Wednesday, January 16, 2008

A (sort of) Special Day

Today is a sort of special day. It won’t show up on any calendars—liturgical or otherwise—but it matters to me as I try to make sense of the calling I have and the job I’m in.

As a pastor you start to think about time in a different way. When you’re a kid you think in terms of the academic year, remember that? From the first day of school you start counting the days until the Thanksgiving and Christmas vacations. When you come back from that there are a few three-day weekends to sustain you until Spring Break, when the real countdown begins—the one that takes you to summer (where you instantly start counting the days until you have to go back to school). It takes a long time before you can shake the student mindset. It usually starts the first time you look up in mid-July and find yourself in an office, or on a jobsite, or anywhere else that isn’t the beach.

What I notice about this way of marking time is that it highlights the time we aren’t doing something. We look forward to the breaks—we give special value to the times when we don’t have to do whatever it is we were doing in school. Some of that carries on into the jobs we take when we’re no longer students. I’ve always looked forward to taking trips, seeing new things and getting out of my routine.

But as a pastor I think I’m having to re-tool my sense of time again. Why? Because the times that the rest of the culture associates with holidays and travel and rest have turned out to be my busy seasons. Christmastime is a popular time with a lot of people for traveling and relaxing, but Advent and Christmas were exhausting for me. Easter represents Spring Break for much of the civilized world, but it’s also by far the church’s most important Sunday. My sense of time—of how the year passes—is now built around these crucial events, these special remembrances that mark the Christian year.

None of this is a complaint, by the way. I love the sensation of learning something new—of learning a new way to experience time.

So what’s so special about this day? Not much, if I’m perfectly honest. It’s just the halfway point between Christmas and the beginning of Lent. Easter comes early this year, and so even as I’m still seeing pine needles around the house (OK, artificial pine needles), using gifts for the first time and occasionally even humming the odd carol, I need to start thinking about how best to express the more somber themes of Lent. It’s a bit like that day in August when you realize that school is just around the corner. Nothing wrong with Lent, of course, just as I’m glad there was a school for me where I could learn and play and sing and see my friends. But it’s different from the carefree joy of summer, just as Lent has a tone that is different from the joyful celebration of the Christmas season.

I’m not quite ready for the sober reflection and introspection of Lent. I’m still enjoying the buzz of the newborn Jesus, of being with my family for Christmas, of watching Ian grow up a little more, of celebrating 10 years with Julie, of being a pastor again. I’m sure by the time it rolls around I’ll need some concentrate time to pause in calm reflection—God’s Providence is like that. But for now I’m going to ride the Christmas wave as long as it’ll carry me.

Lent is coming, but it can wait. Just three weeks now...

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