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Blessings in the Ordinary

Once a month, Julie and I go over and offer a worship service at St. Monica’s. Just this last Thursday, when the service was over, I was chatting and picking up bulletins to take them home and recycle them and I came upon a woman who was awfully confused. She very calmly looked at me and said, “I don’t know where I am. It’s like I went to sleep and woke up and don’t know what any of this is or where I am. I’m from Mondavi. Do you know where that is? Well, it’s… Mondavi.” I told her where we were and promised to help her find someone who could help her find her room and get oriented again, which I did. We walked out of the chapel together and I found a nice aid who took her in hand.

It seems to me that Jesus is sort of that kind of person. The world has gotten out of hand. We don’t know quite what is going on or quite what to do. We’re lost and searching for something that makes sense. And, truly, in the midst of it all we all sometimes wonder where God is. Jesus comes as a light in the darkness and says, pay attention, don’t despair, open your heart and open your eyes, see and know that the kingdom of heaven is at hand. (Matthew 4:17)

The kindom of heaven is not “yet to come,” it’s not a future reality that will be manifest at the end of the age, it is a reality here and now. This is what brings light to people walking in darkness. Look around, there is nothing that the Essence of All That Is is not part of, but we miss so much of this spiritual presence because it dwells in the ordinary. If we would only recognize the kindom at hand, then as Wayne Muller says, “ it will not eliminate our problems or cure our sorrows. But it will help us remember how strong and abundant is our wealth of beauty and grace that we have already been given, even in the midst of whatever difficult trials or challenges we face.”

Our spiritual transformation occurs most often in the commonplace of life, in the messages of the earth, the wisdom and metaphors present in our physical world and in our experiences. The more we see the sacred around us, the more we allow the ordinariness of life to bless us, the more beautiful and magical and holy life becomes.

U Thant, a Burmese seer, defined spirituality as “the tuning of the inner person with the great mysteries and secrets that are around us.” 

Consider your day for a moment. What is one ordinary thing that you see all the time, or do all the time, that you take for granted, but in a different light becomes sacred, beautiful, holy, connected? Think about that first sip of coffee or tea. Not only does it taste good, but it connects us to the tree that grew the beans, or the plants that are dried for tea. It connects us to the workers who picked them and those who roasted or dried them. It connects us to the earth that nurtured the plant and the sun and rain who nourished it. Such an ordinary thing has now become sacred and blessed.

Kent Nerburn, in his book Sacred Ordinary, tells the story of coming home from vacation in the desert southwest. It was 7:30 in the evening on a late spring day in Gallup, New Mexico. The sun was going down in a blaze of orange, turning the surrounding desert into a crucible of fire. It was beautiful, but he couldn’t take the time to look. He had gotten lost in the little town of Gallup with his wife asleep next to him and his young son curled up asleep in the back seat.

One turn after another seemed to take him farther, rather than closer, to the main road he was trying to reach.  It simply added to the irritation he already felt.

They’d been to Monument Valley and seen the power and majesty of it and the high desert of New Mexico. All of it made Nerburn want to go within, to seek his own spiritual space. He didn’t have the patience for the pit stops and questions about stopping to eat, or where they were going to stay. He was feeling tethered to family and finitude and was cranky about it.

Gallup was little more than a strip town, but his next turn found him on another dead end. Cursing everything the world had placed before him, he jammed the car into reverse. He wanted out of the car, out of Gallup, out of his family, out of his skin. He raced around the next corner only to slam on the brakes when the blazing sunset blinded him. He shielded his eyes and brought the car to the side of the road.

As his eyes adjusted and the world came back into view, he saw him.  A man sitting alone in a wheelchair in the center of a dusty, windblown lot. Papers were tumbling past him on a hot desert wind and small cyclones of sand rose up around him like furies. But he was still as stone. He sat there in that wheelchair like some great Egyptian temple god, hands in his lap, eyes cast skyward.

Nerburn watched him for a while, wondering if he needed help. No sane person would go out into that hot dusty lot to sit quietly in its center, with hot air and biting sand swirling around them. But then he noticed something. The man was moving his hands ever so lightly as he stared into the majestic evening sky.

Following the man’s gaze he could barely make out the small speck of a kite. The man moved his hands ever so slightly and the kite dipped and swooped again, then raced skyward. This man was not an ordinary kite flier, he was an artist, a choreographer. In his hands the kite moved like a song.

Nerburn, his anger and frustration forgotten, looked closer at the man. His shirt was buttoned up to his collar and a shock of black hair hung down over his forehead. He was Native American or Mexican. He had a quiet, almost beatific smile. He had no legs.

Here was a man who knew the blessing of the ordinary. He was someone bound by earth and limitations, and yet he was the one wearing a smile of peace, while Nerburn was feeling constrained. He put the car back into gear and moved slowly toward the highway, which suddenly wasn’t so hard to find. He didn’t tell his wife, or wake his son, but the man and the gift he gave stayed with him… he had given him eyes to see the richness of his gifts here on earth.

Sometimes we're jarred loose to see the blessing in the ordinary.

Tuesdays With Morrie, written by Mitch Album, tells the story of Morrie Schwartz who was dying of ALS, progressive nervous system disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord, causing loss of muscle control. Morrie had been one of Mitch’s favorite college professors. In the last months of Morrie’s life they rekindled their friendship into what eventually emerged as sort of a final class, a class on life.

This was the thirteenth Tuesday they had met. Morrie couldn’t move much anymore. He could only life his hand as high as his belly, and he had frequent coughing fits, sometimes lasting for hours. He could no longer sit up by himself or take care of any of his basic needs.

“What if you had one day perfectly healthy?” Mitch asked. “What would you do?”

Twenty-four hours?

Yep, twenty-four hours.

“Let’s see… I’d get up in the morning, do my exercises, have a lovely breakfast of sweet rolls and tea, go for a swim, then have my friends come over for a nice lunch. I’d have them come one or two at a time so we could talk about their families, their issues, talk about how much we mean to each other.

“Then I’d like to go for a walk, in a garden with some trees, watch their colors, watch the birds, take in the nature that I haven’t seen in so long now.

“In the evening, we’d all go together to a restaurant with some great pasta, maybe some duck – I love duck – and then we’d dance the rest of the night. I’d dance with all the wonderful dance partners out there, until I was exhausted. And then I’d go home and have a deep, wonderful sleep.”

“That’s it? Mitch asked.

“That’s it.”

But that was the point. The most beautiful, holy, sacred things are the simple things in life. Look around, the kin-dom of God is at hand, the essence of the Divine is everywhere, in everything, if only we would have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.

Love & Light!