The Ordinary Sacred
G.K. Chesterton possibly wrote:
“The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children.”
I wrote “possibly” above because I can’t find a citation where Chesterton actually said or wrote this so I’m not sure he did write or say it. I did find a discussion here concerning whether Chesterton wrote this exact phrase or not. Regardless of whether or not Chesterton actually wrote the statement I really like the point of the sentence so I’m going to use it as a starting point and admit that it might be apocryphal that he wrote the saying.
I’m not sure that you can rate sacredness but if you could I grow to believe a little more each day that ordinary moments done well (in light of God and others) are among the most sacred. The special or “mountain top” moments sure feel holy and majestic but I don’t actually think that their feel counts for much. The holiest moment of Christendom was the time Jesus spent on the cross and while we modern believers may get goose bumps thinking about it or during passion plays I don’t get the impression from scripture that anyone involved thought anything special was going on. Mainly people responded in fear, pain, and most sad of all, just plain ordinariness. For the vast majority of people who looked upon the crucified Son of God He was just another of thousands of crucifixions they may have seen during their lifetime. God was brutalized and hung upon a cross and Jerusalem went along with the typical business of the festival week. Nothing stopped. Ordinary life continued.
Jesus’s life before His ministry was probably amazingly normal and ordinary. The vast majority of Jesus’ life was made of activities that though sacred, because the Divine was involved in them, were so ordinary that no one considered writing them down. Almost nothing, other than one scene when He was a pre-teen, is written of Jesus from the age of 2 to 30. We expected God to come down and for everything He did to be extraordinary but instead most of what He did ordinary, which is so extraordinary that we struggle to comprehend it.
I am presently in love with a song by Waterdeep titled “Why Does God Have to Look So Human” from their musical “The Unusual Tale of Mary & Joseph’s Baby“. In this song Mary sings of the struggle she has when God presenting Himself within humanity and especially within humanity as a baby. To quote from last lyric of the song, “And he doesn’t look like power, oh no. Instead… He looks like me.” What I love about this song is its description of how the Incarnation brought humanity into God. When God chose to be Incarnate suddenly the ordinary became sacred because it became part of what God did. Eating, cleaning, working, napping, laughing, crying , etc. all became a part of the sacred because they were activities that Jesus, God incarnate, did. All of these became moments in which we can interact with the Divine.
I think this is part of the reason that I love Brother Lawrence‘s simple little book “The Practice of the Presence of God.” Lawrence tried to practice God’s presence in all that he did. Which is why it is said of Lawrence that “Peeling potatoes was more essential for Brother Lawrence’s spiritual growth than attending the evening prayer service because Brother Lawrence recognized that God was there in the kitchen as much as he was in the chapel. ” This wasn’t an excuse for Lawrence to miss evening prayer service as some people use similar phrases as excuses to miss their own religious duties. “I can connect with God while playing golf or fishing.” Yes you can but I would bet money that if you are using that as an excuse then you probably aren’t connecting with God during those times. You might feel a moment of the majestic but you aren’t really being connected with and changed by God. Lawrence recognized that God was in the kitchen and he allowed the divine to shape and change him even while he was peeling potatoes. Being in the kitchen was a prayer service for Brother Lawrence because the ordinary was sacred for him.
David Thoreau wrote “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”
My understanding of what Thoreau meant by that line and the sentences around it in Walden is that the vast majority of us live lives of misplaced value and then try to make up for that misplaced value with things like money, possessions, experiences, etc. To put it into the point of this post we have lives full of the mundane and try to make up for it with big meaningful, exciting moments that we call memories because we think these big moments are the most meaningful parts and what life is all about. “Ah! This is life!” Nope.
The ordinary is the majority of our life and therefore as a Christian I believe it is where we probably most interact with God. So therefore my encouragement today is for us to experience God in the ordinary today.
For me that will probably look like recognizing God in the midst of…
- eating breakfast with my wife and thanking God for her and the ability to enjoy my nourishment – Thank you for these tastes Father.
- removing pegboard from our smashed garage and being thankful for the ability to work and that the tree didn’t hurt anyone – You created me to have tired muscles, thank You for this feeling.
- finalizing the sermon for tomorrow and thinking about how God has and wants to work in and through Tapestry – Father, I am so grateful for the community of faith of which I am a part.
- walking Clive and being reminded of a magnificent Creator – Help me to be as loyal to You as Clive is to me.
- hopefully fishing with Noah recognizing the beauty with which God made His world. – What beauty you have put into the world Oh God.
- riding with Clive in the Mustang and enjoying the weather that God has given us – This wind and Bob Marley music are so wonderfully enjoyable, Thanks.
- reading in bed and enjoying the new thoughts and experiences that God allows me to have – How many ideas and stories have you allowed Father?
- ending my day with a prayer thanking God for it all for the ordinary can be sacred and hopefully today mine will be – Ahhh. You were in this day.
What a wonderfully, sacred, ordinary day today is going to be!