Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta

Return To The Hidden Beauty Of Ordinary Time

By FATHER JAMES S. BEHRENS, OCSO, Commentary | Published January 17, 2008

A short time ago, we changed the Psalters in our choir stalls and thus started the liturgical cycle of ordinary time. On the morning the change took place, I reached down to the shelf in front of my place at choir and pulled out the large Ordinary Time Psalter, dusted it off a bit, and took the Advent/Christmas Psalter from its place in front of me and put it down on the shelf. I set up the pages for the morning’s Vigil office. They were easy to find—the pages of the Ordinary Time Psalter are much easier to navigate, primarily because they are used more frequently during the year and there is not much variation in the turning of the pages.

I stopped into the pantry for a cup of coffee early that morning. It was very early, about two o’clock or so. Brother Chaminade must have been there already since the coffee was already brewed. Like me, he also is a usual early riser. I poured the coffee, and on my way to the stairs I passed our Christmas crèche, which was just outside the pantry.

The figures were beautiful—we all know them: the infant Jesus and his mother, Mary, and father Joseph, the three Magi and a few animals and, above them all, an angel blowing on a large brass trumpet.

I could smell a nice odor of pine from our Christmas tree, which was nearby. Its lights were on and a plastic star, lit as well, rested atop the tree. The windows are still adorned with hundreds of Christmas cards, strung from one end of the wall to the other.

Later, in church, I gazed at the Christmas trees in our sanctuary and the crèche beneath the altar.

It was all taken away that day and stored somewhere in this vast building until next year. I thought about the overlapping of cycles that morning at Vigils. We were chanting away, quite familiar with the cadence of the psalms. Ordinary time has its own psalm tones, its own liturgical milieu, and it is very inviting because it is easy and familiar. Time does that. I remember stumbling through the Ordinary tones when I first came here. That was some years ago, now.

We tried hard to give as best an expression as we could to Advent and then Christmas and, of course, the New Year. The more difficult psalm tones demanded a more precise level of attention. A lot of energy and care went into the decorations, the preparing of meals, and the hosting of guests, several concerts in church. Many of us worked extra hard shipping the Christmas items from our Abbey Store. The months of November and December usher in a very different routine here and it is one that can be disturbingly different from that of the “ordinary” rest of the year. The abbot wisely reminded us in the midst of the Christmas fever that it is a stressful time and to be aware that lights will indeed twinkle on our trees—but to try and avoid any sparks that might fly between ourselves. He has a good way with gentle, timely reminders to keep our cool in a potentially hot-tempered season.

So, for a few weeks now, the monastery has taken on the visage, the trappings, of Ordinary time. Which means that there will be no decorations other than what simply is. There will be nothing special to be erected or lit or strung. Christmas was a time when we adorned our walls, windows, psalm tones and church with as much beauty as we could.

Now the greens and golds and reds give way to what is always beneath, awaiting its return to its rightful place in ordinary life.

It is, now that I think about it, as if something is being unwrapped.

It is as if a gift is on its way, arriving from the enhancements of Christmas.

And I like to think that it is the best gift of all, for it is the meaning of Christmas.

For today, and every day in this ordinary time and life, all that we see and touch and hold is of grace. It is imbued with the living presence of God.

The gold of Christmas recedes and in its wake leaves a better awareness as to what it meant and means. For the meaning of Christmas is the invitation to return to what is “obscure, hidden and laborious,” to borrow words from St. Benedict, and to trust that in all these things—in the very ordinary matter of life, God has chosen to make his home and grow.

We set aside a time and make it extraordinary with lights and ribbons, crèches and song and the exchanging of gifts and, amidst it all, might wonder about the presence of God.

And God sets aside all that is of this ordinary day, a Tuesday in January, and busies himself with his decorations—adorning this day with all that is human, all that is ordinary and lovely precisely because its ordinariness, all that is hidden, so that we might strive to find God and each other through hope, faith and love—these gifts that shall sustain us all until we once again need the decorations of our own making.

How beautiful this day shall be, another day of God’s gift of himself, a Gift in the making.

Trappist Father James Stephen Behrens is a monk at the Monastery of Our Lady of the Holy Spirit in Conyers. His books are available at the monastery Web store at His new book is“Portraits of Grace: Images and Words From the Monastery of the Holy Spirit.”