between Easter and Advent. Right now we’re in the shorter section of Ordinary Time, and it’s quite short, since Lent begins on February 13 this year. There are smaller intermittent holidays during Ordinary Time, but for the most part it is a gentle up and down, rather than the insane high (followed by the inevitable bottoming out) surrounding Christmas and Easter.
But “Ordinary Time” is a bit of a misnomer. It does not mean “ordinary” as in “mundane” or “dull.” Similar to other odd-sounding Catholic words like ”apologetics” and “purificator,” it comes from Greek or Latin and doesn’t mean exactly the first thing that comes to mind. It actually means “ordinary” as in “ordinal,” in that Week 1 is the first week, Week 2 is the second week, and so on. It just means that we are counting weeks. The climactic holidays are over, and so we descend into a time of quiet and rest. Back to school, back to work, back to real life. A time when we hear readings from other parts of the Bible besides these two momentous events in salvation history: the birth of Jesus and the Passion, death and resurrection of Jesus. Our churches are decorated in green like the verdant rolling pastures of life that come between the towering mountains of introspection and frenzy that are Advent and Christmas, Lent and Easter. Life is full of ups and downs, of hills, and valleys, but mostly of in-between times. Without Ordinary Time, you would simply keel over from exhaustion. Life, like the life of the Church, is cyclical. Like it or not, Ordinary Time is most of your life.
Ordinary Time is taking the Christmas decorations off our little laurel tree and letting it be just a laurel again.
Ordinary Time is when the snow has melted but there is still a bite in the air telling you to not put your parka away just yet.
Ordinary Time is reading Hemingway by Jaffa Gate, sharing a nargileh with friends, and noticing the little plants struggling up through the cracks of the sidewalks.
Ordinary Time is rejoicing over finally finding a community and family-away-from-family in the odd assortment of far-flung international people that have sprung up around you, and finally finding a bottle of limoncello for sale inside the city limits, and finding a wonderful vintage shop roughly the size of your mother’s walk-in closet (or maybe smaller), with beautiful clothes and owners that are actually not trying to cheat the life out of you.
Ordinary Time is drowning in the sea of Hebrew and Arabic, letting the tide pull you and letting the world around you teach you and change you. Ordinary Time is settling back into life in the Holy Land. And wondering what could come next. Wondering if there is Life after Jerusalem.
Ordinary Time is inviting two Argentinian physicists you barely know to stay in your home, and actually loving every minute of it. And then when one tells you he has seen all there is to see in Jerusalem, you tell him he must be wrong and you take him to every place you have found by accident, all the places only you know… the overlook over the Kotel that you found while lost one day and were afraid you would never find again, the roof of the Austrian Hospice with its breathtaking view that is open to everyone as long as they already know where it is, the nearby lemon-and-mint joint by the Third Station of the Cross, along a busy road in the Muslim Quarter, where the four corners of the world converge and you can watch Arabs in keffiyehs bustle past Armenian monks who snake between the strollers of Haredi Jews who are dodging an avalanche of wide-eyed Korean Christian pilgrims in matching highlighter-yellow sun hats.
Together you duck into the warmth of the enormous ancient underground water cistern below the Old City, accessible only through a dusty wayside Coptic church and down a terrifyingly claustrophobic stone staircase that seems to lead to the center of the Earth. And as you stand there in the cavern and hear the impossibly long layered echo of the plop, plop, plop of the water coming from above, you get the irrepressible urge to sing and become a part of the echo, a part of the timeless rock, an eternal part of Jerusalem.
What is a song that we both know?, you ask in Spanish.
And, like the miracle of Bethlehem, everyone sings “Silent Night” in his own language.
And as the echoes of the last notes fade into the darkness, you look up into the ancient rock-hewn ceiling and wonder, how did this ever become your life? Yes, it may be Ordinary Time, but it is anything but ordinary.
Sleep in heavenly peace. Sleep in heavenly peace.