By Lydia Wylie-Kellermann. Published in Geez Magazine.
“The rain. The dew. The dryness. And then rain again, and dew, and dryness. The story of the circling year. From the rabbis, mystics, and farmers of sixteen centuries ago we have a book that tells the story of the circling year. That teaches us what to do if the delicate machinery should stop.”- Rabbi Arthur Waskow, Seasons of Our Joy: A Celebration of Modern Jewish Renewal
I can’t deny it. It’s true. I crave the church seasons. I count down the days to Advent. I throw All Saints Day parties. I keep folders of poetry and reflections for each season. Honestly, I’m really not all that high churchy, but the seasons have become a rhythm that I feel in my body. They ground me when the world feels crazy. They keep me moving. They slow me down. They keep me acting in the midst of hopelessness. They are a way of keeping time that feels dramatically different than the fast-paced, consumer driven clocks that surround us.
Thinking about the year, I am struck by the carved out spaces for celebrating birth, honoring death, finding hope, remembering the dead, preparing our hearts, grieving, asking forgiveness, singing, celebrating, paying attention to the ordinary times, remembering and re-telling the old stories, and following the life of a radical man living under siege of empire. Not a bad way to spend a year and then to do it all over again.
I love how physical the liturgical seasons are. I mean it quite literally that I feel the rhythm in my body because each season awakens all of my senses with sounds, colors, songs, smells, and food. Some days call for great fire or single flames, for water poured as blessing, and even as ash and dirt rubbed on our foreheads. I can feel the dripping wax landing on my finger at the Easter Vigil or the smell of pine wrapped into a wreath during Advent.
That rhythm we tangibly experience becomes instinct as we do it again and again. Sr. Joan Chittister, a Benedictine nun, writes in The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life “It is what we do routinely, not what we do rarely, that delineates the character of a person.” She begs the question, what it is that we do over and over? What are the practices we live by that start becoming who we are?
For my family, part of that repetition was resistance. Works of justice were tangled together with the liturgical seasons. We spent Mondays in advent at a cruise missile plant- sometimes blockades and other times just a small vigil with candles. On Good Friday, we walked the streets of Detroit reflecting on the places where crucifixion was happening in that time and place. Justice became routine- as routine as lighting candles or reading the lectionary. Then too, the scriptures made more sense to me as a child. The liturgical season reminded me where to act and the action awakened the meaning of the ancient season.
As my body walks those streets of Detroit in the spring or hangs the Christmas ornaments in December, I am struck by how much I feel connected to my mom. It is the repetition. The doing over and over again what I did so many times with her. When I sing the hymns, I hear her voice. When I bake Christmas cookies, I see her hands. When I teach my own children and see their delight, I see my grandmother and my grandchildren. Somehow these seasons connect us with the generations who came before and those who will come after. There is a sense in which as we break and eat that bread, we are joined in communion with all those who have ever broken bread and all those who ever will.
I give thanks for all of it- for living by a clock that needs no corporation, president, TV and, in fact, needs no church institution either. It models the kind of time we long and work for. Truth be told, both my parents were bigger geeks than me. My dad even wrote a book about the liturgical year. He wrote in Seasons of Faith and Conscience, “the church year, in both its contemplative aspect and its public enactment, may become a counter-culture rhythm, the different drummer, the recaller, the invoker of a world not yet seen, a subversive agenda for our collective hearts.”
I claim that subversive agenda and trust that doing it over and over again will seep into who I am summoned to be.