Ordinary Time?

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

One of my favorite times in the church year is that period between the end of Pentecost and the beginning of Advent which is traditionally known as Ordinary Time. I know a few churches, including the UMC, prefer to call it Kingdomtide, and mostly for good reasons. However, there is something appealing to me about the phrase “ordinary time.” It reminds me that the lives we live are more often in the “ordinary” zone than in the “extra-ordinary” zone.

Being faithful to God means learning how to love, live and serve him in all the ordinary moments of life. One of the most fascinating realities of the rise of Twitter is that we have come to recognize how utterly ordinary much of our lives really are. A few recent “tweets” which have flashed across my iPhone have been:

1. Just noticed how beautiful the sky is.
2. Stuck in traffic! Arghh!!
3. Eating Indian food today.

It may seem, at first glance, like none of these qualifies as truly tweet-worthy. After all, isn’t there a cyber-commandment out there somewhere which says, “Thou shalt make thy tweets profound and pithy and, most of all, re-tweetable!?

Are tweets supposed to make you think and reflect, or are they just another sign of cultural self-focus and the collapse of the grand narrative such that all that matters is our personal narrative, however tiny and trivial? If the latter, then post-modernism has indeed cast a long shadow.

But what if tweeting can actually cause us to reflect? If so, then tweets can be like modern day koans. Koans, you may recall, are those ancient pithy phrases used by Buddhists to trigger spiritual awakening. They were like an ancient version of Twitter, because I don’t recall too many longer than 140 characters. Some clasics would be, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?” Here’s another, “What did your face look like before your mother was born?” Of course, don’t forget the ever popular, “If a tree falls in the forest and nobody hears it, does it make a sound?” Perhaps the 21st century version of a koan might be, “If I eat an apple, but don’t tweet about it, will I still be hungry?”

The point: Even the most mundane things can provoke us to think – or to thoughtlessness. I’ll never forget the “enlightenment” I received when a great artist explained to me why a torn piece of paper hanging in a frame could possibly be considered artwork. He said to me, “Precisely because it is so ordinary – a disgarded, torn piece of paper we encounter ever day – we are prone to not think about it. When someone picks it up and frames it, we are forced to think about it, reflect on it and perhaps see something about ourselves and our society we never saw before.”

So I stood before the framed scrap of paper and tried to think better about it. I began to reflect on how important paper is to our society, as well as how much paper we waste. I admit I also wondered if the torn piece of paper in the frame was another example of a wasted piece of paper. Thought – and thoughtlessness – often coincide in mutual potentiality.

So, when I reflect on someone in twitterland reminding me that the sky is blue, that they are stuck in traffic, or enjoying biryani, I let it spark in me a reminder that we are in Ordinary Time. Daily life is filled with blue skies and grey skies. It is filled with traffic jams and long airport waits (I am writing this in the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, waiting for a flight to Lansing, Michigan, – routine stuff for me). It is also filled with moments of eating Indian food, watching baseball games, enjoying a great laugh with friends, or listening to beautiful music. All ordinary – and all extraordinary – reminding us daily, and in our daily-ness, how great it is to be alive.

Timothy C. Tennent

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