We are currently in the midst of Ordinary Time on the church calendarthe time between the times, or even “off season,” to borrow a sports metaphor. Although not in this year’s cycle, Christians usually encounter a gospel reading from John and the first miracle at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. Filled with food and laughter, this wedding becomes the place where Jesus fulfills his mother’s desire and turns water into wine. He chooses in this moment to embrace the joy of the dance.
Eating, drinking, laughing, and dancing are earthy activities that point toward the liturgical color of this “time between the times.” It is a reminder that behind the great dance of creation stands the Lord and Giver of Life. Hildegard of Bingen suggested as much when she identified the Spirit’s activity with viriditas, a challenging word to translate. Despite its archaic nature (or maybe because of it), I prefer verdancy to the more mundane greenness because Hildegard intends to underscore a lush and rich landscape teeming with life and fragrance. It evokes ideas of freshness as when the dew first settles upon the earth and all is alight with a sheen of radiance and glory; and fecundity as the way in which fields once barren in winter’s snow can suddenly spring forth into life, transforming a dormant world into a paradise of sights and smells.
It is through the Spirit’s verdant presence that Mary’s womb becomes a source of life and that human lives once barren and broken can become a habitation of divine beauty that is filled with virtue and power. In Hildegard’s words, “the sweetness of the Spirit is boundless and swift to encompass all creatures in grace, and no corruption can take away the fullness of its just integrity. Its path is a torrent, and streams of sanctity flow from it in its bright power, with never a stain of dirt in them; for the Holy Spirit Itself is a burning and shining serenity, which cannot be nullified, and which enkindles ardent virtue so as to put all darkness to flight.”
While the Spirit’s creative energy brings forth the incarnation, the passion of the Son communicates to the church the gift of fertility that she may bring forth sons and daughters of God. As persons turn toward the life-giving flow of the Son, they themselves become a sweet fragrance “like a garden filled with every kind of plant.” The fragrance of life found in the Son and the Spirit is Hildegard’s way of saying what Julian of Norwich would later declare in the face of the Black Death: All shall be well. The pain and suffering of the crucified pronounces the verdict of judgment upon death. To borrow a phrase from John Owen, it is the death of death in the death of Christ. This divine verdancy symbolized in the liturgical color of Ordinary Time gives hope in this “time between the times.” It signals that the dance of creation ultimately will not succumb to the forces of darkness since the Lord of the dance is always present to bring forth new life.
Hildegard’s vision of the verdancy given in the Son through the Spirit suggests that the Twenty-Third Psalm is a pilgrim’s song in which is expressed not so much a longing for another place as a longing for the transformation of this place, especially as it is rendered in verse by John and Charles Wesley.
1 THE Lord my pasture shall prepare,
And feed me with a shepherd’s care;
His presence shall my wants supply,
And guard me with a watchful eye;
My noon-day walks he shall attend,
And all my midnight hours defend.
2 When in the sultry glebe I faint,
Or on the thirsty mountains pant;
To fertile vales and dewy meads
My weary, wandering steps he leads;
Where peaceful rivers, soft and slow
Amid the verdant landskip flow.
3 Though in the paths of death I tread,
With gloomy horrors over-spread,
My steadfast heart shall fear no ill,
For thou, O Lord, art with me still:
Thy friendly crook shall give me aid,
And guide me through the dreadful shade.
4 Though in a bare and rugged way,
Through devious lonely wilds I stray;
Thy bounty shall my pains beguile:
The barren wilderness shall smile,
With sudden greens and herbage crown’d,
And streams shall murmur all around.
With its celebration of earth-bound existence and its symbolism of final consummation, Jesus’ miracle at the wedding in Cana of Galilee reminds us of C. S. Lewis’ proclamation that “joy is the serious business of heaven.” It is both an affirmation of the fundamental goodness of creation and its necessary transformation as it is caught up into the dance of God’s own life. Lewis’ query about heaven puts the matter before us succinctly: “for surely we must suppose the life of the blessed to be an end in itself, indeed The End: to be utterly spontaneous; to be the complete reconciliation of boundless freedom with orderwith the most delicately adjusted, supple, intricate, and beautiful order?” For now, the frivolity of dance must be confined to the off hours of “ordinary time,” but one day all creation will dance in the presence and power of the Triune God.
We launched the First Things 2023 Year-End Campaign to keep articles like the one you just read free of charge to everyone.
Measured in dollars and cents, this doesn't make sense. But consider who is able to read First Things: pastors and priests, college students and professors, young professionals and families. Last year, we had more than three million unique readers on firstthings.com.
Informing and inspiring these people is why First Things doesn't only think in terms of dollars and cents. And it's why we urgently need your year-end support.
Will you give today?