A couple streams of thought came together in my head today, bringing together some neat concepts and hopefully helpful paradigms for discipleship.
First, I was thinking on the top three basic liturgical colors: purple, white, and green.
- Purple is for preparation. It’s the color of royalty, reminding us that the King is coming, so we’ve got to get ready. Purple times, then, are times of increased discipline, self-examination, repentance, and purging sin from our lives.
- White for celebration. It represents our purity in Christ, the sinlessness that He bestows on us. White times are when we celebrate and rejoice in what God is doing in our lives.
- Green is for growth. With the reality of God’s work in us established, we strive to carry that reality with us into our ordinary lives, bringing Christ into every corner of our world and our inward beings. Green times are when the celebration is behind us, but we seek to apply that past to the present.
The Christian calendar, speaking broadly, is a cycle of purples, whites, and greens – particularly the Advent-Christmas-Epiphany cycle and the Lent-Easter-Pentecost cycle. Certainly we can fancy it up with reds, blue, and black (depending on how catholic you take it), but that’s the basic gist of it.
Then I was realizing that this is also a cycle of personal spiritual growth. We all go through times that are purple – introspective, purgative, in need of discipline. We all have times that are white – celebrations, milestones in our spiritual walk or personal life, spiritual highs, personal moments with God. We all have times that are green – processing our struggles and victories, and learning how to carry them with us so we can grow from those experiences. It’s not always as neat a pattern as the liturgical calendar, but they’re still recognizable phases that we all are constantly moving through.
Then I realized that these three parts of the spiritual cycle have strong connections to different perceptions of time. Purple is kind of a future-oriented time: there is a goal for the future which dictates how the present must be lived out. White is kind of a present-oriented time, celebration the present realities and timeless truths of the gospel. Green is kind of a past-oriented time: the celebrations are over, so now it’s a matter of keeping an eye on where you’ve been in order to guide where you’re going in the present.
To some extent, different churches favor different parts of this cycle. Catholic churches are often viewed as very purple, with a future-oriented view of the “hope of salvation” rather than the “promise of salvation,” and thus the rich range of spiritual disciplines that abound in those traditions. Charismatic or holiness or revivalist churches could be considered as particularly white in that they particularly focus on the empowering of the Holy Spirit, the power of God in us today. They don’t get all that hung up on the past or obsessed about the future, because “there’s work to be done right now!” Evangelical or reformed churches, then, can usually be characterized as green. Working from the baseline of the “completed work of Christ,” the work of the Church and in the individual Christian can carry on into the present, always with an eye back to the gospel events of the New Testament.
I could vastly lengthen this post by spiralling out various details of interactions, but I don’t want to ramble too long, so I’ll just allow myself three.
- Churches & individuals that favor the Purple phase of spirituality may look at the others as being presumptuous (that is, presuming to think that everything important is already finished and it’s all rosey and dandy from here on).
- Churches & individuals that favor the White phase of spirituality may look at the others as being too distracted from the present mission of the Church.
- Churches & individuals that favor the Green phase of spirituality may look at the others as basing their Christian lives or communities upon their own works or emotions rather than on the historical Gospel.
So to wrap this up, I realized from these converging lines of thought a more precise value of a shared Christian calendar. We’re all individuals with our own lives, constantly in our own situations and “personal walks” with God… there’s no way we can all be on the same page all the time. The calendar is not an artificial spiritual thing to be imposed on others, but rather, a natural expression of what we all go through in our own time and in our own ways. Indeed it offers an opportunity to share some of those phases of the cycle together, too, as we prepare for holidays together, celebrate holidays together, and move on from them together. But at the same time we also recognize that our own lives are moving very differently.
A church community, with or without a calendar, has to find a way of supporting all parts of this spiritual cycle. When a church (or worse, a whole denomination/association/whatever) gets too focused on just one of these aspects, then they’re cheating people of as full a ministry as they could be performing by denying part of their natural experience. If all I ever taught at Grace Anglican Church was that Jesus died for their sins and they’re all saved by grace (past-oriented, Green spirituality), there’d be little room for those times of reflection, wrestling with sin, or recognizing the Spirit’s continual work in & through us! A realistic and affirming balance must be maintained, and I am immensely thankful to be in a church that receives the Christian calendar, because it ensures regular opportunities to affirm & support each of these phases of Christian spiritual life, if I only just reach out and use the tool it offers.