The Hallowed Corners of Life

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(a reprint from deep in the archives today. Because I needed a reminder.)

There are temples all over this place.

The dining room table, the kitchen sink, underneath the pear tree, the halls I walk at the hospital where I work…no tall arches or stained glass, no austere organ music or deep mahogany. Just these hands, this body, these people I weave in and out of every day.

I remind myself of this each day—each ordinary day: the ground I walk on is holy.

On this ordinary day, my two boys are home from school on a long weekend. I’ve taken the day off of work for their well-visits with the pediatrician. Here I learn we are behind on vaccines. And my eldest still has those big holes in the top of each eardrum. And today we find out his vision is impaired too.

The doctor shakes his head. And then he starts talking about surgery for the boy’s ears. Six shots and two flu mists later, we leave, armed with an order for blood work and a referral to a local optometrist.

We get home in the late afternoon and I do laundry, try to write a little, someone has stopped up the toilet, and I’ve promised a friend to stop by with dinner for a chance to hold her beautiful new baby.

These are ordinary things. Nothing particularly compelling in the going through them. They barely warrant a mention, let alone an essay. They are the stuff of life. Ordinary. And if I am not careful, that word ordinary can trip me up—give me excuse to assign little value to these passing moments.

But here the church gives me a good model of how to view time. The liturgical year is divided into the seasons of Lent/Easter, Advent/Christmas, and Ordinary Time. In this case the term “ordinary” does not mean “usual or average.” We get the term from the Latin word ordinalis, which means to be numbered in series. Therefore, Ordinary Time is called “ordinary” simply because the weeks are numbered.

But here’s the thing: in Ordinary Time, we are not focused on a specific aspect of Christ (such as the Nativity or the Passion). Instead, we celebrate the mystery of Christ as a whole—his life, ministry, miracles, and teachings. These days are no less holy, no less important for this lack—rather, they remind us to view all of life through the lens of holy. When God took on flesh and became one of us, didn’t he elevate the dignity of human nature for us all?

We are still in Ordinary Time now, but soon, Advent will be here. I turn a sock right-side-out on this dreary afternoon and think of this: that even in the high holy seasons, the moments of my life resonate ordinary. Doesn’t Jesus touch these ordinary moments too?

… Listen to your life,” Frederick Buechner tells me. “See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” (Buechner, Now and Then)

Life itself is grace. How else could we handle the news of the pediatrician? How else are we to handle the sick parents, the loss of that job, the dream left unrealized, or the plodding through of the same?

There is holy in the everyday moments; there is worship in the hallowed corners of my life. And there is nothing ordinary about that.

A variation of this article originally appeared at The High Calling.

Under a Different Sky: The Ministry of Imagination

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Yesterday morning when I walked the dog around the house the moon was a crooked smile in the sky. I saw Orion tipped over above me, candling the dark. The cicadas were in full strum and I listened to their morning song as we bended around back. The day began soft, sweet, and I felt summer thin on the edge. Autumn lurked—scent of wood fire on my skin.

This morning the sky is white with unshed rain and Bonnie and I hurry with her business. The air is wet against my skin, heavy. Without the stars to capture my eye, I lose my center. My mind flits through one thousand things I am doing or need to do or want to do. I feel like a mist-person—half here and half somewhere else.

Some days I long to be under a different sky. This place I toil in feels tired and I can’t help but agree with Solomon, “Nothing is new under the sun.” The days blur together and moments lose meaning. Time dissolves like sugar in water, but leaves behind no sweetness.

I’ve been reading Run with the Horses by Eugene Peterson. It’s a book about the prophet Jeremiah, the one we know as the weeping prophet. Peterson talks of Jeremiah’s creativity, seeming to describe him as a performance artist. This prophet went to alarming extremes to communicate the message of the Lord to his people. Yesterday, I read this:

 The great masters of the imagination do not make things up out of thin air, they direct our attention to what is right before our eyes. They then train us to see it whole—not in fragments but in context, with all the connections. They connect the visible and the invisible, the this with the that. They assist us in seeing what is around us all the time but which we regularly overlook. With their help we see it not as commonplace but as awesome, not as banal but as wondrous. For this reason the imagination is one of the essential ministries in nurturing the life of faith. For faith is not a leap out of the everyday but a plunge into its depths.”

For faith is not a leap out of the everyday but a plunge into its depths.

When life gets busy, this is what I tend to do: compartmentalize. I put my everyday life in one box and my spiritual life in another. Don’t we all do this? Our minds need to simplify for efficiency. Compartmentalizing is one way of doing this. But this can lead to a smaller life and narrow vision. Psychologist Ellen Langer, Ph.D. tells us this is one reason why adults lose their ability to stay present in the here-and-now—therefore losing that sense of wonder that so captivates children. We compartmentalize. We label. We oversimplify.

This is good, this is bad. This is sacred, this is secular. This is black, this is white. This is necessary, this is beautiful.

“But there have been times in history,” Peterson tells us, “when these things were done better, when the necessary and the beautiful were integrated, when, in fact, it was impossible to think of separating them.”

What if everything that is beautiful is useful? What if it inspires and unveils and pulls us deeper into relationship with God and each other? And what if everything that is useful was beautiful too? What if crafters of the utilitarian began to see their work as art? As a way to leave a mark on this world? What if?

I am working on my imagination, dipping into some of those great masters Peterson describes. I read poetry out loud every day—rub the lines between the fingers of my mind like prayer beads. I’m listening to music more, letting stories carry me away. I have found these do not take me under a new sky, but they open my eyes to the beauty of the one I am living under. Imagination opens up the sky and reveals the holy beyond.

 

Playdates with God: The Ordinary-Sacred

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On the first day of winter—the shortest day of the year—my pastor preached about the ordinary-sacred.

She asked us about our nativity scenes at home, about the figure of Mary. “Mary is often pictured kneeling with a serene expression on her face, or sometimes with her arms lifted high in praise.”

I thought about my kneeling Mary. I thought about my praising Mary. I thought about the babe lying untouched in the manger.

“First of all, how many women who have just given birth do you know who are able to kneel?” She reminded us what it means to be a new mother. It is a messy, tiring thing, this motherhood. It’s the kind of thing that requires hands on.

“If there is any time the holy family should be pictured as hands-on,” she said, “it’s Christmas. For this is when God became hands-on with us.”

My pastor introduced us to the sculptor (and professor) Tom Clark, who grew famous for his lovable gnomes. But he also does other sculpting, including some nativities. She showed us a picture of a nativity Dr. Clark had made in which a frumpy-looking Mary holds her infant close to her body, tiny face peeking out of swaddling clothes. The baby’s head rests in the nape of Mary’s neck, eyes closed, lips full and puckered. (You can see a photo of this beautiful work of art here, on the owner’s blog.)

I met with my Spiritual Director last week and she asked me about Advent. “It feels different this year,” I told her. “Usually, my heart feels tender, vulnerable, needy during this time. But this year it just feels raw.”

We wait for this Jesus. And because we know the end of the story, this waiting is tinged with sweetness. But some seasons? Life is just hard. Some seasons are rich with the rugged journey through the longest night, heavy with the stink of the stable, rife with the sleeplessness of new birth, and the tired of doing all that is required.

These are the seasons to remember this, “Mary didn’t keep Jesus at a distance. She held him close,” my pastor said. “This is the true miracle of Christmas … Just as all babies, his greatest need was to be held in human arms … ”

Jesus is not a God who requires us to stand back and praise him from a distance. He is Emmanuel, God with us. He touched the sick, embraced the sorrowed, held little children in his lap. His life illustrates how the holy comes to us in the midst of the ordinary. Over and over again.

In the dark season, I hold Jesus close. He is as near as my next breath, as close as a tear. And when I open my arms to the raw places in the world, He opens his arms to me. This is how we make it through the longest night, this is true Advent waiting: to wait in hope, with open arms, cradling the beautiful-ordinary as sacred.

Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us:

Laura Boggess

The View from Here

Yesterday, on the drive to work, the sky bloomed pink before me. I watched in wonder as that blush spread across the cheeks of the Kanawha Valley, coloring it all rose. Recently, when a new friend asked me about my book, I told him, “My life is quite ordinary, really. But when I learn to see the ordinary with new eyes—with God eyes … Love is new every day.”
This morning, I read about Jesus’ return to Nazareth as a boy. How, after Herod’s death, the Lord tells Joseph to return to Israel with his little family; and after a warning from God in a dream, they settle in Nazareth.
William Barclay has this to say about Nazareth:

“Nazareth lay in a hollow in the hills in the south of Galilee. But a young boy had only to climb the hills for half the world to be at his door. He could look west and the waters of the Mediterranean, blue in the distance, would meet his eyes; and he would see the ships going out to the ends of the earth. He had only to look at the plain which skirted the coast, and he would see, slipping round the foot of the very hill on which he stood, the road from Damascus to Egypt, the land bridge to Africa. It was one of the greatest caravan routes in the world … Jesus was brought up in a town where the ends of the earth passed the foot of the hilltop. From his boyhood days, he was confronted with scenes which must have spoken to him of a world for God.”

In my mind’s eye I see the boy Jesus standing on the hillside looking down at his world, curious—and I wonder what storms must have raged inside his young heart. This image calls to me, because—how many times have I stood on the precipice, dreaming good things for my small world?
Sometimes I have to climb up higher to see the beauty—I have to look from the outside in. God has tucked me into this life for a reason. He has chosen this view especially for me. I must see beyond the hills to see the beauty there is nestled between them.
What is within your view today? Do you dare name it beautiful?

With Emily today:


Playdates with God: Ordinary


Summer comes in wearing her golds and blues and sweeps us away in swaying grasses. We sit out back in the fading light and watch the fireflies wink. The days have been quick-disappearing and the only way to catch our breath is this sitting together—this quiet vigil we keep.

I close my eyes and listen to the crickets; lean my head back and let the cool of night settle on my skin. We talk about the way things have turned out different than we planned, about the hardness of that. But then, he touches my hand.

Time doesn’t wait—it is a rubbery thing. And this is one way to slow its constant spinning.

Be together.

Yesterday, in church, we talked about the widow of Nain. How Jesus gave her back her son. And in doing so, how he gave her back her life. We talked about resurrection moments—those pockets of restoration in our world today.

Here we are, ten weeks after Easter, still fresh-stepping into what the church calls ordinary time and our Bible story reminds us that we should still be thinking—that we should always be thinking—resurrection. But we are more comfortable with the ordinary, the everyday stuff. We have our lists to do. And resurrection certainly doesn’t make the list. We concern ourselves with the stuff of life. The Ordinary. And if I am not careful, that word ordinary can trip me up—give me excuse to assign little value to these passing moments.

But here the church gives me a good model of how to view time. The liturgical year is divided into the seasons of Lent/Easter, Advent/Christmas, and Ordinary Time. In this case the term “ordinary” does not mean “usual or average.” We get the term from the Latin word ordinalis, which means to be numbered in series. Therefore, Ordinary Time is called “ordinary” simply because the weeks are numbered.

But here’s the thing: in Ordinary Time, we are not focused on a specific aspect of Christ (such as the Nativity or the Passion). Instead, we celebrate the mystery of Christ as a whole—his life, ministry, miracles, and teachings. These days are no less holy, no less important for this lack—rather, they remind us to view all of life through the lens of holy. When God took on flesh and became one of us, didn’t he elevate the dignity of human nature for us all? Did he not infuse resurrection into the ordinary moments? Elevating the passing of time to something holy? When we number the days—when we count the moments, the moments count, don’t they? By simply paying attention our awareness of the holy in each moment is heightened.

When I live in the context of the holy-ordinary, time takes a deep breath…slows her pace.

He touches my hand. And eternity presses down on that one moment.

Resurrection. In that instant there is new life.

I’ve adapted this from an article that originally appeared at The High Calling earlier this year. Have you been over there? It’s a neat place. Today Glynn Young is writing for our book club discussion on Chip and Dan Heath’s book Decisive. Join us? You might want to join the network while you’re over there.

How do you embrace the God-joy? Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. Grab my button at the bottom of the page and join us:
The Playdates button:
 

Sharing with Michelle today too: