How You Spend Your Days…

Our students have now completed 9 weeks of what we call “Ordinary Time” at Act Five. This thing called “Ordinary Time” is what makes our gap year program both dynamic and uniquely challenging. These are the weeks where life is “normal”. Students exist within the big home on Blake Street and in the Blakeley Neighbourhood, and they practice living life in the day-to-day – without the allure of big trips or mountaintop experiences.

Ordinary time is an invitation to be present and to practice living well. 

Act Five director, Jon Berends, wrote in a previous blog post, “Considering the many forces in the world that compete for our attention and the lie that whatever is happening out there is more appealing than the seemingly mundane moments of our own daily lives, this work of practicing presence and leading our students to do the same is countercultural.” This invitation continues to illuminate our work and life here.

“How we spend our days, is of course, how we spend our lives”

Annie Dillard

A quote by Annie Dillard has come to help us frame our Ordinary Time at Act Five. It goes, “How we spend our days, is of course, how we spend our lives”. Ordinary time is when we choose to declare that our ordinary moments matter. When we choose to be present to ourselves, others, and the plain, boring, messy realities of the every day. Even when it’s hard, and even when it’s painful. 

Ordinary Produces Creativity

During these weeks, our students eat meals, go grocery shopping, do chores, sleep, go on walks, pray, eat some more, clean up again, drink coffee, do homework, learn in classes, take the city bus, and repeat. As our students participate in this, we begin to notice a few things start to happen:

  • Music arises from the living room piano and other spaces in the home, followed by impromptu jam sessions
  • Creative projects take shape
    • This year, a few students have taken weekends to completely redesign the shed interior to make it another hang-out space! It is now fully insulated, with lights, a dart board, a foosball table, and a space heater! 
    • Other students hosted a “coffee outside”, event. They served coffee to neighbours in the morning as they walked by to drop their kids off at school
  • People experiment with new recipes and delicious dinners make their way to the table
  • Students explore the city within which they live, meeting new people along the way. They frequent local churches, coffee shops, and libraries
  • Games are played (D&D has become a favourite this year!)

Ordinary time is also difficult. It is when all the glamour and excitement of joining a program like this fades away. The canoe trip is over, another trip looms on the horizon. But it not close enough to feel like a nearby reprieve, and students are left with the challenge: 

Will you have the courage to be present? 

When asked to give some reflections on Ordinary Time in Act Five, student Barak said, “Whenever we go away, most of the time we are leaving the city. The more we do that, whether for learning or retreat, it seems like people hold less expectation for how things could be. They let things be as they are because we learn that profound experiences can be had anywhere.” 

Similarly, Tiffany says, “You often see a different side of everybody when you’re away. And when you’re home, it shifts again. Interesting how now when we come back from trips people have started referring to this place as “home”. Alumni, when they come for Spaghetti Wednesday, say this place still feels like home to them. A lot of this is because of the ordinary time they spent together here. We see the good in each other and have grace for one another as we come to and from each day, and see all these sides of each other. Plus, the errands that are usually so boring usually turn into some kind of adventure!”

Our desire as Act Five staff and leadership, is to encourage students towards a wholehearted life in the present. This is where they might meet God. This is where they might practice the full life – and learn to walk in it. The present, with these people, is where they might begin to become fully themselves. This is the invitation for each of us, is it not? To step into the right now of our lives. To take a deep breath and see where we are. To exist fully in the tension of joy and sorrow, embracing ourselves, others, the natural world, and God in abundant hopefulness. 

Blessings in this waiting season of Advent,

Alyssa, Program Lead


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