4 min read

The unutterable preciousness of an ordinary day

A strangely named season of the Church calendar, Ordinary Time, is anything but that. Julie Canlis explores how it can point to wonder in the moments.

Julie connects Christian spirituality with ordinary life in Wenatchee, Washington State, where she teaches and writes.

A father sits on a bed and fixes the hair of his daughter standing in front of him
OPPO Find X5 Pro on Unsplash.

One of the strangest (and longest) seasons in the Church Calendar is called Ordinary Time. It feels caught like a fish out of water between the high pageantry of Easter and the thrill of Christmas. Ordinary Time – when school is out, and warm summer days are glorious – is there some mistake? Any kid with a high love of summer would know that the church had yet again missed the whole point. 

You’d be forgiven for thinking that Ordinary Time, despite its obvious insinuations for anglophones, means “boring” or even “not important.” It is not, after all, when the church gets a well-earned break from the supernatural, and things can be normal for a while. Nor is it when Jesus goes on vacation, alongside the rest of us. Despite the “terminological abomination” that is Ordinary Time (George Wiegel), Ordinary Time is when the church leans into the fact that all of life is sacred. All of life has meaning. Why? For Christians, it is because God decided to become human in every ordinary way, to bless and remind us that life is not so ordinary after all. 

Because of this, no day can be a “time out” from the supernatural. Every day is now holy. And this is the riot of Ordinary Time. 

The fact that God decided to walk our history in our shoes means that God’s life is available in all alleyways, everywhere, every minute. This means that every child whose knee has been scraped, and has been comforted, is in God’s territory. Every joy of friendship, and even rejection, has been experienced by the God-man. Every pubescent crush is understood. Every badly crafted project in our dad’s workshop or mom’s flour bin has also been in Mary’s kitchen or hanging on her wall. When Christians worship this God, they know that they worship someone who experienced everything that they are experiencing – every joy, every terror, and even the humdrum in between.  

Because of this, no day can be a “time out” from the supernatural. Every day is now holy. And this is the riot of Ordinary Time, which has no holy-days but is itself one long holyday-holiday. And so, the church calendar is attempting to do precisely the opposite of carving up life into sacred and secular, a false division if there ever was one. The Church calendar integrates all things into the life of God who was also human, and so can testify to the goodness of jam and the horror of loneliness. This calendar, far from an attempt to lift people out of ordinary life, was an attempt to root them in the One who makes all things extraordinary. It’s no wonder that the chosen color for this season is green – that of new life, vibrant in its small seed-like ways, growing imperceptibly but persistently.  

And this is why, when Christians have been vigilantes against things that prioritize the supernatural over the natural, the church has flourished for all classes. Even the good old stodgy Reformation forefathers (with their frilly collars) championed ordinary life as God’s sphere, against those who held it as lower on spiritual scale. Or again, there were Victorian priests like M. F. Sadler who intuited the dangers of church elitism and railed against “mischievous” theology cut-off from ordinary life. Or what of George MacDonald, Scottish pastor and fantasy writer, who says that Jesus’ miracles only seem like miracles because we take everyday life for granted. “How many more have the marvel of vision than those blind whom the Lord has healed.” He calls God the “divine alchemist,” turning every meal into a eucharist, not just the bread and wine on the high altar.  

Today is the stillpoint from which all the days since our birth have been stretching forward. And today is the point from which all days rush toward our end 

“Ordinary Time” in the Church Calendar is the season of the sacred ordinary. Or the ordinary extraordinary. Fifty days after Easter is “Whitsun” or Pentecost when, according to the history of the early church by Luke the doctor, the Holy Spirit came upon all people – young, old, men, women, Greek, African, slaves. The Spirit (and love) of Jesus was handed over to these ordinary people to continue what Jesus started. And that day the church was born. And here we are, 2,000 years later, as the same ordinary church, invited to hallow something as ordinary as time itself. How differently would we live, if we were able to recognize the unutterable preciousness of today? To be aware that we will never be given this particular day again? Today is the stillpoint from which all the days since our birth have been stretching forward. And today is the point from which all days rush toward our end. Without knowing this, and finding ways to honor it, can we be living at all? This is the invitation of Ordinary Time. 

6 min read

The case for taking a holiday

The reasons we need to rest and re-boot.

Natalie produces and narrates The Seen & Unseen Aloud podcast. She's an Anglican minister and a trained actor.

On a beach lounger someone holds a book aloft to read.

Well, here we are, either literally or metaphorically breaking up for the summer. School’s out and the long evenings demand al-fresco dining – even in the UK where it’s far more likely than not to rain. And of course, it is time to Live Our Best Life as we chase the fantasy and book an eye-wateringly expensive holiday – to “get away from it all”.  

In my early adulthood, holidays were unquestionably lying on a sun-drenched beach with a very large pile of novels. It was escapism pure and simple. And sun worshipping. Then I went on a skiing holiday for the first time in my 30s and was amazed how refreshing it was. When you’re concentrating on not dying, hurtling at high speed down a slippery mountain, the regular patterns of thought are left behind; there is simply no headspace to worry about the things that normally occupy the mind. I came back from a week on the snow with my body feeling completely trashed but my mind fresher than ever before.  

But whatever our holiday preference, be it active, sedentary or a cocktail of both, it is short-lived. A fortnight is the average length of a holiday, maybe it’s just a cheeky long weekend. If you’re really pushing the boat out (literally if going on a cruise as many people do these days a) – a luxurious three or even four weeks. But however long it is, it is – by definition – not lifelong. We build up to it – “can’t wait to get away” and there can be huge expectation for all the things we’ve been struggling with to be magically less stressful “when I get back”. We think all the exhaustion we carry, all the frustration or disappointment, the overworking we live with on a daily basis, will disappear. We binge on relaxation and put huge pressure on ourselves to HAVE FUN and – that which has become the sly new marketing strategy – “making great memories”. Which can all turn out to be even harder work than what we’re trying to get away from. 

Last summer, we went to the Lake District. And it rained. A lot. I mean coming in under the doors/through the windows sort of a lot. So we played Monopoly. And watched the Mission Impossible films. We went for walks in the rain and ate picnics quickly between showers. It was rather like we were living through a low budget British 1980s adaptation of an Enid Blyton novel, instead of the big budget Caribbean fantasia of one’s dreams. By any official descriptor, it was a holiday – but I’m not sure it felt like one.  

There is a call for some time to be kept holy, time set apart when we’re not busy being busy, when we remember that we are human and limited and need rest.

So, as I’m keenly interested in the etymology of words, I looked up holiday* to find out whether I had achieved the objective. Holiday = a period of time when you are not at work or school – check; holiday = a period of time spent travelling or resting away from home – hmm, not sure about the resting but we were away; holiday = holy day – hang on, what? 

Most world religions or philosophies have some sort of rhythm or pattern for life which includes times of rest. These often (though not always) coincide with some sort of worship or festival. These are times set apart from the day-to-day occupation of “normal life”. Interestingly, in the Judeo-Christian tradition, rest is baked in right from the beginning. After a six “day” working week, so the beginning of the Creation story tells us, God rested. And just to underline the point, sometime later, that same God gave his people the 10 Commandments, one of which is – take a day off.  

The word “holy” means set apart, sacred and right at the heart of the Jewish and Christian lifestyle there is a call for some time to be kept holy, time set apart when we’re not busy being busy, when we remember that we are human and limited and need rest. When we can get some objectivity on our productivity; when we can see (as God did all those years ago) that what we have done is good and we can enjoy it. 

In our 24/7, I-achieve-therefore-I-am culture, we almost certainly don’t do nothing for a day a week. We are always doing something. Even on our day(s) off, we’re reading or scrolling or running or “making memories”. Where is the rest? Where is the holy?  

We don’t function properly – by which I mean we don’t flourish – if we never switch off. That’s how we were made. 

There is an ironically busy industry that has flourished in recent years around mindfulness and retreats; an industry which highlights the ultimately human need for rest. There are apps which help us breathe, there are gurus who massage us in body and mind. Cynically, some say capitalism has caught on to the ancient necessity of acknowledging and attending to our humanity, our need to stop doing and simply be. I think God would say, hooray! Or as Jesus put it, “Come with me to a quiet place and find some rest.” 

How can we put rest back on the agenda of our own lives? It’s different for each of us. One person’s rest is another person’s nightmare. Whatever it looks like, we need to learn how to have “a period of time not working” (whatever work may occupy us, paid or unpaid, seen or unseen). It’s a well-recognised fact that if your electronic device stops functioning properly, if you turn it off for a bit, it’ll restart happily and we are encouraged to restart our devices regularly. We all know that we’re a bit like that and yet... We don’t function properly – by which I mean we don’t flourish – if we never switch off. That’s how we were made.  

We need those moments when we put a spiritual umbrella in the glass of our life, kick back and look at what has been. We can give space for gratitude; for reconnection with ourselves, with our life and even with the omnipotent God who role models rest. 

So, this summer, we’re going to the South of France. I’m absolutely exhausted already. I’ve been organising a rota of (very kind) people to look after our dog; preparing work so I’m ready for the day after we get back; buying gallons of sun cream (just in case France runs out); booking trips and Googling where the nearest boulangerie is so we can have idyllic, spontaneous visits for life-changingly delicious croissants… Going on holiday is really hard work and I haven’t even gone yet. But this year, as I put on my sunglasses and factor 30, I am determined to make time to put the holy in my holiday. And holy days in my life. 

* (of course, if you’re not British, you might be interested in the etymology of the word vacation = "formal suspension of activity, time in which there is an intermission of usual employment"/state of being unoccupied. Which to my mind is summed up by the old adage, a change is as good as a rest, with which I have always taken issue….)