How Protestant Christians can benefit from the “sacred rhythms” of the Christian Year

“If you stop trampling the Sabbath,
    stop doing whatever you want on my holy day,
    and consider the Sabbath a delight,
    sacred to the Lord, honored,
    and honor it instead of doing things your way,
    seeking what you want and doing business as usual,
    then you will take delight in the Lord.
    I will let you ride on the heights of the earth;
    I will sustain you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob.
    The mouth of the Lord has spoken.” – Isaiah 58:13-14

– author Derek Maul in (chilly) North Carolina

Our experience as living beings involves a variety of beneficial rhythms. The ebb and flow of breathing, our beating heart, the meter built in to the way we walk or run; sleep patterns, meals, work and then weekends.

Likewise, the physical world moves in predictable cycles. The sun rises, the moon waxes and wanes, the tides draw in and recede; our planet tilts, rotates, and transcribes its elliptical journey around the sun; springtime follows winter, the days lengthen in the summer, harvests come, the Earth cools again; water moves in response to gravity, evaporates into the atmosphere, is collected into clouds, and returns as rain.

There is a section in one of my books where I talk about the need to extend this sense of pattern and movement to the practice of sacred rhythms. This is important to understand because our spirits need to breathe in sync with God in the same way our bodies breathe, and the planet is sustained by its movements and seasons.

The creation story in Genesis sets out a seven-day cycle of work, reflection, and rest, so God commands that we honor Sabbath restoration, and the refreshment of recreation. The times and seasons of our spiritual lives are meaningful markers, guidelines, and encouragements in our journey.

Hence the “Christian Year.”

As a Presbyterian Christian I understand many of my Protestant brothers and sisters define faith as very specifically “Not Catholic”! This may be something you find yourself doing. This approach tends to reject anything that smacks of ritual, liturgy, ornamentation, sacrament, and any perceived complex religious practice.

In consequence, much that is valuable, inspirational, and instructional gets tossed too, including most of the ecclesiastical calendar. Christmas – yes; Advent – no. Easter – yes; Lent – no. Shrove Tuesday, Mardi Gras and the pancakes – (maybe) yes; Ash Wednesday – no!

But I have found a real richness and positive spiritual discipline when it comes to living my life in response to sacred rhythms. Familiar paths (rituals and routines) can take us to familiar places; and when that place is the presence of God that is not something I want to miss. I’m talking about church Sunday mornings (especially during this pandemic), and daily practices too.

I found this helpful graphic that beautifully illustrates not only the cycles of the Christian Year but also the balance between “The Story of Jesus” and “The Story of the People of God.”

In other words, studying, observing, participating in, and being inspired by the various elements of the Jesus story equips and sustains us in the way we respond. Even Ordinary Time is anything but nondescript, as it holds a sense of urgency to live in and then live out the life God’s Spirit breathes into us.


– Hoping to be your guide through Advent

We are now in the season known as Advent. If we engage the idea of expectation and promise, and if we learn about the “Hope” we have in Jesus, the “Peace” of God that passes all human understanding, the “Love” that will not let us go, and the “Joy” that is ours as we live in the Spirit, then we are intentionally aligning the rhythms – the meter – of our spiritual lives with that of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

The Christian Year is not some ritualistic distraction from life in Christ, it is a vehicle for understanding and practicing all that Jesus offers us.

Because He lives – DEREK

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