A New Church Year Begins
“LIKE A GREAT WATERWHEEL, THE LITURGICAL YEAR goes on relentlessly irrigating our souls, softening the ground of our hearts, nourishing the soil of our lives until the seed of the Word of God itself begins to grow in us, comes to fruit in us, ripens in us the spiritual journey of a lifetime.”
—Joan Chittister The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life
As winter draws near, the nights grow longer and the hours of sunlight reach their shortest length of the year, we feel time in our bones. Often what we feel does not match the time on our clocks, when darkness falls so early. Surely it’s time to head to bed, we may think, only to check the clock and in shock discover it is only 6:30pm! (Or, maybe that’s just me!) We lean on our watches or phones to know the time, to help determine where we are in the movement of the day.
The ancient Greeks had two words for time, chronos and kairos. Chronos is the kind of time we can quantify or measure, such as “The concert will last two hours” or “We averaged 65 mph on the way home.” Chronos is the time we see on our watches, the time we follow as we go to work or pick up the kids from school. We mark such time in minutes and hours, days, weeks, and years.
The second word for time, kairos, concerns the meaningfulness of time, the potentiality of moments, expectancy of events. Kairos is the time of moments and breakthroughs, even interruptions.
The church follows a calendar, with regular dates and festival times, which has points of connection with our chronos calendars. The new church year began on Sunday, November 27, with the first Sunday of Advent. There will be four Sundays of the season leading up to Christmas Day. Those dates are measurable, we can mark them on our personal calendars, keep track of those Sundays, note that Christmas Day is on a Sunday this year, too.
Yet, the church’s liturgical calendar holds within it the possibilities of kairos time even as it marks the holy days of the Christian year. The church calendar invites us into an alternative plotline for our days, as it intentionally builds in times of preparation and repentance, with moments of remembrance and celebration. As Peter Leithart describes it, “the church calendar isn’t just a teaching device. It places us in the time of Jesus, and works the life and times of Jesus into us.” As we follow the rhythms of the liturgical year, we find a counterpoint to the secular calendar, a richer way of keeping time, walking alongside the stories of Jesus and diving deep into the ways of discipleship.
This year we have liturgical calendar posters available for you. Take one home, put it up somewhere you can see it. Color the poster with your family. Explore the colors and the times of the church year and see how time changes and how keeping liturgical time may even change you.
Close to Home with Eyes Wide Open
For lack of attention a thousand forms of loveliness elude us every day.
— Evelyn Underhill
As I write this column, we have just entered the season of Advent. After three months of livestreaming worship only, our first Sunday with many back in the sanctuary was a joyful coming home celebration. Yes, we were all wearing our masks and doing our best to maintain physical distancing. Even so, the sparkle in the eyes of those gathered in the sanctuary was an indication of many smiles behind the masks.
The reduced strain on the ICU in our hospital, the availability of booster shots, and the expansion of eligibility of vaccines to include children ages 5 and up allows us to return to in person worship carefully. We recognize that some individuals continue to need to exercise special caution because of their particular health situations, and we encourage you to make the best choices for yourself and your loved ones. We’ll continue to provide livestreams of our worship services on Facebook and YouTube. In addition we’ve learned the value of virtual gathering spaces, so we’ll keep finding ways to connect with one another on Zoom.
This year we have Advent at Home kits available for households. These kits include Advent calendars, daily devotions, candles for creating an Advent wreath, craft ideas, and more. The kits are available during church office hours this week. If you need one delivered to you, contact the office.
I encourage you to use the Advent kits to create your own spiritual practices for Advent. We’ve added one of my favorites practices this year, the Advent Photo-a-Day devotions. There is one word for each day of Advent. Hold the word in your thoughts throughout the day. When you see something that connects to that word, snap a photo. You can share those photos on your social media or you can keep them for yourself. Sharing them with others may spark more folks to take up the practice, and you may find inspiration in the posts others share.
I looked back in my photos, and the first time I participated in an Advent Photo-a-Day practice was in 2013. I'm including a few of those photos here.
The daily practice of reflecting on one word and taking a photo relating to it is a way to help us pay attention. We are learning to look with an openness for what is around us, to find meaning in the everyday. If you haven’t tried it before, I encourage you to take a look at the Advent words for this year. See what you may discover about yourself, the world, and the Sacred which surrounds us every day.
I’d love to see what captures your attention. If you do share your photos on social media, use the hashtags #fccmky, #fccmorehead, #advent2021, #closetohome.
May this Advent season be a time of waiting, expectant waiting, for the Holy One to be revealed.
Be well. Be kind.
And always be the church where you are.
A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey…
—T. S. Eliot, The Journey of the Magi
When my son was growing up, his father was often away in January, leading study abroad classes through Europe. Ben and I were left in dreary Washington state, dreaming of traveling to far away places. To make our time more special, I planned outings and activities. We frequented Starbucks for tasty treats. We’d make a special day trip to Seattle, to visit museums, shop in our favorite bookstores, eat at beloved restaurants.
I found ways to extend the Christmas season, relying heavily on the idea there are twelve days of Christmas, not just one. We began to celebrate Epiphany in our house, leaving our tree up and lit until January 6 and the magi of our nativity set took a long and circuitous route to the manger. Often we would bake a King’s cake for a special meal, and we took up the old tradition of Chalking the Door. I had read of the tradition of preparing the home for a visit by the Magi, leaving a bowl of water for their camels and shoes next to the door for a surprise gift of candies and treats in return. So every January 5th we’d tell the story of the Magi, put out a big bowl of water by the front door, carefully place our shoes nearby—and miraculously, the next morning all the water would be gone and a few of our favorite treats would be stuffed into our shoes!
In those small ways we were finding ways to practice our faith at home, weaving the stories into our lives just a little bit more during the long winter. These past ten months while we have not been able to worship in one place together, we have been creating new ways to be a faith community together. We’ve found deep meaning and relationships in Thursday night vespers. We’ve discovered new insights and ways of thinking about our faith as we’ve watched films and had weekly discussions on Zoom. We’ve made Advent wreaths at home, practiced prayer while coloring, and we’ve even sung along with others while our mics were muted! And as a congregation we have adapted our traditions so that we could continue to give generously to our neighbors, sharing gifts with families needing help this year.
It’s not been easy. And as we have been worshipping in our homes, I pray that our spiritual lives have been enriched by the expanding nature of our gatherings and practices. In this new year may we continue to cultivate the practices which deepen our faith wherever we find ourselves: in our homes, at work and play, and in our sanctuary, again, as well.
A native of Illinois, Rev. Nancy Gowler lived for 26 years in the Pacific Northwest. She joined the ministry of First Christian Church in Morehead, KY, in July of 2020.