From time to time, my soul is afflicted with a deep and annoying restlessness. I could describe it as a famine of soul– like standing alone in a banquet hall, glasses and plates strewn about hinting at that which had gone before but now lacking the music and the guests. Might it even be a spiritual acedia, that laissez faire the monastics called the “noon-day demon” finally having its way with me after being held at bay for so long? Is it biological? Chemical? Indigestion?

Whatever it is, when it shows up, I wish it would make a speedy exit from my interior life. It seems to me that happiness (however we define the term) and comfort, the very things I am so often grasping after are actually enemies to the spiritual fervor I crave. Apparently, I do best under adverse circumstances. Crap.

It is an interesting coincidence that the liturgical calendar places us in ‘ordinary time.’ What I both love and hate about that is the external imposition of a chronos in which to learn kairos. It is an outward reality giving me the framework in which to sow the seeds of grace toward my growth in salvation. To add further complexity, this has converged with my unnecessarily long summer schedule when routines are challenged and stretched beyond recognition. I tend to fall apart in those times. Faithfulness is sometimes most difficult when all is well and such faithfulness goes unnoticed one way or the other. When we have nothing to gain from faithfulness is the precise moment when it is most crucial. For me, that was the time.

There is mystery in the idea of ordinary time. While everything around us may show little or no daily change there emerges within us the slow, almost imperceptible greenery of spiritual life. There is nothing ordinary in the growth of living things. It is as miraculous as it is beautiful. It is also slow enough to render moment-by-moment changes impossible yet mysterious enough that to look away for a single day is to miss the biological sweatshop that has invisibly produced a most magnificent result.

Something comes to mind as I reflect upon this. Most of us gain little by staring at ourselves, craning our necks and squinting our eyes to see our own growth. Such endeavors inevitably result in discouragement or even cynicism. Keeping our eyes fixed on the long-term process of growth and marveling at it is that which yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness and with it, our most abiding joy. Someone once said that we’re always frustrated by how little we accomplish in a day and how much we accomplish in ten years. That is the gift of ordinary time. It forces my eyes up to the sky instead of buried in the soil. Sun in the eyes is always a better option than dirt up the nose.

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Robert Alan Rife

Robert Rife, M.A., minister of worship and music for Yakima Covenant Church (formerly Westminster Presbyterian) in Yakima, Washington, is a self-proclaimed book-nerd-word-herder, multi-instrumentalist (including Highland Bagpipes!), singer-songwriter, studio musician, choral director, poet, and liturgist. He maintains two personal blogs: Innerwoven and Robslitbits. He also blogs at Conversations Journal. Robert describes his vocation as exploring those places where life, liturgy, theology, and the arts intersect with and promote spiritual formation.

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