AT: Songs in Ordinary Time
So here we are again--back in Ordinary Time. The new year rolled in and suddenly there’s no more scent of sugar cookies and hot cider coming from the kitchen, no more familiar carols playing on the CD player. Within the next few days, the ornaments will be lifted off the Christmas tree and packed away while the tree itself will be tossed or, if artificial, carried back to the attic. Candles will soon disappear from windows and those strings of colored lights will be reeled back in, leaving the neighborhood looking dark and cheerless in comparison.
Type “post-holiday depression” into Google and you’ll get more than 40,000 hits. Apparently, a good number of people fall into a funk after the new year, a phenomenon the various experts blame on everything from the physical effects of overeating and overdrinking to the financial blow of post-holiday bills to the emotional let-down of going back to the same old grind at the office.
I think, too, it might be because we no longer have the trappings around to help us feel the awesomeness of God coming into the world. And as adults, we tend to need the trappings. We need help with what once came naturally to us as children: experiencing the wonder of simply being alive.
I was reminded of this recently while sitting in a planetarium with 60 or so fourth graders from my daughter’s school. A dazzling survey of the stars was followed by an even more exciting laser light show. Music played and lights flashed and the kids squealed and laughed and shouted. Every time a huge “Whoa!” went up, I remembered the delight of being a child and seeing the world with fresh eyes. The children’s enthusiasm was in sharp contrast to the silence of the adult chaperones (some of whom were sleeping).
We were just like those kids once; I know I was because I can still remember that full-of-wonder feeling. I mean, the colors of a 25-pack of Crayola crayons could keep me captivated for hours on end. Those sparkly little flecks in an ordinary rock made me feel as though I’d just stuffed the world’s greatest treasure into my pocket. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven if I could just press my cheek against freshly cut grass on a summer night.
Fast forward a couple of decades and what happens to most of us? We reach a certain age and suddenly we feel as though we’ve seen it all before, we’ve done it all before, there’s nothing left to do but roll along on the tarnished wheels of routine. Colors fade, rocks become dull, cutting the grass becomes one more chore to do over the already too-busy weekend.
I’d like to suggest, though, that the wonder of the world hasn’t gone away; we’ve simply become inured to it. Somehow our antennas have collapsed and we no longer tune into the wonder, we no longer perceive it the way we did when we were very young. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t there or isn’t perceivable--because it is both.
Often I find myself thinking of a few lines from Thornton Wilder’s play, “Our Town.” In Act III, Emily asks the Stage Manager, “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it--every, every minute?” And the Stage Manager answers, “No.” Pause. “The saints and poets, maybe--they do some.”
Well, that’s us. We’re the saints (believers) and the poets (artists of all kinds). Whether consciously or not, people look to painters, musicians, and writers to help them realize life-- the goodness of life, the meaning for our existence. I believe that’s why God created artists, so that we might capture beauty, truth and hope and present them on the canvas, in the song, on the
This past December I took my nine-year-old daughter to a showing of “The Polar Express.” Afterward, she expressed her opinion in no uncertain terms, “That was the worst movie I ever saw!” Instead of simply telling her that I didn’t like it either, I asked, “What didn’t you like about it?”
Her answer: “There was nothing in it that made me glad.”
That’s what people want when they come to us. They want to be made glad. They want to be reminded and reassured that in the midst of the humdrum, the routine, and even the tragic, there is still reason for joy, still unchangeable hope. Sometimes, we all need a little help seeing the wonder, seeing the mercies of God that are new every morning. We all need a little help hearing the songs that are playing in the very place that we spend most of our lives, and that is Ordinary Time.
Writers, put your antennas up. Be aware of life while you live it. Be tuned to the Spirit of God so that you can hear the songs, because they are always there. Then get that beauty and hope down on paper so others can experience it too. Our readers are depending on us. Make them glad.
Ann Tatlock is celebrating the new year in her office. Visit her at www.anntatlock.com.