Susana Fernandez/Flickr

The Christian calendar year: A pilgrim’s map

Following the Christian calendar can be part of a maturing relationship with God and His creation.

It may seem unlikely that someone like myself, brought up in pragmatic Prairie evangelicalism, would be writing about the spiritual tradition of the Church calendar year. But truth be told, it is a tradition that has profoundly shaped my Christian self, and deeply informed my work as a troubadour for Christ.

Most Christians, knowingly or not, follow the calendar is some form or another. When I was young, my family yearly set time aside to observe Christmas, Palm Sunday, Easter and Pentecost Sunday. It gave a certain shape to our year that had us devotionally recalling significant moments in history where God revealed God’s self in profound ways. It never occurred to me however, that our observances were a truncated version of a much richer tradition.

Over the next months I’ll highlight certain aspects of the tradition that have been particularly meaningful to me. But to begin with, let me give a picture that may be helpful for those unfamiliar with the tradition.

Think of the Christian calendar as a “pilgrim’s map” leading to various and varied sites of profound spiritual encounter. Each site is a remembrance, a fast or a feast, which recalls and foretells of God’s character, and God’s ways—with God’s people—in God’s good creation.

Liz West/Flickr
Liz West/Flickr

The Christian pilgrimage, taken over a lifetime of yearly cycles, roots the pilgrim within the grander narrative of God in history and consequently, along with other worthy disciplines and adventures, forms the pilgrim’s Christian self: mind, body and spirit. It is a gift to us to help mark our days in “theological time,” as the Cambridge poet and Anglican priest Malcolm Guite refers to it.

While different traditions within Christianity have their own distinctive calendars, it is helpful to generalize about the Christian calendar by creating a picture in your mind of a globe with three continents.

One continent is called Christmastide, and within that continent are three provinces called Advent, Christmas and Epiphany. The second continent is called Eastertide, and within that continent are three provinces called Lent, Holy Week and Easter. The third continent is called Ordinary Time. It has no provincial distinctions but features a dramatic and varied landscape nonetheless.

Each of these continents is populated with mountains, valleys, forests, plains, townships and cities (i.e., the feasts, fasts and remembrances of the Christian calendar), all of which form a topographical landscape with roadways and rest stops throughout.

Like global representations of our earth, this map does not claim to represent a static reality, but rather, an ever-changing, dynamic reality. Over time, new mountains and valleys are formed. Some geographical features erode, while new ones emerge. Roadways and rest stops change, such that no two pilgrimages are ever quite the same. Each is unique from all others.

There are other vagaries that make each recurring pilgrimage unique—weather, for instance. Canadians will tell you that visiting Winnipeg in a snowstorm is a vastly different experience from visiting Winnipeg on a gloriously sunny summer day. So, too, with the journey through the Christian calendar year.

It is a different journey when experienced in a season of grief and loss than in a season of stability. But each varied encounter reveals a nuance of revelation that, over a lifetime, grows us into mature relationship with God and God’s creation.

In future editions of this column I’ll briefly highlight features that have been meaningful to me on my own journey, which may help you find a deeper richness in your own.

Winnipeg based singer/songwriter Steve Bell is the author of the multi-media e-book series Pilgrim Year: Scripture, story, song, poetry, and art to explore the Christian calendar. Available online at: www.stevebell.com/pilgrim-year

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About the author

Winnipeg based singer/songwriter Steve Bell is the author of the multi-media e-book series Pilgrim Year: Scripture, story, song, poetry, and art to explore the Christian calendar. Available online at: www.stevebell.com/pilgrim-year