Politics Foreign Affairs Culture Fellows Program

Holding to Ordinary Time

In the midst of pride and politics, let us strive to keep things in perspective.

The Gleaners, by Jean-François Millet (Public Domain)

Sunday was Pentecost in the Western church calendar, marking the gift of the Holy Spirit. Helper, Paraclete, come unto us in tongues of flame. And your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams. Fifty days gone since Easter, Christians celebrate the first shoots of the church, for Acts says the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls—Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and Mesopotamians, and Cappadocians, Phrygians, and Pamphylians, Egyptians, and men from the parts of Libya about Cyrene, and Romans, Cretans, and Arabians.

We enter Ordinary Time. There are between the high holy days of the Christian year green spaces for growing, for doing the normal work of daily life. God in all, Christ was a boy, and a man, and a carpenter before he was a rabbi. Thirty mostly ordinary years, from Incarnation to ministry, and then short years of labor before Passion and Resurrection. Eternity breaks into ordinary time. We labor and pray, and we look forward to Advent. 


Let us strive to keep things in perspective. 

The world enters “Pride month” tomorrow. And with it will come demands: celebrate and affirm, participate. This year’s summer seems set to force the issue more than ever. The culture war feels like it is heating up with the weather, and who knows all of what the next months will bring. The ever louder attachment of T to LGB has made battle lines starker, opened new fronts in the fight, called up reservists and made partisans of noncombatants. Sure, there are the boycotts and the Dodgers, but there was also a shooting in Nashville in March, remember? Three nine-year-old children were killed, and the public still has not read the manifesto. Which side are you on? At some point you will be made to choose. Be ready.

Professionally, of course, I will be paying attention to our civic festivals. But June will be no month of pride for me. It will be an ordinary time for doing ordinary things, like getting married. The world must be peopled. Life and polities are made of such covenants between a man and a woman; as Homer says, there is nothing nobler or more admirable than when two people who see eye to eye keep house as man and wife, confounding their enemies and delighting their friends. My job may call for salvos in a public at war with itself, but the real work of a good life goes on. I write, and you read, but let us remember what all this politics is for.  

And the election now is well underway. Too soon, one is inclined to think. It is easy to be caught up already in polling and speculation and worry. But that would be a mistake. Voting remains a long way off, and it is, after all, only voting. Most of us are not called to more than the ordinary work of citizenship, and most of that is little more than the ordinary work of life. There are no debates until August, and next year will come soon enough. Put not your trust in princes.

The total mobilization that has characterized our politics since the World Wars means now all of us face, daily, the trap C.S. Lewis spoke of in “Learning in War-Time.” We are tempted to put our callings on hold until the crisis passes. But crises there will be always, and this is the choice of the insects, who, Lewis writes, “have sought first the material welfare and security of the hive, and presumably they have their reward. Men are different. They propound mathematical theorems in beleaguered cities, conduct metaphysical arguments in condemned cells, make jokes on scaffolds, discuss the last new poem while advancing to the walls of Quebec, and comb their hair at Thermopylae. This is not panache; it is our nature.”

Men and women have done extraordinary things in ordinary times, for they have met the need of each moment. Humility is not found in the life of the insect or the security of the hive, but in answering the call to become all each one of us was created to be. As we are reminded each year in the church calendar, eternity is always about to break in—indeed, is always breaking. For as in the days before the flood, they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and did not know until the flood came and took them all away, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be.