Every week in The Kiddy Pool, Erin Newcomb confronts one of many issues that parents must deal with related to popular culture.
When my husband and I started dating, we invented a “liturgical scale” to help us find a church that worked for both of us. On the scale, a “1” would be an un-programmed Quaker service and a “10” would be a Roman Catholic high mass (in Latin, naturally). Based on that rubric, I’m an “8” and my husband claims he is a “5”. I love liturgy and find it beautiful and comforting. It speaks the truth elegantly and unites me with the saints from centuries past. I love the continuity and the sense of taking part in an historical community. I pay attention to the liturgical seasons and the way that they mark the passage of time, challenging my faith with the anticipation of Advent, the endurance of Lent, and the joy of Easter. Right now, we are, liturgically speaking, in “ordinary time”, outside of the waiting periods for major celebrations.
I was struggling with ordinary time this year. Even the weather refused to cooperate, with a brutal heat wave followed by days of downpours that kept us confined to the house for far too long. Our time was getting a little too ordinary, so I rummaged through the basement and brought up some of our Christmas things — a small, artificial tree, a play Nativity set, a box of miniature decorations. My elder daughter was delighted, and we’ve been playing Christmas for several days now. I tuck away her little figures of Mary and Baby Jesus (and all the rest of the crew from the manger) to keep them special, and because Baby Jesus kept ending up riding the school bus, which felt anachronistic and potentially blasphemous. But what began as a diversion has transformed in my thoughts to something more.
We’re listening to Christmas hymns and reading Christmas stories; my favorite combination of the two is Tomie dePaola’s The Friendly Beasts, a rendering of the Old English carol of the same name. My daughter and I are talking about what Emmanuel means, and why Jesus bears that name. There’s something about Christmas — the animal stories, the mama and baby — that make it innately more appealing and tangible for small children (OK, and for me, too) than the abstract and gruesome theology of Easter. I know the Incarnation is incomplete without the cross and the Resurrection, but sometimes in ordinary time we need a reminder of the vulnerable child who came to live among us.
I am loving Christmas in July, a celebration of the joy and hope of the Christ-child without the surrounding cultural commercialism. As much as I appreciate liturgy, this uncharacteristically spontaneous break from the church calendar is lifting my spirits more than the December season usually does, because this time it’s unburdened by a climate of greed, materialism, and social obligations that often exclude Christ. My departure from liturgy reminds me what liturgy is for: it’s not the dates that are significant but the acts of remembrance, not the calendar itself but the continual effort to walk with Christ throughout the year. I don’t think that religious celebrations should be routinely separate from the church body, because there is so much meaning and purpose in celebrating communally. Right now, though, Christmas in July assures me that Emmanuel is a year-round gift that transcends liturgy and history and makes all time extra-ordinary.