After the great feasts following Lent—Easter, Ascension, Pentecost, Corpus Christi, ,-- and before the anticipation of Advent, we find ourselves liturgically in “Ordinary Time.” This is not to say that these days and weeks cannot be exciting, refreshing, illuminating. No, the identification as the “-nth Sunday of Ordinary Time” simply means these weeks are ordered, or counted, from January, with the Lenten and Easter seasons interrupting the order in due course.
Christine Marie Eberle has written a gem of a book of meditations about discovering God in ordinary things, ordinary places. The 28 chapters of Finding God in Ordinary Time, Daily Mediations (Green Writers Press, Aug. 31, 2019, 141 pp.) invite us to see and interact with God in the more obvious places (sunrise, seashore) and in some surprising ones.
But the distinction of being “ordinary” in its “commonplace” sense can be just as conducive to spiritual growth as are the great feasts. Most of our days and years are ordinary, just normal days of doing the best we can, in Micah’s words, to “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God”-- all pretty “ordinary” and not-so-special. Except that they are special, if in their very normalcy, they strengthen our desire to grow closer to God, to love Him and our neighbor better.
"The compost bin is such a rich metaphor for the spiritual life. The seemingly useless things of our past—the failures, disappointments, and tragedies—can be transformed over time into something incredibly useful for nurturing fledgling growth (our own, and that of others.) But we have to be willing to do the interior work,” writes Eberle. And give it time.
“We would never think of just throwing our kitchen scraps directly onto the garden and expect them to accomplish anything but attract vermin,” says Eberle. Similarly, our unprocessed experiences are useless in the moment; they may even hinder our growth and understanding.
Eberle suggests we subject them to “the heat of reflection, the watering of tears, the fresh air of conversation” with an insightful guide (spiritual director, mentor, counselor or just a friend) whereby our wretchedness and pain can be broken down and softened into wisdom. Just as in the compost bin, “there is no shortcut to spiritual growth.” A time-out from our busy ordinary lives, in the form of a retreat, whether one-day, weekend, 8-day, or the more intensive 30-day retreat of St. Ignatius known as the Spiritual Exercises, can give us the space and guidance we need to sort through the compost of our lives, what is good, what has been disappointing, what we fear, and what we hope for. “The desires they stir in us are fertile,” and worth our attention, time and patience. But they come to flower only by pursuing them intentionally, by “embracing not only the results we want, but also the hard work needed to get there.”
Perhaps in this perfectly Ordinary Time of September and October you can take advantage of the many opportunities for spiritual growth here at the Jesuit Retreat Center. And look for God in the most unusual, ordinary places: a cafeteria, a fortune cookie, a foreign country, your own backyard.
Mary McCarty is a native of Southern California and has been managing the bookstore at the Jesuit Retreat Center for almost 7 years.