I visited a kindergarten class of a parish school where I was serving as temporary administrator. After some sharing, the teacher announced to the kids that it was “block time.”
With practiced efficiency, the kids got up from their mats and went to a basket in the corner. Each got a bag of six blocks. The blocks were typical cubes of varied sizes and colors. The sides were decorated with numbers, letters, animals, etc. The students took their places at low tables and blocks noisily poured out. The teacher gave the instruction, “Put the blocks in order.”
After a pause, a few hand-raised kids and I had the same question, “What order?” The good teacher calmly instructed, “Whatever order you think is right.”
One student lined up her blocks according to the letters A through F. Another used the numbers and got it correct with a hint from the teacher. One future engineer tried unsuccessfully to stack his blocks from largest to smallest. Across the room, a girl with an artist’s eye lined up her blocks by color, from lightest to darkest.
I noticed one boy had his blocks lined up rather quickly, in a semi-circle in front of him. He rested his chin on his hands as he admired his arrangement. When asked by the teacher to explain his order, the boy pointed to the line of animals, “a whale can eat an elephant, an elephant can eat a lion, a lion can eat a dog, a dog can eat a bird, and a bird can eat a fish.” One can only guess what career this foreshadows.
When seeking ideas for this column, a friend noted that with Ash Wednesday next week how about “preparing for Lent”? Two reactions came to mind.
First, is it not a bit redundant to prepare for a season of preparation? Second, are we not called to have a spirituality of ordinary time?
The beauty of the church’s liturgical calendar is that it allows the faithful to move through the variety of experiences and the wealth of images which our varied seasons, feasts and memorials intentionally convey.
But what about ordinary time? For some, there is the presumption that ordinary is by definition an absence of vivid images and a dearth of spiritual experiences. But that cannot be true.
Ordinary time gets its name not for a lack of things exciting or vivid. The time is “ordinary” simply because the weeks are numbered, from the Latin word ordinalis. We should not be left with the idea that the weeks of green vestments are just place holders filling gaps between the really important times.
In truth, these may well be the times which best reflect how we have ordered our lives. Like the kindergarteners and their blocks, each of us makes intentional and noticeable decisions about how we order our lives.
In the passage of hours, days and weeks do we see an order, a series of connections? More importantly, do we see faith, prayer and spirituality as part of that ordering and in those connections from own moment to the next?
In Psalm 119, the psalmist proclaims that “seven times a day I praise you.” This is not a mere accounting of prayers. The perfection of the number seven reflects that the statement is about how the fullness of the day offers constant opportunities to turn to the Lord.
How many times in an “ordinary” day do our thoughts drift to Christ? Prayers can be offered as we rise and at bedtime, over meals, as we pass a traffic accident, as we breathe deeply and anxiously before a big test or important meeting. As a kid, whenever the family car passed a cemetery, we were told to make the sign of the cross and offer a short prayer for all the souls in purgatory.
In faith, we soon realize there are connections between prayer and Christ moments and the daily order of life – a morning prayer leads to a nicer greeting; a prayer for the homeless man leads to a helping hand; a prayer for the car pulled over should lead to our pulling over to help change the tire.
Outside the intensity of Advent and Lenten preparation, with the benefit of awesome experiences in the Christmas and Easter seasons, and with the punctuating highlights of various solemnities, ordinary time is essentially “block time.” Called upon to put the days and weeks of our lives in order, we undoubtedly ask, “What order?”
Numbers, letters, colors or even the sizes of animals may be fine individual variations, but Christ should be the connector, moving us through each segment of the progression.
Ash Wednesday will mark the start of the season of Lent. That’s wonderful, but we need not get ahead of ourselves. For a few more days block time — ordinary time — is still a chance for each of us to order our lives as a herald of hope!