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. 

4 min read

No mercy on the Megabus

Why is sin such a sickly, sticky thing in the human heart?

Jenny is training to be a priest in the Church of England. She holds a PhD in law and previously researched human rights issues in extractive industries.

An upset man holds his hands on his head as he misses a bus.
Nick Jones/Midjourney.ai

“I’m begging you, I’m begging you,” pleaded the passenger. His two large suitcases lying around him, the Nigerian man knelt on the pavement outside the Megabus station. The bus driver stood surly-faced, arms crossed. The passenger’s jacket was ripped where the driver had shoved him off the bus. The passenger had one too many bags; he had not read the Terms and Conditions on his ticket.  

The man groaned – “I must get to Heathrow, I have a flight to catch! I’m willing to do anything – to pay for an extra ticket, to pay the extra bag fee, I have money, see?” He showed the driver his wallet pleadingly, demonstrating his possession of several bank cards.  

A few concerned passengers stepped off the bus. “We don’t have a bag in the hold; we’re happy for this man to have our space.” Another person said, “I booked a ticket but my friend didn’t come – there’s a whole seat’s worth of luggage space available in the hold.” Yet the bus driver would not budge. Even though Megabus has an excess baggage policy, it was down to the driver’s discretion. The driver alone had the power of life and death, to say “yay” or “nay” – to restore a man’s dignity or completely ruin it, along with his jacket.  

As the minutes ticked on, other passengers began to get irate with the Nigerian man – “just buzz off mate, you’re making us late!” “You should have read the rules!” “You’re making the bairns on the bus cry!” Stony faces pressed against the window as the man knelt on the pavement. Even those who had tried to help him left him in the harsh hands of the bus driver and his colleagues, tiny kings in a kangaroo court For the bus driver, there was no backing down – he was pacing, sweating and red-faced, repeating over and over again to himself his side of the story. And in the end, we left the Nigerian passenger in the heartless hands of bus bureaucracy, wiping our hands of the injury done to him – “we tried.”  

How mucky and murky the human heart can be. 

The whole experience on the Megabus that day left me feeling sick. We all like to think of ourselves as decent folks, as long as we do our “bit”. But on that bus I realized the difficulty: what is “my bit”? Who decides what is “enough”? How quickly a petty issue of baggage can descend into a power play. How quickly do ordinary nice people become a mob when they are outraged or inconvenienced. How mucky and murky the human heart can be. 

The only word that feels strong enough to me to describe this condition is “sin”. This word may sound like a relic of a bygone Britain, but I think it’s as relevant as ever. It’s a serious word, loaded with a sense that the things we do mean more than we know. Sin suggests that I am accountable for how I treat people – not just to my own perception but some higher standard that safeguards the dignity of all human beings. Christians believe that it is God who safeguards our humanity, who sets the standard for how we should and should not treat others. We are accountable “vertically” – to God – as well as “horizontally” to each other.  

It seems to me that “sin” is not a laundry-list of rules but more like a tangled knot of slippery threads – I can’t see where it begins and where it ends, in my own heart or in the world at large. The Christian Eastern Orthodox tradition often likens sin to sickness or a dis-ease of the soul; it infects our reasoning, our emotions and our actions. And that’s why the hurt and pain we cause each other is so “sticky” – no one is left untouched by the effects of the damage we cause each other.  

It was quite clear to me that there were some “sins of deliberate fault” on the Megabus that day – the bus driver’s behaviour was patently unfair and verging on abuse. But I would say sin also flourished in the self-defending logic of the passengers who just wanted to stay in their lane, and for the Nigerian chap to stay in his. Don’t bother me, with your problems. I look after me, you look after you. There were sins of ignorance too – I felt this sick sense in my stomach as the bus pulled out of the station that there was more I could have done, but I didn’t quite know what. All I know is that every person needed mercy on that Megabus, whether we knew it or not. Ironically, the Nigerian man was the most innocent of all.