Nearly a holy soul: Making sense of Ordinary Time

A beautiful and much-loved Newtown parishioner, Clare was a feisty 91 when she died on 17 January. I was still in hospital after a cardiac arrest when she was admitted and could very easily have beaten her to pole position on the display. However, I’m still among the living and my birthday last month took on added significance.

I was nearly a Holy Soul, a face on a funeral order of service 1952-2007. This stark realisation really hit home when I saw the funeral leaflets of those who had died during 2007 hanging from the front of the altar at St Anne’s Church, Newtown, last month. Below were the burning votive candles and the open Book of the Dead. Clare Williams’s face haunted me from the first leaflet on display.

Nearly a holy soul: Making sense of Ordinary Time Archdiocese of Wellington

Liturgically speaking, we have just finished Ordinary Time—the ‘green’ time between the great feasts of Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter/Pentecost. Ordinary Time is for ordinary people living everyday lives. Many of the Sunday readings towards the end of Ordinary Time addressed our daily concerns as Christians: honesty in our dealings with others, feeling abandoned by God, balancing prayer and action, remembering to say thank you, persevering in prayer, being anxious about how it will all end. Ordinary Time ended last Sunday with the Feast of Christ the King, the last Sunday of the church’s liturgical year. In the southern hemisphere we are edging towards summer.

But how is it possible to live in the ordinary when life has been so extraordinary? This morning I crossed the street to the cardiology clinic at Wellington Hospital where I was ‘downloaded’! My implanted defibrillator records what is happening to my heart rhythm and a bedside monitor relays the information each morning at 2.00 via satellite to Germany and from there to Auckland and Wellington Hospitals. Doctors in Salt Lake City and Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore investigating my condition can look at all tests and procedures conducted on me here in this country via a secure family website. My DNA is in Houston for genetic testing. Such extraordinary technology and extraordinary happenings in Ordinary Time!

In the final line of the final gospel for the liturgical year, Jesus says to the repentant sinner, ‘This day you will be with me in paradise’ (Luke 23:24)—a reality that almost marked the beginning of the year for me when I nearly went to heaven. I feel as if I’ve been on the edge, too. The months since January have been lived against a ‘desktop background’ of having been right to the edge but not quite over. Since then I’ve lived in extraordinary time. It’s as if my ‘screen saver’ or ‘default setting’ is extraordinary and I have to deliberately strike a key to make the ordinary appear.

In March I wrote out of my survival experience ( that Easter was ‘always and everywhere’ and so it has been. I have found it almost impossible to move into Ordinary Time. The cardiac arrest rendered me effectively dead for six minutes. That I am alive now and able to function normally is quite remarkable. I have experienced an extraordinary privilege. However, I have to live in the ordinary. I have to change the default setting deliberately.

The ordinary daily reminders do this for me—the kitchen floor needs washing, students’ assignments need marking, the recycling bin needs putting at the gate, the aphids on the roses need attention, the tomatoes need staking and the ripening strawberries need protecting from the birds.

My God has always been a God who invites me to the ‘more’, to the edge, to ‘beyond the breakers’. In March I quoted from the old hymn When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, ‘love so amazing so divine, demands my life, my soul, my all’. I’ve been as close to the edge, to the ‘all’ as is humanly possible and the God who lives in me still invites me to the ‘more’. I’m hoping that once my first anniversary, 5 January, has passed, my personal default setting will change. It will be the Christmas season: ‘And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us’ (John 1:14) – how extraordinary is that! Against such an amazing backdrop my experience is really quite ordinary, isn’t it?