Joan Chittister: Reflections on The Christian Calendar

The season of Lent is almost upon us, and every year there are at least some Evangelical Christians in different countries who contact me out of their concern or confusion with this period in the Christian calendar, or the concept of a liturgical year in general.

Phyllis Tickle explains that the Christian calendar has been an extremely important aspect of spiritual formation down through the centuries:

“The ancient practices of the faith are sevenin number, have come into Christianity out of Judaism, and inform all of the Abrahamic faiths.  Three of them – tithing, fasting, and the sacred meal– have to do with the physical body, its work and its needs.  Three of them have to do with the monitoring of time.  Fixed-hour prayer regulates the hours of the day, and Sabbath-keeping monitors the days of the week.  The liturgical year monitors or paces those same days and the weeks into the cohesive whole of basic human timekeeping, the year itself.  The seventh of them, pilgrimage, engages both the physical space of the body and the dimension of time, requiring that we go at least once in a lifetime with holy intention to a place made sacred by the faith and encounters of other believers.” (italics added)

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Those words of Tickle are penned in the foreword of Joan Chittister’s book, The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life. Chittister, too, has fielded questions from people wondering why we celebrate Advent or Lent or any of the liturgical year’s dates when we do:

“The real answer to the question of the various dates of the liturgical year,” she asserts, “is that the liturgical year is not, for the most part, about a series of events at all.  It is about the import of those defining events.  It is about the relationship of those events, one to another.  It is about the real meaning, not the historical dating, of the events which, to this very day, shape our spiritual lives.”

In a world that rotates around school and work calendars and secular holidays, Chittister happily proclaims her need for something deeper: “I know that it is possible to grow physically older by the day but, at the same time, stay spiritually juvenile, if our lives are not directed by a schema far beyond the march of our planet around the sun.”

And to those who wonder if observing the Christian calendar would ever get monotonous, Chittister has a wonderful answer: “The liturgical year is the process of coming back year after year to look at what we already know, on one level, but are newly surprised by again and again.”

There is renewal in the ritual!  There is surprise in the “same”!

I will be offering more thoughts on this topic in the coming days, and more observations from this wonderful book as well.  For the meantime, I pray that you would begin to embrace the rhythm of the liturgical year.  And may observing and remembering these events open doors of refreshment and deeper knowledge in your walk with Christ.

Returning to Calvary

By Raphael Rosado

I really admire people who have a true vocation for what they do! As the saying goes: “If you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life.” However, it’s important to understand that passion is not an accident, neither is it innate or the result of success.

For example, Picasso wasn’t born as a great painter. On the contrary, his genius was the product of several elements: his environment, the time that he was living in, and his will. The masterpieces he painted are much more than the result of the artist’s talent. Put Picasso in another time and Guernica would have never been painted. Even more, Picasso could only paint Guernica once and, no matter how much he tried, he could never perfectly duplicate such a painting again. The passion that was required to paint such a modern art masterpiece is the daughter of a moment and a story. It is hard to understand the passion which a picture is painted with if you don’t understand its underlying historic meaning.

If another artist were given the task of painting Guernica again, even with the same talent and tools that Picasso had, it would be impossible. Without the passion that emanates from a personal connection with the context and situation he lived in, no one would ever be able to produce the exact same result.

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Something similar happens in our Christian life. God has given us tools to paint the picture of our relationship with him: prayer, reading of the Bible, fasting and the other spiritual disciplines. However, the routine uses of these tools in themselves cannot produce a masterpiece.

In order for our practice of spiritual disciplines to produce a painting worthy of a museum, we must start to grasp that our relationship with God is the product of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Only when we allow the story of Calvary to affect our actions, will we begin to see passion born in us.  Then, God will take that passionate obedience and create a beautiful masterpiece from our life.

It saddens my heart to see us as children of God struggling every day to fulfill “obligations” of praying, reading the Bible, or going to church services.  When we see these as obligations, we become weary and discouraged. How different our relationship with God would be if our service to Him came from passion for Him and his call instead of a mere sense of obligation!

I invite you during Holy Week to return to Calvary.  Let the story of the cross fill you with passion and awe so that God can paint a masterpiece in you.

More Than Doing Without

By Charles W. Christian

Lent is the approximately forty day period leading up to Easter Sunday. It is meant to be a time of preparation and reflection that is patterned after Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness at the beginning of His earthly ministry (Mark 1:12-13; Matt. 4:1-11; Luke 4:1-13). As we have entered this season of Lent beginning on Ash Wednesday, many of us have joined Christians all over the world – both Catholics and Protestants – in fasting.

Like Jesus, many Christians have used this time to participate in fasting from food. Others fast from something more specific, like chocolate or coffee, or from certain activities like using social media or watching movies. While fasting has been a key spiritual discipline for Christians throughout history, it may be the most neglected spiritual discipline today. The Lenten season gives the Church an opportunity to return to this often neglected discipline.

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It is important to remember that fasting is meant to remind us of our biblical and historic identification with the poor and needy. Regardless of what we remove from our daily routine, we are reminded that we are intentionally giving up items that many give up without choice. This allows us to more deeply participate in compassion, which literally means “to suffer with another.”

While it is easy to focus on the ‘giving up’ aspect of fasting, there is a deeper meaning to the discipline. Fasting is not just about giving something up, but it is also about replacing.

For instance, time spent away from a favorite TV show could be set aside for more time in Scripture or more time in direct loving service to others. Time and money saved by not eating out may be spent directly on helping the poor and others without food. Time and resources given up can be intentionally put to good use in service to Christ’s Kingdom.

Finally, fasting is meant to draw attention to God and God’s ways, and not to our own sacrifices.  In order for fasting to be Biblical, any sacrifices we make during fasting are to be for deepening our relationship with God and for increasing our participation in the mission of God. Boasting about our fasting or making ourselves into a “spiritual superhero” is to be strictly avoided. “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full” (Matthew 6:16, NIV).

During Lent, as we deepen our walk with God and increase our participation in His mission, we also find time for reflection and repentance. As God and His ways become clearer to us, flaws in our own ways also become clearer. Part of our preparation for resurrection involves allowing the Holy Spirit to move us into areas of growth, which often involves confession and repentance. It is important that we are especially sensitive to these opportunities for growth as we fast and focus.

As people who are living out and telling God’s story, may we make the most of seasons like Lent, allowing ourselves to become more and more like the risen Lord we serve!

Prayer for the week:

Almighty and everlasting God, You hate nothing You have
made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. Create and
make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily
lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may obtain of You, the God of all mercy, perfect remission
and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives
and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever
and ever. Amen.

(From the Book of Common Prayer)

This article was originally published at: Holiness Today