Tuesday 2nd June in the Lectionary (the list of Bible readings for each day) states: ‘Ordinary Time resumes’. At the 2pm service yesterday I explored what God in the ordinary times might be like. Is he still there, or has he departed until the next big festival of the church?
The readings were Psalm 132, Job 2, Romans 1:18-end.
In just under four weeks’ time, our daughter Zoe will be getting married. As you can imagine there has been little else talked about and the planning has occupied most of her spare time and a fair bit of ours. The guest list didn’t seem too difficult but making the invitations to send to them did. Zoe designed them and needed just the right paper and card to make them. You wouldn’t believe how many shades of cream there are until you try to get two items to match! We turned our kitchen into an invitation making factory and the whole family had a task to do in order to create the parts that could be joined to make the final item, which really looked lovely. Then there was the wait for replies, ticking people off lists, chasing up the slower ones.
I’ve been to see the wedding dress and to give my seal of approval. The menfolk have been to get their suits ordered. I was taken off to a department store, with much trepidation, to be helped by a fashion advisor to find just the right outfit for the day and there have been several showings of this to various family members.
We’re all really looking forward to the day. Afterwards Zoe and Justin fly off for a three week holiday in the far east (a bit different to a week in a caravan by the coast which is what Phil and I managed!). What has worried Zoe is that, when she returns, she could feel a sense of let down as things go back to being ordinary once more. All the excitement and hassle of planning will be a thing of the past. In order to avoid this she is busy planning some special times to look forward to in the months after the honeymoon.
For the church, I suppose we are facing a similar time to that which Zoe will face on her return from honeymoon. If you look at the Lectionary (the list of readings for each day) today says ‘Ordinary Time resumes’. It sounds a bit dismal to me in some ways. We’ve had a 50 day party in Eastertide leading up to the celebration of Pentecost on Sunday. So now the party is over, just like the excitement of Zoe’s wedding will soon be over, and everything is normal, ordinary, run-of-the-mill.
Does this Ordinary Time mean that God is on the back burner, in hibernation until the next big event in the church calendar? That really makes no sense; God is hardly likely to disappear just because the major festivals are over. Paul makes it plain that God is revealed all the time, all around us: “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made.” God can be seen in creation, as the psalmist also was aware when he said: ‘The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.’
It’s easy to understand how a long time ago, when primitive people saw the heavens, experienced thunderstorms, or floods, or the mystery of things growing, they were overwhelmed by the power and beauty they perceived in these things. It is natural that they would reach out in worship to them. Gradually God revealed himself and found a willing follower in Abraham. Instead of worshipping creation, people began to worship the Creator who had made a world so full of wonderful things.
Many now would say that we should have moved on from such beliefs. We are no longer primitive people or the slightly more developed ones. Science has taken over, there is no need for God, all things can be explained away by science. We can measure the tiniest particles that make up matter, we can study distant stars. Anything that currently cannot be explained soon will be. No longer do we need to rely on faith.
If that was the case, all scientists should be atheists, and yet many of them are Christians. This is what Dr Francis Collins, Director of the Human Genome Project says about faith and science:
“I think there’s a common assumption that you cannot both be a rigorous, show-me-the-data scientist and a person who believes in a personal God. I would like to say that from my perspective that assumption is incorrect; that, in fact, these two areas are entirely compatible and not only can exist within the same person, but can exist in a very synthetic way, and not in a compartmentalized way. I have no reason to see a discordance between what I know as a scientist who spends all day studying the genome of humans and what I believe as somebody who pays a lot of attention to what the Bible has taught me about God and about Jesus Christ. Those are entirely compatible views.
“Science is the way — a powerful way, indeed — to study the natural world. Science is not particularly effective — in fact, it’s rather ineffective — in making commentary about the supernatural world. Both worlds, for me, are quite real and quite important. They are investigated in different ways. They coexist. They illuminate each other. I came to my faith not, actually, in a circumstance where it was drummed into me as a child, which people tend to assume of any scientist who still has a personal faith in God; but actually by a series of compelling, logical arguments, many of them put forward by C. S. Lewis, that got me to the precipice of saying, ‘Faith is actually plausible.’ You still have to make that step. You will still have to decide for yourself whether to believe. But you can get very close to that by intellect alone.”
Paul points out that, even knowing who God is, there is a danger that we will return to a more primitive way of life. He talks of people turning from the immortal God to images of people and creatures. They were more interested in the sensations available to their bodies than in the one who made those bodies in the first place. We may not make actual physical models of gods now, in the shape of animals and so on, but we still risk making gods out of things around us – money, sex and power to name but three.
Another danger is that we acknowledge God only in the good times, when it’s easy to see his blessings, when things are going right, when everything in the garden is rosy. Just as God does not disappear in Ordinary Time, he is not absent in tough times. Job had lost his family and his property and yet still he praised God. Even when Satan had permission to afflict him further with sores he still refused to lose sight of who God was. It was more difficult for his wife to deal with the tragedy than for him. We all react differently. Somehow Job, who had worshipped God in the ordinary times, managed to find him in the most extraordinarily difficult times also.
We can choose to keep our eyes open for God in our ordinary everyday lives. We can see him in nature, in the kindness of a friend, in the unexpected gift from a stranger, in music and art and dance. He is there if we choose to look for him. Perhaps in our time of prayer you may like to acknowledge where you have seen God, today or recently, in the Ordinary Time of your life, and give thanks that he is there, revealing himself to all who will look, really look.
As well as this informal looking, something more formal that some people find helpful is the Examen, an exercise designed by St Ignatius of Loyola. It’s a way of looking over the day and seeing where God was in it. You look for the moments for which you are grateful and give thanks. You ask for enlightenment to see your desires and attitudes clearly. You ask for forgiveness for the times in the day when you have not responded to God. Finally you ask for guidance for tomorrow and entrust yourself to God’s constant presence.
In all this looking, either informal or formal, it is the Holy Spirit who works in us to help us. I’d like to end with the Invocation of the Holy Spirit from Celtic Daily Prayer:
Most powerful Holy Spirit,
Come down upon us and subdue us.
From heaven, where the ordinary is made glorious,
And glory seems but ordinary,
Bathe us with the brilliance of your light like dew.