Every major faith has a religious calendar of festivals, holy days, and periods of fasting and feasting– even secular humanism. There seems to be some ancient wisdom here about humans, but what might it be?
Religious calendars are a humble admission of human limits. And rather than limiting our engagement with God, I’d argue the Church Calendar expands it by addressing three problems all humans have:
1. We can’t think all the things at all the time.
Christians believe many truths at once: God is transcendent but also imminent. God is three yet one. Jesus was God and man, a servant yet the king of the universe. Humans are sinful and weak, yet are the beloved crowns of creation. Humans die but are eternal. We remember the past, fully exist in the present, and look to the future.
If you’re a Christian, you likely agree with those statements, but I doubt you can hold and reflect on all of them in your mind at the same time.
2. Our thoughts of God are always off in some way.
No one can ever have a perfect conception of God in their mind or words; they will always err to some degree, and over- or under-emphasize some aspect of God, Jesus, and faith. You cannot hold in your mind God’s trinity and unity at once, or even God’s transcendence and imminence. You can quickly go back-and-forth, but you can’t hold both at once.
No one can conceive the perfect balance of justice and mercy, past and present focus, church and state, prayer and scripture, giving and receiving, etc. The best we can hope for is faithfully focusing on each part on its own at different times.
3. We naturally incline towards some truths more than others.
Our background, experiences, personalities, culture, and traumas all contribute to churches, communities, and people being drawn to some parts of faith more than others. I am very much at home with brokenness, pain, and questions but it’s hard for me to rest in God’s love. I believe in it intellectually. But it is hard for me to truly accept it and let it suffuse my experience of God.
For others, they are drawn to Jesus’ mercy and justice ministry, but neglect judgment and sin. Some people are really good at feasting and enjoying God’s good gifts, but don’t naturally think to fast or restrain themselves as a spiritual practice.
This is all okay and human. It’s also why the Church Calendar is so useful.
These human limitations aren’t due to malice or unfaithfulness, they’re the inevitable consequence of finite minds contemplating the infinite and trying to implement eternal truth in time and space. If left on our own, we would never contemplate and practice the full range of Christian truth and life.
That’s why it’s so helpful to have specific times to focus on different aspects of Christianity and Jesus’ life–which is exactly how the Church Calendar is set up. Each season follows a different epoch in the life of Jesus and connects it to a full range of themes and emphases in theology and our Christian lives.
And I invite you to give it a try.
Lent is coming up next week. Maybe consider a Lenten devotional, a fast, or practice of prayer (here are some ideas). Or plan an Easter feast with friends. Or change the color of something in your house (or your phone wallpaper) to match the church season. There are many ways to start, and something is better than nothing.
But whatever you may do, I hope God meets you in it and that it feeds your soul.
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