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Art and the Church

Beth Bevis: Living the Church Year

Living the church year: an invitation

by Beth Bevis
What does it mean to “live the church year”? How can we recover a more ancient way of looking at time and the mysterious relationship between the material and spiritual realms?
The early Christians believed that the rhythm of the year gave us a perfect opportunity to re-enact the story of our salvation. In the holy days and seasons of the church year, the life of Christ and the entirety of human history are recapitulated. The eternal is aligned with the here and now.
Advent is the first "season" of the Church calendar. It begins this sacred year because it looks forward to Christ's birth, the event that brings about the "new creation" of a people redeemed by God. Christmas celebrates Christ's Incarnation and Epiphany his "manifestation" to the whole world.
Later, in Lent, we have another time of preparation as we look to the Passion on Good Friday and the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. After the Easter season comes Pentecost, which recounts the descent of the Holy Spirit on the disciples and the beginning of the church's life on earth. Finally, the long season of "ordinary time" after Pentecost reminds us of the story we are living now: the church in time. At the end of ordinary time we look to the end of time ... and then with Advent we begin the cycle again.
Another layer of the Church year involves remembering those in human history who have lived extraordinarily holy lives, and who thus serve as models for us. So the seasons are punctuated by memorial days that celebrate the saints and martyrs of the church.
The act of remembering becomes effective in our lives only when we share that memory with others. We do that through worship, and in particular through the corporate act of worship known as liturgy. The Greek word for liturgy means "the work of the people." It is constituted by the actions we take-the physical gestures, prayers, or other customs-that make faith a tangible presence in our lives.
Liturgy, too, is incarnational, involving our bodily and sensory participation in worship. Each season in the liturgical year, then, comes with its own set of traditions - sights, smells, and sounds that involve our senses; and readings, prayers, and practices that call us to undertake certain activities. Each of the seasons and holy days of the church year is marked by practices that reflect the meaning of that season or day. There are times for feasting and for fasting, preparation and celebration.
In the various seasons of the Christian calendar the meaning of Incarnation and Salvation unfolds for us in the myriad gestures of prayer and worship that help us to align our lives with the rhythm of the church year.
Published in Greg Pennoyer and Gregory Wolfe (ed.): God with Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas, Paraclete Press – Brewster MA, 2007.
God with Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas is a rich tapestry of a book, containing meditations for the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany by some of the leading spiritual writers of our time.