Green and Growing

Pentecost and Youth Sunday combined at St. Mark’s, and we had a graduating senior give the homily, so no sermon from me today. Instead, here’s an article about the season following Pentecost. It is an update to a piece I wrote many years ago for Episcopal Cafe.

Every February of my college years, the entire student body suffered from a mass case of seasonal affective disorder. The campus of Sewanee is one of the top five most beautiful spots on the planet, but the beauty of the Domain was difficult to appreciate during that dreadful month. What neophytes mistook for simple fog, veterans of Sewanee winters knew was in reality a low-hanging raincloud that hovered over the campus, sapping students of the will to do anything besides curl up under a blanket and nap. The weather lasted for weeks, and when the sun finally broke through the clinging barrier, we students discovered our vigor once again, as if by some sudden leap in evolution, we had developed the ability to photosynthesize.

A version of this same seasonal affective disorder hits Episcopalians every year within a few weeks of Pentecost. We look out over the vast expanse of the upcoming liturgical calendar, and we see nearly a month of Sundays with seemingly no variation, with nothing peculiar to distinguish one day from the next. It’s a sea of green, and without the concurrence of wedding season, the Altar Guild would forget where the altar vestments are stored.

We call it the season after Pentecost – even the designation gives it the sound of an afterthought. At first glance, those legendary church year framers seem to have measured the year wrong. They only programmed six months! What’s there to do with the rest, those twenty-odd Sundays after Pentecost that stretch on interminably during the dog days of summer and into the heart of autumn? Truly, we blanche at the long months and wonder if the Holy Spirit has enough juice in those Pentecost batteries to get us to the first Sunday of Advent.

The other liturgical seasons are nice and short; indeed, no other season creeps into double digits. The season after Epiphany gets the closest, sometimes reaching as high as nine (we had eight this year), but it can’t quite get there. And the short seasons always (and satisfyingly) lead somewhere: Advent moves to Christmas Day; Christmas season to the Epiphany; the Sundays after Epiphany to Ash Wednesday; Lent to Easter Day; Easter season to Pentecost. Each season is like crossing a river or lake to the next feast or fast on the other side. But the season after Pentecost is an ocean, and Christ the King Sunday (November 26th this year) is in the next hemisphere.

But while it might be tempting to slip into a seasonal affective disorder and slide away from church because of this long, long season we just began, I’d like to suggest something that Godly Play has taught me. The Godly Play story about the church year gives the season after Pentecost a different spin, one that contrasts nicely to the bleak picture I painted above. Godly Play calls the Sundays after Pentecost the “green and growing Sundays.” I love that image. The altar vestments are green: the color of new life, of growth, of going places (think of green traffic lights).

So this year, rather than bemoaning the fact that these Sundays after Pentecost are just one long, interminable season, think about these next few months as an opportunity to do some growing of your own. Usually when we take on a new discipline that will help us grow, we do well for a few weeks and then it falls away. (That’s how I am with exercising…ugh!) But the season after Pentecost gives us six whole months to build that discipline into our lives so that we can continuing growing in God. Pick something that will help you grow and make a promise to yourself to stick with it at least until those altar hangings go back to purple. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Read a chapter or three of the Bible everyday. Skip around. Don’t start at the beginning or you will quit in the middle of Leviticus.
  • Start a simple journal of the ways you feel blessed.
  • Commit to noticing something new every single day. Appreciate the new thing and give God thanks for your ability to notice.
  • Have a “tech sabbath” one day each week: turn off all your devices and see how you feel.
  • Sit in silence for a few minutes a day. Just breathe and when thoughts enter your mind, acknowledge them and then allow them to float away. Over the course of six months, lengthen your silence until you’re at 30 minutes. Set a timer on your phone so you’re not looking at the clock.
  • Keep your eyes, ears, and heart open for what God is up to in our neighborhood. Write down your observations and share them with others.
  • Pray a simple grace of thanksgiving before every meal.
  • Sing in the summer choir (rehearsals on Sunday mornings before church only)

What green and growing thing might you do for these next six months? Whatever it is, I guarantee those Holy Spirit batteries will have plenty of juice to get you to the First Sunday of Advent.

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