Oh Lord, I want to be in that number! (a post on Chapter 30 of Joan Chittister’s The Liturgical Year)

by Andrea Tisher

I’m not accustomed to feast days. Haven’t grown up with them. And don’t have any sense of when they occur in the calendar. But I am used to thinking about the ‘cloud of witnesses’ – I have grown accustomed to giving thanks for the ordinary saints whose lives have intersected with mine in various ways.

The grandparents who I loved and learned from until their deaths. Thankfully, I had many years with both my grandmas, but all four of them – even the grandpa I never met – had tremendous impact on my life. And I was mindful that they were in that ‘cloud of witnesses’…

The aunt who lived with us on and off for the final decades of her life and loved me in ways I had no idea I could be loved. Taught and corrected me, laughed with me and challenged me, encouraged and loved me like a parent, but different than either of my parents, too.

And then the authors I began to encounter in my young adulthood. Madeleine L’Engle, whose journals led me to placed I’d have never gone to on my own. (Including a journey through the liturgical cycle back when I had no idea what that was!) C.S. Lewis. Hildegard von Bingen. Julian of Norwich. I began to encounter these folks and to see that they had been on this journey too. That I walked with them in some mysterious way. And then as I began to delve more deeply into the deep wealth of spiritual theology, my world of saints grew to include many more including hymnwriters Isaac Watts, Charles Wesley, and most of all, Anne Steele.

These people who gave their lives to follow Jesus have become heroes and role models for me. But, other than All Saints Day, I don’t usually see a connection between the liturgical calendar and this great cloud of witnesses. I wonder if that’s okay? Or am I missing another layer of the practice of the calendar?

How about you? Who are your heroes and role models? With whom do you hope to be when we go marching into the new heaven and new earth?

Paschaltide: The Days of Pentecost (Chapter 27 of Joan Chittister’s The Liturgical Year)

by Andrea Tisher

So much of life is lived as one event after another. We anticipate and over-expect and then pick apart all the ways the event did (or mostly didn’t?) live up to our expectations. And then we choose the next event and do it all over again.

But the calendar isn’t so much about events. It’s about seasons. Which is tricky because we’ve made many of the seasons of the calendar into events as well. Christmas. Easter. Just one day (or one hour) events. But, if we’re willing to lean into the calendar in new ways, we’ll discover that there are whole seasons that we’ve been missing out on. Eastertide – or Paschaltide, as Chittister calls it – is just such a season that is so much more than the usual “Hooplah of Easter” followed by a “lull” of some kind. In our church this year, we tried to be intentional in a couple of ways. First, on the cover of the worship folder, we called each Sunday by its proper name. (ie. 2nd Sunday of Eastertide, 4th Sunday of Eastertide) and then we also tried to have at least part of the music reflect that we were worshipping the RISEN King. Then, on this past Sunday, we celebrated Ascension (which, technically is on the Thursday previous, but I don’t think we’re ready for a whole service devoted to the Ascension)  and called it Ascension Sunday and next week we’ll celebrate Pentecost to finish the season.

I love what Chittister says about the season of Eastertide: “the period of unmitigated joy, of total immersion in the implications of what it means to be a Christian, to live a Christian life.” (171) and “We come to know during these great fifty days not only who Jesus is but who we are meant to be, as a result.” (175)

How did you spend the season? Or did you know it was a season?

A story to finish…

I had a friend visit another church on May 6th where they made a royal fuss about how you simply would not want to miss Mother’s Day at their church. There were promises of gifts and celebration and all kinds of special things. She immediately wondered, if this is what they do for Mother’s Day, I wonder what they’ll do for Pentecost? The answer? Nothing. Nada. Zip. Their calendar based more on what the Hallmark store has in their special section… There was a time when this would have seemed quite normal to me. But not now. And I don’t want to go back. Bring on the seasons!

Holy Week: Chapters 20 & 21 of Joan Chittister’s ‘The Liturgical Year’

by Andrea Tisher

Holy Week is here. Now. We’re in it. Already.

Jesus has entered the city of peace. He has been sung to, lauded, waved at with greenery. He has wept over the misunderstanding of who He is.

And now there’s really not much left to do, except to stay mindful of the events of the rest of the week. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday.

Chittister rightly warns of the intensity of the drama that unfolds during this week.

Her opening comments are helpful, and I’ll return to them.

But first, I must quibble with Chittister. Which I really hate to do. She’s been such a lovely conversation partner and guide. But here, in what could be argued is the most important week, she drops the ball. Vague references to the opening liturgies of Holy Monday-Wednesday. Holy what? And then a whole chapter on the ways days of the week were measured and other assorted mundane topics. I’m trusting that as she leads us through the days of the Triduum (Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, Holy Saturday) that she’ll regain her footing in offering us ways to view these days and doorways into meaningful participation. But these overview chapters left me a little disappointed.

Back to her opening comments, as I think that’s where there are some gems…

Of Palm/Passion Sunday: “It reminds us that at the moment of what seems to be the height of Jesus’ public acceptance aslo begins the process of His public betrayal, His public failure, His public abandonment.”(130)

And of the week in general: “Why must this happen? What is all this suffering about? But deep down inside of us, we already know what the life of Jesus and these first days of Holy Week confirm: there are some things worth living for, even if we find ourselves having to die for them as well.” (130-131)

Ch. 18: Ash Wednesday and the Voices of Lent

by Andrea Tisher

Today we enter into the season of Lent (and so skip ahead to chapter 18). Ash Wednesday stands as a gateway into the season that calls us to follow Jesus, and to follow Jesus with all His other followers. It calls us back to what is important, refocuses our attention on a God that demonstrates His glory though suffering, and refutes the lie that we are alone.

Ash Wednesday is a day for “accepting what we have allowed ourselves to become and beginning to be all the rest of what we are meant to be.” (118)

And how does Ash Wednesday accomplish this? By speaking a very strange set of words over us.

“Remember that you are dust. And to dust you shall return.”

What a bizarre thing to say to someone. But how freeing. You don’t have to have it all together. (You are dust.) But you do have this life to spend well, so why are we spending so much time and energy on _____? (And to dust you shall return.)

The first time that I was privileged to be part of a service where we practiced the Imposition of Ashes (was I an Impositor?) it was absolutely striking and unforgettable to say these words to each of the congregants as they came to the front. It was hard to say. I kept thinking, “I’m really saying, ‘You’re going to die’ … how is that helpful?” But as the experience continued I started to see the gift it was. Each one of these people were following Jesus in their own imperfect ways, constantly aware that they should “do it better” and here I was saying,

“It’s okay. You’re going to die. You’re not perfect. You don’t have numerous lifetimes to perfect this, you just have your one precious life. So if you’re expecting too much of yourself, let’s be a little more realistic. And if you’re not expecting anything, remember that you have a life to spend… and so let’s choose wisely.”

And so Ash Wednesday sends out the call to pay particular attention during Lent. Particular attention to the way we’re spending our lives. Particular attention to the Word of God. Particular attention to the journey of Jesus toward the cross. Particular attention to our souls and to being human. Chittister writes:

Ash Wednesday issues a challenge “to become fully alive, fully human rather than simply, grossly, abysmally, self-centeredly human.” (119)

And then Lent gives us the chance to remember who we are – who we are meant to be – and where we have come from. Lent’s reputation about being sad and sorrowful is only half true. It is also all about newness and a call to fully human living. As we walk into the season, may we embrace this call with our whole hearts.

What is Lent looking like for you this year? Are you preparing yourself or others for baptism? Are you fasting or instensifying a discipline? If you’re looking for ideas, I thought this was a fabulous list.

And as strange as it sounds, I hope someone blesses you today by reminding you that you’re going to die…

Chapter 15 Ordinary Time I: The Wisdom of Enoughness

(or the post in which I blog on the chapter I was supposed to last Monday…)

by Andrea Tisher

There was a long time in my life when the only two celebrations of the church year that I knew about were Christmas and Easter. Christmas was celebrated with a “Carols by Candlelight” service on Christmas Eve and Easter was a big extravaganza of “He is risen” hymns on a Sunday in April.

Christmas always started bef0re the fact, with decorations in the church and the addition of some carols week by week. Easter was a little more abrupt. One Sunday a year we declared emphatically that the Jesus who was crucified sometime back in history had risen from the dead.

The rest of the year was just…ordinary.

Turns out that my experience is not totally unlike the history of the liturgical year. Chittister reminds us that Ordinary Time used to be all of the time of the year that wasn’t Christmas or Easter. Now that the calendar is more complete, we have two major chunks of Ordinary Time. One between Christmas and Lent and another between Pentecost and Advent. This first Ordinary Time is shorter and seems to naturally be focused on the life of the man who was born in Bethlehem as we always know that Lent is not that far away (see last week’s post, Auden says it better). But Chittister rightly points out that this bit of Ordinary Time gives us a chance “to contemplate the intersection between the life of Jesus and our own.” (97) And after all the celebration of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, suddenly there is no distraction. No religious or liturgical actions to get caught up in… “Jesus was, is and will come again.” (99) And this is enough. And we’ll need a few weeks to sit with just this before we’re ready to journey toward the cross during Lent. The calendar gives us a little breathing room before then next bit of the story is told.

Ordinary Time: the time in the calendar when the simple truth of Jesus who was, is and will come again is more than enough.

Christmastide – or why Christmas isn’t quite over on Dec 25th: Ch. 14 of Chittister’s The Liturgical Year

By Andrea Tisher

The last section of W.H. Auden’s Christmas Oratorio is my favourite. It starts like this…

Well, so that is that. Now we must dismantle the tree,
Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes —
Some have got broken — and carrying them up to the attic.
The holly and the mistletoe must be taken down and burnt,
And the children got ready for school. There are enough
Left-overs to do, warmed-up, for the rest of the week —
Not that we have much appetite, having drunk such a lot,
Stayed up so late, attempted — quite unsuccessfully —
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers. Once again
As in previous years we have seen the actual Vision and failed
To do more than entertain it as an agreeable
Possibility, once again we have sent Him away,
Begging though to remain His disobedient servant,
The promising child who cannot keep His word for long.
The Christmas Feast is already a fading memory,
And already the mind begins to be vaguely aware
Of an unpleasant whiff of apprehension at the thought
Of Lent and Good Friday which cannot, after all, now
Be very far off.  (full poem here)

But I guess the question remains, what all is entailed in our celebration of Christmas. Is it Christmas Eve and Day and then, thank-you-very-much-I must-get-to-the-mall-for-those-Boxing-Day-sales, followed by the dread of a not very celebratory New Years and the impending credit card statement that will show me once and for all how ineffectively I managed to ‘show my love’ to family and friends, while still managing to live way outside my means?

For me, this is where the idea of Christmastide offers a layered experience of the Christmas story that enables me to stay in the story for a bit longer, perhaps in a similar way to how Advent allowed me to live by a different narrative than the countdown of shopping days til Christmas that the general culture observes.

Now, Chittister describes a series of celebrations that is still more than anything I have yet celebrated, but that gives me hope. There is yet more. Four more in fact:  The Feast of the Holy Family, The Feast of Mary the Mother of God. Epiphany, and The Baptism of Jesus.

I’m most familiar with the final two – those two dates that are not usually more than a few days apart, when I always feel the time swirling as in a movie montage. Jesus is a babe in arms one day – visited by the Magi, revealing Himself to the WHOLE world, not just a select group. And then suddenly, he’s a grown man, being baptized by His strange cousin John. Whoa. Did I miss something? But as the poem says, it is that “whiff of Lent and Good Friday” that is already in the air. We cannot linger at the manger forever.

But what of the first two, perhaps less-known feasts?

Again, the poem speaks to the Feast of the Holy Family if, as Chittister suggests, it is cause to ponder our own families… Even the least religious among us end up facing our families, or at least our memories of them during the ‘holiday season’. Auden writes,

attempted — quite unsuccessfully —
To love all of our relatives, and in general
Grossly overestimated our powers.

And we marvel once again that God took such a risk, not only to become a human being, but to become part of a family. Perhaps it is opportunity to see Jesus in our own families?

Then, the Feast of Mary the Mother of God. This one is the trickiest for me. And, unfortunately, I don’t find Chittister very helpful. Perhaps one of you have some helpful experience or thoughts regarding what this feast is and why it adds to your celebration of the calendar?

But meanwhile, Christmas, when spread across a series of feasts, does take on a layered celebration that staves off both unrealistic expectations of a single twenty-four hour period AND invites us into a richer celebration of the birth of Jesus and all that it means for us and for the whole world.

How did you celebrate Christmastide this year?

Chapters 9 & 10: Let’s start at the very beginning…

By Andrea Tisher

Advent. The beginning of the liturgical calendar. The darkness into which the light will dawn. The waiting. The anticipation.

But it’s more complicated than that. It’s a time of other-ness. It’s the counter-season to the commercial Christmas that starts right after Halloween (oh, for American Thanksgiving that would give us one more holiday to hold out for before switching over to Christmas…).

Chittister goes so far as to say that the liturgical calendar helps us to plumb the depths of human experience, and that Advent starts with the basic and essential dimention of human life – waiting. She writes that Advent “teaches us to wait for what is beyond the obvious…Advent makes us look for God in all those places we have, until now, ignored.” (59)

And waiting does seem to me to be an essential part of the human experience. Life can be painfully slow at times, particularly as we wait for growth. Other people take FOREVER to change. And then we compare the pace they take with our own and realize that change in our own hearts is positively glacial. Waiting will turn out to be a necessary discipline.

But what are we waiting FOR? Surely it’s more than a chance to open all those presents amassing under the tree, or to feast with family and friends that we may or may not be excited to see. Advent reminds us of the big picture – of the three comings as Joan rightly points out. The coming in the past – the birth. The coming in the present – God’s presence in Word, Table and Community. And the coming in the future – the parousia or ‘arrival’, the time when the Kingdom of God will finally come into its fullness (from Chapter 10). The function of Advent then is not simply preparation or anticipation of the birth of Christ, but of the WHOLE story. Of the whole calendar. Of the whole of history. As Chittister writes, “Advent asks the question, what is it for which you are spending your life?” And I can’t think of a better time in our culture to re-adjust our perspective on the big picture.

How has your participation in Advent helped to ready you not just for Christmas, but for the coming of God into your present life, and for re-aligning that life to the reality of a Kingdom that is here already but not yet in full?

Living with Jesus?: chapters 3-4 of Joan Chittister’s “The Liturgical Year”

By Andrea Tisher

I don’t think of myself as particularly spiritually-disciplined. My prayer life is never what it could be. My reading habits are varied and irregular. I do attend worship regularly, but then, that’s kind of built into my job. :) The basics of Christian discipleship from my tradition of evangelicalism are not things I’ve gotten very good at. And so I often wonder if my life is being formed by Jesus’ life as it should be.

So when Joan Chittister tells me that “the liturgical year is the arena where our life and the life of Jesus intersect. (p.16), I sit up and pay attention. Maybe because most of my life, I’ve been taught that the only way to connect with Jesus is through early morning prayer and lengthy bible study and generally just being very spiritual in my approach to life. While I don’t mean for a minute to say that prayer and bible reading and study won’t aid someone in their pursuit of life with Jesus, I’m immediately struck by Joan’s claim that the liturgical year is also key.

And the truth is, even in my ‘Christmas and Easter only’ version of the calendar that I grew up with, I did encounter Jesus. During the past fifteen years or so, as I’ve paid a little more attention to more of the calendar, this encounter has broadened and deepened. I suppose you could say that it has helped to form me in that I have not been allowed to determine for myself when I want to think about Jesus life, death, resurrection and ascension. I have submitted to the story being told and have had to wait for the next part of the story to unfold, often not according to the timetable I would choose. For instance, I would contemplate Jesus’ Passion in an hour or two. Not a whole week with a season of preparation during Lent. Other times, Holy Saturday seems the most relevant part of the story in my life or in the life of someone I know. They are not experiencing resurrection joy in the circumstances of their lives, and yet Easter Sunday has the audacity to come anyway. Christmas approaches whether I’m ready for the coming of Jesus or not. Ascension and Pentecost arrive even when I’d like to stay in the gospel accounts of Jesus and his buddies. The calendar pulls and pushes me through the story and doesn’t let me call the shots. It makes me tell the whole story and not at my own pace.

Joan says at the end of chapter 3: “the liturgical year is the voice of Jesus calling to us every day of our lives to wake our sleeping selves from the drowsing effects of purposelessness and meaninglessness, materialism and hedonism, rationalism and indifference, to attend to the life of Jesus who cries within us for fulfillment.” (p21-22)

She continues on in chapter 4 with the Components of the Liturgical Year…where she boils the whole sequence down to “one beam of light called the death and Resurrection of Jesus and its meaning for us here and now.” (p.24)

Chittister helpfully describes how the whole year hinges on this main event, but that the rest of the events help us to live out the death and Resurrection of Jesus, that the living the calendar is “a catechesis as we celebration, a spiritual adventure as well as liturgical exercise.” (p.27) She identifies four kinds of celebrations: Sundays (or as my boss calls them, “Lord’s Day”), seasons, sanctoral cycle (saints), and Ordinary Time. I am least familiar with the sanctoral cycle, but love how she describes its merit in how it shows us that a faithful life is possible to be lived by all kinds of people in all kinds of places throughout history.

I think that living the calendar one year would be informative in some way, but living the calendar year in and year out is formative. It begins to shape my soul in ways that I wouldn’t choose on my own. Left to build my own calendar, I might avoid lament and waiting or get stuck there for entirely too long and without hope of redemption, wholeness and resurrection. The calendar teaches my soul to tell the whole story and to expect that light does shine into darkness. Those dark days of the calendar – Advent, Ash Wednesday, Lent, Good Friday, and especially Holy Saturday teach my soul to pray the darknesses. They are preparation for dark days that are sure to occur in my life. They will prepare me to live my life. In the same way, the high feasts will prepare me to celebrate, here and ultimately in the Kingdom that is not yet here in full.