The "secular" calendar, that device, by which we measure time, plan our lives, etc. is linear. There is another calendar, by which many of us judge time, the liturgical calendar, and it is not linear, per se. It begins in Advent, continues through Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and on through what some call ordinary time. There are two primary poles to this story, Christmas (incarnation) and Easter (Resurrection). It runs on three cycles, linked at least in part to the three synoptic gospels (with John thrown in here and there to fill out the story).
For many Protestants, the liturgical year is rather new, and for some it still remains rather foreign. But I appreciate the way in which it keeps us focused on the full orbed nature of the Christian story. I have been reading Sr. Joan Chittister's contribution to The Ancient Practices Series, which is entitled The Liturgical Year (Nelson, 2009).
I'm going to post some quotes over the next few days so as to get a conversation going about the liturgical year and the way in which it might focus our attention spiritually on the basic faith story. So, to begin the conversation, she writes:
The liturgical year is an adventure in bringing the Christian life to fullness, the heart to alert, the soul to focus. It does not concern itself with the questions of how to make a living. It concerns itself with the questions of how to make a life.
She goes on to write:
The truth is, then, that as Christians, January 1 isn't really our "new year" at all. It is not the beginning of the "new year" of our soul's search for wholeness. Instead, January 1 is simply the day that makes it possible for the secular world to mark centuries, to keep track of its earthly ways, to coordinate itself with the ways of the rest of the world, to begin again its cycle of civic events. (p. 4).
As we read this contrast between the two years that impact our lives, as church, the distinction is important. Too often we let the civic calendar be our guide. In many ways, in many churches, Independence Day and Mother's Day are as important as Christmas and Easter. Why is that? Why should civic and secular days drive church observances?