"Ordinary Time" seems an odd way to describe any time within something so sacred as the church calendar, as if drawing attention to the fact that this period of time isn't quite as important as the others. You might get bored. Just a warning. You might feel like you're walking through days of nothing-special-going-on-here.
The word ordinary as used by the church actually means "ordinal" or "numbered," as in, a set number of days not marked by any feasts or high holy days. So in a way, "ordinary" is not so far from the truth.
It is the beginning of the third week of Ordinary Time according to the church calendar, and in the past few days, we slipped quietly from packing lunches and homework routines, into the calmer days of summer and rest. As much as I love the heightened wonder and focused worship of the Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter seasons, stepping into this Ordinary Time, I wonder what it may hold. "In Ordinary Time we live out the extraordinary mysteries of the earlier cycles of the year, the Light of God incarnate and the life of Christ resurrected. These shape what we do and who we are to be." writes Bobby Gross in his book, Living the Christian Year
So in the numbered, not so fancy, ordinary days, we get the chance to work on the rhythms of our daily life that help us embody and grow into the spiritual truths we aspire to believe. That's where I'm at-- and why in some ways this paced, long haul of regular-ness has me leaning forward with eagerness into Ordinary Time.
Yesterday morning our rhythms became anything but ordinary. As the family went about getting ready for church-- I yelled out from the bathroom, asking where the baby was, thinking I heard a muffled cry and that somehow she had been abandoned by whoever was playing with her. This is not an abnormal occurrence. At fifteen months she can walk and wander and we keep an eye on her, but people get-- well, distracted.
I went searching. She was in the bathroom, the door closed. A bad sign, since it is an off-limits area for her. I opened the door to find her standing there, mouth and shirt soaked with liquid, a frightened and uncomfortable look on her little face, a bottle of cleaning fluid on the floor next to her, cap nowhere to be seen.
We ended up taking her to the pediatric emergency room at the local hospital, the largest in Sichuan Province and thus a mecca for every family within hundreds of miles seeking the most trusted medical care. The look and feel of it, however, would not convince you that this was the case.
The nurse recommended stomach pumping as the only safe option-- as we were unsure how much of the chemicals she had downed. There was a lot of burping and crying and discomfort so I knew she had swallowed something. I vowed to switch all my cleaning products to water and vinegar when we got home. I prepared for a long day of a misery and waiting and traumatic tubes being shoved down my baby's throat.
She survived the procedure (thanks to skilled and careful nurses), shaken and worn out from the experience but otherwise perfectly healthy. No small thing to be thankful for. And I was. On this very un-ordinary of days, the Scripture readings for the week had pointed me earlier that morning, before chemical digesting babies and emergency rooms, towards Proclaiming Good News. Who can you pray for this week, that God would bring them healing or open their heart to the gospel?
The hospital corridor where we waited 11th in line to get into the cramped ER room, was packed with the hurting and the sick and everyone in some kind of need. I watched a minority woman huddled in a corner, her small baby with big eyes sitting listless on her lap as she hid her tears from him, weeping words into her phone. A young girl sat next to me, skin puffed and yellow, her entire body looked toxic. She had on pink plastic sandals that strapped around her swollen ankles, her feet pinched and overflowing the bubble gum colored shoes like a marshmallow being squeezed by a child. I wanted to reach down and take those shoes off her poor feet. She eyed me and I smiled. What to say? Margot touched her arm, the girl looked uncertain but edged a smile back before her grandmother came to get her.
We moved into the ER where all the beds had multiple children on them, families hovering with worry covering their faces. One woman wept silently, leaning over her boy and checking his breathing repeatedly. After the tubes came out, a worn out Margot collapsed asleep in my arms and I sat again, watching the people. A mother on my left was nursing her newborn. Only 4 weeks old, she said. Again, the look of worry. He wasn't breathing properly. A lot of mucus they couldn't get rid of. The doctors thought something was wrong with his trachea. He looked like another baby I had known, who hadn't lived much longer than a year.
I found myself longing for the sudden gift of healing to overwhelm me-- to place my hands on all of these children and mothers and families and speak a word of power that would comfort and end their suffering. I was afraid to speak out loud in the ER though. Afraid my Chinese was too simple, or their pain too heavy for a strange foreigner to start praying over them. The nurses were working so hard, so diligently-- with such a vast array of need. Why couldn't I buck up and be a little more emotionally stout?
Perhaps I was not as bold as the morning prayer had called me to be. I admit boldness is not my thing. This is as much a story of "should-haves" as anything. Instead, I held Margot and moved my lips silently, asking for all the promises of the Trinity-- the love of God over us, the mercy of Christ given to us, the presence of the Spirit with us. God of all comfort... comfort these people.
We left fully intact, home to a waiting and anxious family, more aware than ever of my weakness as a mother, our frailty as humans, our dependence on God and the ordinary urgency to Proclaim Good News.