08 July 2008

Time and the Secular Sacred

In my early 20s I went through a period of time when I thought very seriously about converting to Catholicism. (Well, not really converting, since that suggests moving from one religion to another, and since I was raised basically agnostic, I was really just thinking about joining the Catholic Church. "Converting" is a better and more interesting word than "joining"though.) My reasons for pursuing this were complicated, but also sort of strange, so I'm not going to go into that here. And that isn't the point anyway.

What is useful to know is that, for at least one year, I attended church regularly--first on Sunday mornings, and then on Sunday nights--and for several years I went for the major holidays, and one year I actually did "Inquiry", which, for the uninitiated, is sort of confirmation class for adults. Somewhere in there I heard a very, very good sermon on the liturgical calendar. The priest talked about how the Church calendar is split up into three kinds of time: feast time, fast time and ordinary time. He explained that the purpose of the fasting time is to give us a structured opportunity to meditate on our lives--to slow down and think about the blessings in our lives, but also to consider the nature of suffering, to remember (history, those who have died), to look within ourselves and evaluate our relationship with God, with others and with ourselves, and to identify space for improvement. The function of feast time is to celebrate, to give thanks, to bless one another. To live in joy. Then he argued that the important thing about both feast and fast times is the way in which they can (and are meant to) impact our lives within ordinary time, which constitutes the bulk of the liturgical year. Feasting and fasting provide perspective through which to see the rest of our days--the not-so-special days--imbuing them with more meaning and more intention.

This is one of the things that I find beautiful and profound about the Church; something I can recognize and incorporate in my life, even though I have ultimately decided that Catholicism is not something that I can really do.


For the past week my friend Nikki has been staying with me. She is moving out of Texas, to take a great job and to be closer to her family, and to be in a place that she loves, and doesn't just have to tolerate. She had to be out of her place by the 1st, but wanted to stick around another week, so she came here. And it has been great to have her. Not just because she is fun and we have a good time together, but because we are at similar points in our lives--both ending one chapter of our lives and opening another. We are both very much in transition.

Major moments of transition are a secular version of feast and fast time. When you have one foot in one world and one foot in another, life suddenly becomes so much more than it is in ordinary time. Time moves more quickly. There are more opportunities for celebrating and for socializing, but also for becoming introspective and for noticing the profound. It is a time for intense feeling and also for intense experiencing.

I feel lucky to have been able to have my transition overlap with Nikki's, because it has meant that I have been able to spend this non-ordinary time in a kind of communion with her. And over the course of the past week we have squeezed in a lot of living by:

Drinking (a lot) at all our favorite establishments.

Spending an hour in Best Buy trying to buy a radar detector from a nice (but rather clueless) guy named Daniel L.

Returning the radar detector when we realized that well-meaning Dan didn't sell us the right equipment.

Watching the whole third season of Weeds and the whole first season of 30 Rock on DVD.

Running into "the monster" three nights in a row.

Arguing over yoga (her for, me against).

Eating at suburban chain restaurants and hanging out at the mall.

Getting lost on the way to AAA and then ordering Trip Ticks that will take us to opposite coasts.

Staying up until 4 am every night.

Hanging out on my rarely-used patio furniture so that she could smoke and we could talk. Mostly about "moys" (Nikki's word for guys who are chronologically men, but still behave like boys.)


When she left this morning I walked back into the house and felt how empty it was and it was that much easier to put things in boxes. Tonight I had dinner at Rebecca's with Laura and Amanda and Tim and Brooke and we talked about our ultimate deal-breakers with men and then about religion. After the group broke up I went to Laura's to pick up the things that she has been collecting from my house over the past two or three years. CDs (how have I lived without my copy of Standing by the Sea for well over a year?!), my boxed set of the My-So-Called-Life DVDs and lots of books--most of them about bibliography. Rebecca left us there, and when the door closed I started crying, because I thought she was mad at me. She came running back in the door 15 minutes later, worried that I was mad and her and telling me that she'd gone back to her place and cried while she did the dishes.

We sat at Cafe Laura and they smoked and we talked about marriage pacts and how my lack of boundaries sometimes causes me to be rude. And Rebecca said, "When people know you are leaving, they feel urgency to show you how they really feel about you."

Feasting and fasting. Living that is more vibrant on the one hand, and deeper on the other. Within two months I'll be living in ordinary time again and it will be different, infused with more meaning and wisdom (I hope) because of this time.

1 comment:

Laura :) said...

two thoughts:

1. I need to learn how to have feast time without smoking half a pack of cigarettes. My throat is made out of prickly vines this morning.

2. A very tall, burly, blonde man in northern scotland who in every way resembled a viking once told me that i was trying to live life entirely in Feast/Fast times ---without any Ordinary time. He thought that was a bad idea. It was probably true then, possibly still true. (But then, who wants Ordinary time when you're lying beside a fire with a viking?)