The pandemic can be more than purgatory. It can be a time of deep spiritual formation. – The Dallas Morning News

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We are in the middle of Ordinary Times. Though the times, of course, are far from ordinary.

In the church calendar, the season between Pentecost and Advent is called Ordinary Time, roughly June through November. Devoid of major celebrations and the observed seasons of fasting and prayer that precede them, this stretch is the longest in the church calendar, and on its face, the most mundane. (Another shorter period of Ordinary Time occurs between Christmas and Lent).

But things are not always what they appear. As is the irony with so many aspects of Christianity, the least of these turn out to be some of the most important. Ordinary Time is not a season to simply endure or get to the other side of, with the lure of nativity scenes and Christmas trees on the other side. Rather, its a season for deep spiritual formation. The banners at the Anglican church I attend (now virtually) are changed to green during these months, signifying growth. The green season is a time to delve ever more into the Scriptures, discipleship and prayer.

I cant help but think that weve found ourselves in another sort of ordinary time, a seemingly lost season or one in between something else. We are in the dog days of summer in Texas, exhausted by COVID-19, which has gone from surprise and panic to an admittedly depressed kind of settling in, the uncertainty of the school year and flu season looming. The excitements and festivities that used to mark our weeks and months are fewer and further between. Theres a growing temptation to hunker down for the long haul, shut our eyes, wish ourselves to the other side of this.

Gone are the illusions of control by finding an extra roll of toilet paper or taking on a new home-cooked recipe. Turns out theres no magic to summertime, where the virus would dissipate and wed all get a break, even a temporary one. For many people, the year has been marked by unthinkable tragedy: lost lives, incomes and relationships; forgone funerals and weddings. Weve cycled through denial, grief, and everything in between, and still we find ourselves here.

The extraordinary has become ordinary, at least in so far as 2020 is concerned. And with that comes a delicate balance. As Christians, we are to pray fervently for the pandemic to end and for wisdom and breakthrough for our nations leaders. We are called to take action to provide relief to people in need and to love our neighbors, which means wearing a mask and social distancing. (In his now nearly 500-year old letter, reformer Martin Luther spared no words for those during the plague who refused to use good sense, caution and heed science, which he equated to recklessly tempting God.) We are to push against the season in every way possible in an attempt to shorten it, lessen it, dull its pains.

And yet while doing everything we can for the suffering to end, theres also a level of living and growing within it. How are we to live in an atomic age? C.S. Lewis wrote, I am tempted to reply: Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night. ... [Atomic bombs] may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

This is where the lessons of Ordinary Time come in, revealing an alternative to gritting-and-bearing our way through long seasons, but to live and thrive within them. This is all the more important because most of our life is spent in between the highs and lows and in a sort of ordinary time, changing diapers, putting in long hours, making dinner, cleaning up, working on relationships.

To thrive in the seemingly mundane is to develop lasting habits and rhythms, such as gratitude and prayer, that lay claim to the seemingly endless time loop. Its setting aside moments in our days around the dinner table or in the morning to say what we are thankful for. Its developing deep friendships, letting a handful of people into our inner circle and walk through life with them. Its being intentional with the patterns and rhythms that develop discipline and character that weve long put off.

Ordinary Time is a season to hang the green banner instead of wave the white flag. The pandemic is all around us, but in our best moments, we can stop ourselves from thinking of it as a lost six months or lost year a sort of purgatory and waiting it out. Rather we can see this as a period of time set aside for (painful) growth, re-anchoring to what really matters, establishing habits to persist after the trial is done. This is of course more easily said than done, requiring deep spiritual dependence, community and humility. Theres a reason why Ordinary Time cycles around each year in the church calendar. It is not learned all at once.

Oh, how we long to see the light at the end of this tunnel. And yet the discipline, the lesson of Ordinary Time, is to learn to live within the waiting, and in some mysterious way beyond our own ability, to restore it from lost time to that of growth.

Abby McCloskey is an economist and founder of McCloskey Policy LLC. She has advised multiple presidential campaigns. Website: mccloskeypolicy.com

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The pandemic can be more than purgatory. It can be a time of deep spiritual formation. - The Dallas Morning News

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