What the Church Calendar Has Given Me, or Guys I've Written So Many Words These Past Few Months
In O Heavy Lightness, I talk a little about the church calendar, and why it resonates with me so much. I wanted to share a little excerpt from the guide, so you can get a good idea of the tone of the thing: it's just us talking like we usually do. I tried not to be too stuffy or heady (mainly because I'm not capable of that). Anyway, here are th four gifts the church calendar has given me, excerpted from O Heavy Lightness:
(Pretend I've just given you so much good information on the church calendar. You're in awe of how much you know now.)
Let me be clear: that is a breathtakingly simple overview of the church calendar (please forgive me, old dead popes), but it serves our purpose here. Understanding at least the basics of the church calendar is helpful for me. Before I really dove into the schedule, I thought it was straight up weird. It bothered me that the church would try to tell me what to do and when to do it. You’re not the boss of me, church leaders! But now that I’ve experienced the rhythms of the calendar and the liturgy for a few years, it’s given me several gifts:
The first gift is movement.
Within the days portioned out during the year, I’m given space and guardrails to experience certain feelings. During Lent, no one is asking me to be happy and cheery: we’re supposed to be somber, we’re supposed to be introspective. The church calendar gives me markers throughout the year to say: I can hold sadness here. I can hold joy here. It pushes me through emotions that I might otherwise get stuck in, gently urging me forward with its cadence.
The second gift is remembrance.
It’s been said that Israel’s greatest sin was forgetting (idolatry and bad attitudes about manna are probably up there as well). God and someone made a covenant, and then two or three generations later, the covenant on the side of the people would be broken. They forgot God, they forgot their promises, and what was promised to them. This faulty memory is why we read about all the feast days in the Old Testament. These weren’t just weird religious parties; they were to remember what God had done. We also read “this occurred where so-and-so was buried.” And we’re like, that’s great, who cares? It was another way of remembering: what has God done? What do I need to remember? The church calendar establishes those markers in my own life, where I can look back and ask the same questions.
The third gift is direction.
When I was younger, I spent a lot of time flailing around with Muppet arms, trying to figure out what I should be Doing for Jesus™. What should my Quiet Time with Jesus™ look like? Am I Praying Correctly™? I could not establish a routine, which I now know is my Kryptonite. The church calendar, the Daily Office, praying the hours: all tools I can use to anchor myself in time, to ritualize my day. I thought this would sterilize my faith. I thought it would remove the passion from my relationship with Jesus. The religious culture of my youth threw a lot of shade towards The Checklist™: spending time with God is not a box to be ticked. And I understand the heart behind that sentiment. We don’t want our faith to be just another task we accomplish during our day. However, I would like to say that, when your heart is in the right place, the checklist can actually be helpful. The reason my Quiet Time with Jesus™ failed was because I was doing it based on my feelings. When spending time in prayer and devotion is ritualized, I am anchored and purposeful. The Checklist might be stifling for some, and I think that’s okay. That’s why we have hundreds of ways to worship and study and pray: because we were all made to connect differently.
The fourth gift is vocabulary.
For someone who puts words together for a living, it’s astonishing how often I blank on the right things to say. What I love about the liturgy found in the calendar is it gives me a way to understand how I’m feeling. I don’t often know how to vocalize or even internally suss out why I’m feeling a certain way: maybe I walked into a service angry. Or down. Or frustrated. These rhythms help connect me with God in those feelings and emotions. The liturgy isn’t magical, and it’s definitely not a cure-all. I don’t leave these same services suddenly problem-free. But I’m given a lexicon to explore my thoughts, and the tools I need to join up with God in the midst of my frustration, anger, confusion, or doubt.