Column for January, 2018
If you haven’t seen us in the past six months or so, you might not know that our family went on a vacation to South Africa in November. If you have seen us, you have undoubtedly heard about our excitement; it was a little hard for all three of us to contain it!
The trip was incredible. We got to experience the variety of landscapes throughout the country of South Africa: the big cities of Cape Town and Johannesburg, the highways of the southern coast on the Indian Ocean, the arid farms and vineyards of the Klein Karoo, the mountains and canyons along the Sabie River, and the bushveld near Kruger National Park. We toured interesting neighborhoods, towns, and farms; we learned about the complicated history of the nation; we tasted different foods, wines, and beers; we took in the natural beauty; we saw all kinds of exotic animals in the wild; and we even learned to drive our rental cars on the left-hand side of the road! We came home with new friends, new knowledge and perspective, plenty of souvenirs, and over 1,600 photographs. If you want to see any of those photographs, we would be happy to show them to you and tell you more about what we did and what we learned!
We were gone a total of 16 days, which included the days it took to fly halfway around the world and back again. As we returned, we talked about whether we really felt ready to come home. All three of us loved our adventures, and if we had a chance to stay in South Africa even longer, we all agreed that we would have done it. But I was also feeling ready to go home. I was glad to have a break from all of the excitement. I needed to get caught up on my rest, to pick up my habits of regular exercise and better eating, and to check in with our friends and our church and others who are important to us. I missed our dog. And there was all that laundry that wasn’t going to magically wash itself, either. I wanted to settle back into my routine, at least for a little while, before I am ready for more adventures again.
That is similar to the feeling I often get at this time of year. The awe of Advent and the excitement of Christmas is wonderful. I am always glad to put up special decorations, to exchange gifts, and to see family and friends we do not connect with often enough. It is nice for Isaac to have a break from school so we can all sleep in a little bit. I especially like worship during those times, with the dramatic words of the prophets and angels, the festive decorations, the special music, and the extra reminders that “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
But in their wisdom, the church fathers and mothers who established the Christian calendar did not jump straight from Advent and Christmas into the next special seasons of Lent and Easter. There is a gap in the special church seasons for a few weeks in January and February. It is a period called “Ordinary Time,” and it usually feels like just what I need. It is a time to get back into a routine and have a break from all of the excitement. It is a time to pay attention to the ordinary elements of life: the day-in-and-day-out rhythms of working and resting. It is a time to connect with people, creatures, and disciplines which we just don’t have time for during the hustle and bustle of the holy seasons. And it is a time to engage in regular habits of worship, scripture reading, prayer, service to others, and other ways we connect with Christ and with our fellow believers.
This month, we have a number of ways we will settle back into our routines. Our new Bible Study will start January 11 and continue every Thursday through Ordinary Time and Lent. Our Tutoring Program will host its annual Spaghetti Dinner Fundraiser to continue supporting our community’s children with their school work and their lives. Our new Elders and Deacons will engage in training and will be ordained and installed to serve for a term to do the ongoing work of discerning what God wants us to do and how God is equipping us to minister in Christ’s name in this time and place. The groups who use our buildings will get geared up again to help refugees, to help families at risk of homelessness, to educate children, and to gather around common interests and hobbies. There is plenty going on, but it is the work of ordinary time: the routines, the relationships, and the disciplines which carry us through our lives.
I am grateful for our family’s chance to travel. I appreciated all of the wondrous miracles and special proclamations we experienced together in Advent and Christmas. And I am grateful, too, to settle back in to Ordinary Time. Thanks be to God for all the adventures and for the ordinary times, too!