The Grace of the Ordinary
We wake up in the morning, don our clothes the same way each day, brush our teeth, eat breakfast, and assume that the day will be ordinary. There is nothing wrong with this assumption. Thanks God for the grace of the ordinary. Imagine what it would be like to awaken daily and have to decide whether or not to wear shoes. Bad enough that we have to decide which shoes to wear.
Truth is, we can know God’s presence in ordinary events. We say grace at meals to hallow the ordinary. In some churches the fixed and firm parts of worship services are called the “ordinary” because the core of weekly worship remains the same. We tend to forget the presence of God, however, in ordinary life. That is why we say blessings for food and family and friends.
In everyday life we bake bread, make a home, walk in the park, talk with friends and fellow workers about small stuff. But it’s a life and why not enjoy it? Ordinary life is to enjoy.
We may not notice the ordinary. Catholic theologian Karl Rahner wrote that we live in grace as fish do in water. Does a fish notice the water in which it swims? Only if it jumps out of the pool. We find it hard to remember ordinary blessings. Our traditions teach us to beware the extraordinary, since we put too much stock in it and forget ordinary blessings all the more. We can idolize the extraordinary but we live in the ordinary.
Monumental tragedy is also an extraordinary experience, and it brings a sense of God’s presence know in absence, as in “where was God when…?” The tragedy may be so staggering in weight and complexity that we remember the holiness of the ordinary in stark contrast to the horrifying evil. You don’t wake up in the morning and think, Perhaps today someone will fly an airplane into my workplace and kill me and thousands of other people in a wanton act of destruction. That’s not ordinary. We all sit up in bed, yawn, scratch our spouse’s back if we are privileged to have one, get out of bed, get dressed, and do the daily routine.
We count on life to be ordinary. Ordinary life makes the world go round. Ordinariness makes life manageable. This makes it all the more incredible to turn on your TV and discover that your world has been blown apart, that a familiar skyline is being re-arranged by destruction rather than by construction. 9/11, as it is now universally known, was extraordinary. Ten, fifteen, or twenty people killed by suicide bombers in Pakistan or Iraq – that’s extraordinary. When these events become ordinary, we have become callous and callow, numbed into submission to evil.
Thank God for the grace of the ordinary. Thank God for the presence of those who enhance the ordinariness of your life. Thank God for the small issues you deal with from day to day, from crabgrass to crabby relatives, from school deadlines and candy sales to job hassles. Don’t make idols because when you do, you lose sight of the One who is seen veiled through the ordinary. Don’t forget to bless the ordinary gifts and people who grace your life.
Keep in prayer those who have lost their lives or their loves through acts of violence that are extraordinary. These are not normal things. These are the face of evil in our time. But don’t let them obscure the face of God, who may be known best in and through the ordinary – even when we sometimes fail to notice.
published 16 Oct 09