The month of June sees the Church emerging from the long seasons of Lent and Easter into the even longer Trinity season, which stretches through the summer into the autumn. Some churches call this period Ordinary time, which I rather like. Without ordinary, we would not appreciate the extraordinary.
It seems to me that most of us are yearning for a touch of the ordinary right now. We have done our best to make the most of difficult times under lockdown, but are looking forward to ‘normal’ human contact and, as some people put it, getting our lives back. In truth, our lives have carried on, albeit within boundaries. And we have had time to reflect. A little while back in the midst of all this, I read something which stuck with me and got me thinking: God does not send us plagues to teach us things, though we can learn from them.
When bad things happen, people ask why. The God revealed in Jesus does not visit plagues on people, nor wish natural disasters on anyone. Rather, the Gospel shows us a God who chooses to walk with us, meets us in the storms of life, and experiences the highs and lows of what it means to be human alongside us.
So what are we learning? After years of bruising debate about our relationships within Europe, we are learning the art of listening and talking kindly with one another again. Community spirit is flourishing and in the midst of isolation we have become more connected: not only through social media but also through the humble telephone. We have learned what it is to miss our social contact with one another: love of neighbour has re-emerged in a new and stronger way.
We are learning that we are connected across the whole world. ‘Me first’ does not work when facing a common challenge to our well-being – whoever thought we could all be first anyway? What happens thousands of miles away affects us and we are learning that we are all responsible for each other, challenged to work for the common good because that includes our own good.
George Herbert, the seventeenth-century priest-poet, wrote a poem called Prayer, in which he used the delightful phrase ‘heaven in ordinary’. As we enter these weeks of Ordinary time, we could try to see what we have learned. You might like to look up the poem, for tellingly it ends with these simple words: ‘something understood.’
Robert Jones, Archdeacon of Worcester
Prayer the church’s banquet, angel’s age,
God’s breath in man returning to his birth,
The soul in paraphrase, heart in pilgrimage,
The Christian plummet sounding heav’n and earth
Engine against th’ Almighty, sinner’s tow’r,
Reversed thunder, Christ-side-piercing spear,
The six-days world transposing in an hour,
A kind of tune, which all things hear and fear;
Softness, and peace, and joy, and love, and bliss,
Exalted manna, gladness of the best,
Heaven in ordinary, man well drest,
The milky way, the bird of Paradise,
Church-bells beyond the stars heard, the soul’s blood,
The land of spices; something understood.
George Herbert (1593-1633)