Discovering Grace in Ordinariness

We had included this reflection in a monthly newsletter to our staff but wanted to make it available to friends of Word Made Flesh as well. Thank you for partnering with WMF and being a part of God’s work to bring healing, hope, and peace to our neighbors in need all around the world.

by Clint Baldwin, Executive Director

Earlier this month, I felt encouraged by God to bring a word I received to our staff in hopes that it might bolster all of our spirits. The reflection I shared stems from the book, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality by Belden C. Lane.  

In his text, Belden writes about the absolute need to “discover grace in the prolonged redundancy of ordinariness.”  This is certainly a message for folks primarily doing year-round administrative work (i.e., WMF International Office staff).  However, I believe that this is also a message for those who have repetitive mundane tasks throughout the year even though it might not be a primary orientation (i.e., WMF staff worldwide).  For instance, Belden notes and asks,  “We adjust to traumatic experiences more readily than we might expect.  Crisis brings its own rush of energy…There’s a strange comfort about the extraordinary, even the extraordinarily bad…[yet] How could I adjust to life’s untheatrical regularity when I’d been prepared for grand opera and dark tragedy?  I could handle bad news.  I’d worked at it all of my life…But how would I deal with the uneventful and commonplace? It was the disconsolation of the ordinary that I found most difficult to accept…I needed a spirituality of the uneventful, of the low places in one’s life that are neither deep nor exhilaratingly high.”

Of course, we believe that God is with us always.  However, Belden’s thoughts ring true; we don’t just need belief that is essentially a disembodied theory, but we need belief that is an ongoing holistic, embodied, experience (“a spirituality”) of God’s Presence in the uneventful.  How is this to happen? 

Multiple avenues toward developing awareness can be extolled, including conversational prayer that listens as well as initiates.  Yet, here I simply want to offer a few encouraging thoughts from others related to the recognition of the handiwork of God that is always all around us.  If we become more aware of the ubiquitous, pervasive nature of God’s Presence, our lives and our outlook on life will become more fully become immersed in and exemplary of Gospel understanding.  Such things often take time – they often develop and transform more slowly than we would like — but the Lord walks with us the entirety of the way.

I hope these following shared-thoughts inspire us all in the midst of our daily tasks and routines.
— “Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only [the one] who sees takes off [their] shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”  ― Elizabeth Barrett Browning
— “I want creation to penetrate you with so much admiration that wherever you go, the least plant may bring you the clear remembrance of the Creator ….One blade of grass or one speck of dust is enough to occupy your entire mind in beholding the art with which it has been made.” –St. Basil the Great (329-379), Hexaemeron, Homily V, “The Germination of the Earth”
— “[T]here is nothing that has been created without some reason, even if human nature is incapable of knowing precisely the reason for them all.” –John Chrysostom (354?-407), Homilies on Genesis 7.14
— “Some people, in order to discover God, read books. But there is a great book: the very appearance of created things. Look above you! Look below you! Read it. God, whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink. Instead He set before your eyes the things that He had made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that?” –St. Augustine (354-430), De Civit. Dei, Book XVI
— “The whole earth is a living icon of the face of God.” –St. John of Damascus (675-749), Treatise
— “I do not worship matter. I worship the Creator of matter who became matter for my sake, who willed to take His abode in matter, who worked out my salvation through matter….Because of this I salute all remaining matter with reverence, because God has filled it with his grace and power. Through it my salvation has come to me.” –St. John of Damascus (675-749), On the Divine Images 1:16
— “Christ wears “two shoes” in the world: Scripture and nature. Both are necessary to understand the Lord, and at no stage can creation be seen as a separation of things from God.” –John Scottus Eriugena (810-877)
— “Love all of God’s creation, the whole of it and every grain of sand. Love every leaf, every ray of God’s light! Love the animals, love the plants, love everything.” –Fyodor Doestoyevski (1821-1881), The Brothers Karamazov
— “If it were not for the outside world, we should have no inside world to understand things by. Least of all could we understand God without these millions of sights and sounds and scents and motions weaving their endless harmonies. They come out of His heart to let us know a little of what is in it”. –George MacDonald (1824-1905), The Highlander’s Last Song
Friends, I pray that the Lord graces you with eyes to see His Goodness even in the midst of the banal.  Hannah Arendt famously wrote about the “banality of evil” in her text Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil (well worth reading, a free e-version can be found by clicking the hypertext link), but there is ironically a banality of good too. The idea of the banality of the good is ironic in the sense that as we truly, deeply see, then the illusion of banality vanishes and the Good of the goodness becomes recognizable.                         

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