In our life at Commoners Wesleyan Community we champion the presence of God in the ordinary. Ordinary Time in the Church calendar is a significant part of who we are. In a world that’s about noise, hype, the pursuit of bigger and better, and where so many expressions of spirituality are seeking lights, cameras, and action I believe we’re in desperate need of rediscovering the depth of spirituality that is right there in the rhythms of the ordinary and often mundane lives that most of us live. To that end our worship gatherings are quiet, repetitive, littered with moments of silence, and they convey simplicity. That decluttering and engagement with silence is an expression of good news in a noisy world. Even when things like silence are difficult, there is a whisper within them of something that the noise can rob us of if we don’t put it in it’s place and close the door to it from time to time.
In championing the presence of God in the ordinary, I thought I would offer some practical thoughts on how some simple, everyday experiences can convey the presence of God and a connection to the ongoing story of redemption, reconciliation and renewal that the Spirit is constantly enacting. Taking small opportunities to be mindful of those connections in the decidedly ordinary flow and stress of the everyday can help us spot the ongoing work of God’s Spirit in the whole of life – not just in the extraordinary.
Focused ‘spiritual’ disciplines such as silence, prayer, and scripture reading aside, here’s a list of only a few everyday, mundane activities and how I think we can understand their connection and see God in the ordinary.
- Waking up – taking an opportunity to be conscious of a first breath as we wake is a reminder that life is a gift, and of the breath God grants to us from his own being. (Genesis 2:7, John 20:22)
- Noticing the light when we wake up – If you get up early enough and are mindful of the light, you’ll notice it change as the seasons change. If there is a presence of nature outside your window you’ll also see that shift in plants. This places us within a bigger rhythm outside of ourselves – we are subject to those seasons. Being mindful of that change connects us and grounds us within creation. Psalm 19 talks of the silent message of God in the skies. (Psalm 19:1-6)
- Showering and brushing our teeth – our bodies are an expression of the creativity of God. They are complex and beautiful. They act as a temple for the presence of the Spirit. God has made us physical and we exist as part of a physical creation. Caring for our bodies is a participation in the caring of creation. Christ, the Son within the Trinity, was made flesh and through him we have been brought back to God. The physically empty tomb, and the physicality of his resurrection speak to the importance of our physical bodies as part of God’s story. (Romans 12:1, 1 Corinthians 6:19-20)
- Getting dressed – still associated with our body – what does it means to adorn the bodily temple? Since our clothes communicate something to those around us, what do we want to be saying? Our appearance can also affect our sense of ourselves and who we are, what posture do we want to have and how does our clothing affect that? For me this often means wearing a clerical collar and doing my best (on a budget) to make sure that everything else I wear conveys something positive as people connect the collar to the Church. Funnily, at home our visitors will sometimes find me more relaxed in what I’m wearing, or in my pyjamas – there’s a sense of comfort and warm hospitality for myself and them in that. It, in some way, says come as you are.
- Making the bed – the bed is a place for many things 😉 One of those things is rest and relaxation – a space for rejuvenation. It’s a place for calm and for sleep. When we make the bed we involve ourselves in preparing that place – a place where God recreates us. For me it’s also a place for reading – where I open my mind to curiosity and wonder. (Psalm 4:8)
- Exercise – this carries on from the beauty of our physical body (speaking of a deeper understanding of beauty than the shallow understanding conveyed on magazine covers). Because a lot of my work is sedentary, this is also a way to remind myself about, and to connect with, different parts of my body as I get my heart rate going. God has given me all of it.
- Preparing and eating meals – God is provider. Food is not a disconnected, arbitrary thing that magically makes its way to our plate and into our mouths. All food involves people and the earth – from cultivating, to harvesting, to production, to point of sale, to preparation, to consumption. In a world where food is scarce for countless numbers of people, the ability to eat is a gift we should be grateful for and enjoy. Food provides fuel and delight. Food eaten with others is a bed for helping conversation flow. Food connects us to our creator, the creation of which we are a part, and each other. Food gives life. When preparing food for others it’s also an act of generosity and if they prepare it with us, it connects us. (Acts 14:17)
- Doing the dishes (or vacuuming, cleaning, clothes washing, taking out the rubbish etc) – this is one that I loathe, but it’s important. For me, doing the dishes forces humility – it reminds me that in the face of my public profile and the ego stroking that can so easily go with it, I still need to do the mundane. Doing the dishes is a service, but it’s also an act of stewardship. In the story of creation (Genesis 1) God’s Spirit brings order, function, and flourishing into chaos and emptiness. Doing the dishes is participating in the ongoing story of renewal. As crazy as it might sound, doing the dishes is a minor image of God’s much bigger story. It can also be an earthy, grounding activity as we place our hands in water, sense the temperature and the change in temperature as we get the job done. And the act of regular discipline that it takes to just do the job is worthwhile.
Of course, there are plenty more activities throughout the day where we can know God in the ordinary. Feel free to leave a comment to add more and how you think they can connect to the story of God and the presence of the Spirit in our lives. Hopefully, in thinking this through, you can see how the presence of God in the ordinary can be experienced without the need for noise and hype. Becoming more mindful in this manner takes discipline when everything around us shapes us to be addicted to distraction and noise.
Allow me to add that I am no expert in mindfully practicing God’s presence in the ordinary in this way. I’m a pilgrim on the path of contemplation, and in my pilgrimage I am still a novice stumbling like a child (my wife will tell you that I often express my frustration at doing the dishes… like a spoilt teen), but hopefully pausing from time to time in wonder at the moments of God along the way.
I also want to acknowledge that life just straight up sucks sometimes and being told that God might be in the middle of it can sound stupid and condescending, especially if we’ve been sold an idea of God that’s about feeling good, levitation, clouds, and warm goose-bumpy fuzzies. Being mindful of the presence of God in the ordinary as described here can be a distant ‘that would be nice’ when your kids are vomiting, you’ve got diarrhea, your boss is treating you like crap, relationships are a struggle, or any other manner of rubbish that crowds your head-space and feels like it’s going to drag you down. I get that, and I experience it too… and when someone wants to act like a monk in the middle of it, there’s something satisfying about flipping them the finger internally (I would never condone it externally 😉 ).
In response though, allow me to say that if God and the story of Jesus are to have any relevance then they have to be able to whisper to us in those times as well (even if it’s just in hindsight)… otherwise it’s just an airy-fairy story for people who want to climb mountains, sit in the lotus position and pretend that reality doesn’t exist. I reject that – I believe the Gospel, the story of God incarnate – the story of Jesus as flesh and blood and as one who suffered, is at its best in those rubbish times. Even the simple, hard, but faithful journey of getting up, feeling it, dealing with it (or not ‘dealing with it’ if that idea conveys that you’ve got to be some sort of strong bull that tackles everything head on), and keeping on, speaks to a story of good news in the middle of the mud.