I was at a conference, half listening and half wondering what I had actually done with the first half of my life, when it dawned on me that the rhythms of the artists I had worked for in the music business were exactly the same as the historic Christian Calendar I was just beginning to understand.
In that moment I saw the possibility of drawing creative energy and spiritual renewal from the same place - history. Stay with me for a minute.
The Christian Calendar is the annual Holy-days' that we celebrate, built around the major events in the earthly life of Christ. While we live intentionally around the central days' (both are actually seasons) of Easter and Christmas, much of the annual Christian calendar was abandoned in the late Medieval period as the worship of Saints took over the historical celebration of the events of scripture.
For much of life I have let the larger context of the Christian calendar pass me by. It was my position as the lighting director for Asbury United Methodist Church in Tulsa that brought it to my attention as a new way to connect my life with the life of Jesus.
Christian Calendar Overview
Advent: For most of us it makes the most sense to start discussion of the calendar with Advent. This season precedes Christmas and is the preparation for the "coming" of Messiah.
Christmas: Christmas is the season of the great exchange. The exchange of gifts today should celebrate the exchange of divinity for humanity by Jesus.
Ordinary Time 1: Following Christmas is the first period of Ordinary Time (I just love this name). A period of regular old, boring, average, amazing life!
Lent: The 40 day period of Lent arrives on Ash Wednesday calling for lament and self-examination in preparation for Easter.
Easter: Easter is 50 day period after resurrection that celebrates the resurrection of Jesus (you've probably heard about this?).
Pentecost (Ordinary Time 2): This ends with Pentecost, celebrating the gift of the Holy Spirit. Then the long stretch of ordinary time that carries us back to Advent.
Down the Rabbit Hole
In my teens I discovered music and lost myself to it in the best way. It was my map for discovering the world. It carried me around the world, overseeing careers as a band manager. This meant I helped them as they created music, as they recorded that music and then as they promoted that music playing it live.
In my career, I witnessed songs being written and then recorded with such passion, and as the tour and promotion starts and the song gets played night after night, tour after tour and eventually, it became stale and those who created the song get bored. And so they stop playing and sometimes put it down for a while, go back to an ordinary life until a new song starts to sing its way into their head. All bands travel through this cycle in some way; They PREPARE music, they CELEBRATE music and then something changes
And what does all this craziness have to do with lights and the Christian Calendar? Although there is much detail that I have left unsaid, this cycle of PREPARATION- CELEBRATION- REST looked and felt very familiar to me.
As a lighting director it is my job to transform the space we gather to worship in, to tell the story of Jesus. In the most practical way we draw attention to what is most brightly lit. We create a mood with lighting and change it or allow it to linger.
As we immerse our lives in the life of Christ through the events of His life, celebrated in the annual Christian calendar, we are then inspired in new ways to create moods that reflect a life lived in Christ and to share that with the world around us
Let's get practical and talk about what this looks like.
The Season of Advent
Each ADVENT as we prepare for Christmas we try to find a new way to celebrate the birth of Jesus. It's easy to get stuck here, with attempting to find new eyes to see with. A life lived in the Christian calendar, preparing to celebrate each season and resting in between, can help to guide us to new areas of the story we haven't explored before with each season building on the last.
Advent often builds the excitement and importance of the Christmas season. As much as any season the lighting in season creates a mood. The immediate overall look of the room should draw you in and create a sense of wonder, ready to receive the most unimaginable gift.
I'm a big fan of lighting the environment, highlighting or concealing architectural features of your space; this is especially effective at Advent as we try to re-shape our ordinary environment into something extra-ordinary. I also think this is a great time of the year to celebrate our unity and oneness as a body using wide wash beams over tight spotlights that highlight individuals. This is a great change from the ordinary that helps the season to feel unique.
Preparing in Seasons of Rest
I would suggest you and those who will shape the look of Advent and Christmas, get together early in the summer and decide on the approach you will take.
It is critical to choose your color palate early so you can prepare slowly throughout the summer and fall. Last year we had a very traditional Christmas theme and so we stayed very closely to a red/green palate to support this. However, when we bought new decorations (in last year's sale) we chose silver and blue pieces to create a more modern look this year (don't tell anyone, it's a surprise).
As I prepare for next Christmas over the summer, I know my color palate and the broad direction we are moving in.
Transitioning the Seasons
Carrying the theme of each season through to the conclusion of that season will help your congregation to understand the Christian calendar and will allow you to build sets and lighting approaches that have a longer life.
I'm going to be honest and tell you we haven't done this very wellyet. Like many modern churches we are driven by a sermon series, this does not always correspond with the Christian calendar.
This Easter season I was convicted to carry some of our Easter themes through to Pentecost (See images and captions). While I struggled to make these connections this year, they will be central to my planning in the future.
Brief Season of Ordinary Time
As you start a new year between Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter there is a small period of ordinary time. This is a great time to re-fill your creative tank by seeking out some NEW things. This year we moved several key lighting fixtures during this season—-just to experiment. It turned out that liked the change and it became a key part of our Lent and Easter look.
Pairing the Seasons
Pairing the Advent/Christmas and Lent/Easter seasons with moments of significant change on the central days (or Sundays) is also very effective. As an example this year I mentioned earlier using a simple monochromatic palate for Lent, this year PURPLE, to highlight the Kingship of Jesus.
At Easter we celebrated with a burst of color! Always using the Lenten Purple somewhere to remind us of Lent but full of new shades complementing the tone of purple we have become accustomed to in this season. I also mentioned using strong RED and BLUE palates on Good Friday and Easter, the two colors you mix to get PURPLE.
Season of Rest
Pentecost is a long stretch of ordinary time that in the northern hemisphere arrives with summer and a slower season at church. Many travel and attendance lowers slightly in the summer. It's a great season to rest.
We are terrible at this, especially in the church. In the summer I try to relax my approach, using a single scene for the whole worship set. I will often make note of scenes that people really respond to during the year and repeat these over the summer, bringing back a look that people like is enjoyable to them and easy for the lighting team.
Pentecost, or summer, is a great period to train new volunteers. Also it's a time to allow others to carry some of the creative and practical weight' and give yourself a chance to rest.
With every season I encourage you to search the Scriptures, you may find a LECTIONARY (list of weekly scripture readings) helpful in speaking broadly to the season you are in. I encourage you with each new season PREPARE, CELEBRATE & REST - Listen to what the Spirit is saying.
The question will always be: WHAT IS GOD CALLING ME TO IN THIS SEASON?
For more information on the depth and life found in the annual celebration of the Christian calendar I recommend the following books: Calendar: Christ's Time for the Church by Laurence Hull Stookey and Ancient Future Time by Robert E. Webber