Thursday, May 06, 2010

Ordinary time

In the Catholic liturgical calendar, the parts of the year between the day after the Feast of the Epiphany on January 6 and the day before Ash Wednesday, and between the day after Pentecost and the day before Advent, rather more than half the year altogether, are known as Ordinary Time. A curious choice of adjective, suggesting a kind of coasting between the two high seasons of Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter.

Our bodies beat to diurnal, lunar, and solar rhythms. The planet circles the Sun, now leaning the northern continents away from the Sun-- the winter solstice, Christmas -- now nodding back towards heat and light -- the spring equinox, Easter. All of the northern religions were shaped in response to that annual rhythm.

The twenty-three-and-a-half degree tilt of the Earth's axis was a cosmic fluke. It could have been forty, it could have been zero. If it had been zero, we would never have had the foundational myth of the Eternal Return -- the Sun instead making its same-old, same-old trek day by day, all year long, with no day any more or less likely to be New Year's Day than any other. We would have had a stellar year, with different stars as the months rolled by, and perhaps we would have celebrated in our foundational faiths the circle of an equatorial "zodiac," but no solstices or equinoxes, no Eternal Return, no Christmas or Easter.

But...in the swirling mass of dust and gas that became our solar system, it would have been extremely unlikely for the third planet from the Sun to have found its rotational axis exactly perpendicular to the plane of its orbit. Even a little lean would have presumably been enough to give rise to solar religions of the sort that was subsumed into the Christian liturgical year.

Ordinary time. I was sitting yesterday on the plank bridge over the Queset Brook, feeling the thump-thump of my heartbeat, that primary timekeeper, and watching the vernal season swell back into vibrance -- there! that flash of orange! an oriole! Sweet-phew, it ambiguously sings -- and I remembered that green is the color of vestments in Ordinary Time, and that the world is greening around me, and that every heartbeat of ordinary time is -- well, extraordinary .