Finding the Sacred in the Ordinary

Religion is a frustrating thing.  Sometimes it can be like Ground Hog Day when the day is really bad.  Sometimes, though, it can be a beautiful thing.  I think it is up to us which experience we take away from it.  At the apex of the Christian religion is a God that is taught about, learned about, read about, but not always experienced.  This God is placed within a particular intellectual framework depending upon the practitioner.  Events that transpire and objects that are encountered outside of the allowable realm of God’s work or character are perceived as ordinary, mundane, or at the extreme – cruel.  For example, if our theology holds that God rules the universe from a place above the clouds and has complete control over everything that happens in the temporal realm, then that God is responsible for even the “bad stuff” that happens to us and those around us.  If we see God as this amazing and magnificent personage that only works in big ways, then we will miss the Divine when it is in something ordinary like the sun shining through the trees or a towering mountain.

In Peter Rollins’ book, Orthodox Heretic, he has a familiar parable with an interesting twist.  In The Prodigal Father, one late night, the sons realize that their father is gone.  They live in a great mansion and the father is a very rich man.  Much like the original parable, the oldest son remains on the estate and is a very bitter man.  The youngest son leaves with his inheritance to spend and drown away his sorrows for his missing father and comes back empty handed to find that his father is still gone.  As I read that story, it occurred to me that father may very well have been nearby and never in fact have left.  What if the father changed from his Armani suit, Burberry cufflinks, Fendi necktie, and Ferragamo shoes into overalls and worked the property as a hired hand? This would mean that the father was right there with them all the while, but because they perceived their rich powerful father to be one certain way, they could not even recognize him when he was in a different form.  This is not to paint God as a father figure, but merely to say that we do the same with God.  I believe that God appears to us every day, but we fail to see God because we cannot conceive of the Divine being in the ordinary.

A friend of mine who we’ll call Dave was leaving his church where he is a pastoral intern when a homeless man walked in the door and asked if there were any funds available.  The man explained that he had to take a train to the nearest naval base.  It did not occur to Dave that the man may have been speaking of the Great Lakes Naval Base, but the man’s story sounded fishy to him, so he sent the man on his way explaining that he did not have any money to give and did not have access any church money.  Dave got in his car and headed for home when the car stalled out at the stop light around the corner from the church.  He panicked because he was in the middle of traffic in downtown Oak Park and had people honking at him to get out of the way.  He opened the hood and not being able to find the cause of the problem was highly anxious when he saw a hand from the corner of his eye reach under the hood and make an adjustment to one of the spark plugs.  Dave looked up and saw the homeless man that he had just turned away.  The man gave him a nod and then proceeded to get into the driver’s seat of my friend’s car.  Dave was thinking that his car was being stolen when the man turned the ignition and the car started right up.  The man got out of the car and walked away.  Dumbstruck, Dave got in his car and drove home.  Did God from his perch on high pull some divine strings and make this happen?  I am not convinced that this is the case.  I think, rather, that God was in the event.  I think the event was not the result of God doing something, but instead a manifestation of Godself.

We spend so much time seeking God, but fail to see God in the ordinary humdrum of daily life because these experiences do not fit our concept of God and how the Divine works.  What if we could see God in a baby’s touch, or in the stars in the sky, or a ray of sunlight through the trees?  Think of great composers who hear music in their heads and then pen that music later to be performed.  Where does this music come from?  Is the performance of this music not a manifestation of the Divine?  If this is hard to imagine, listen to this, or this, or this.  Have you ever seen the sun rise over the Rockies or Mount Moran reflected in Lake Bradley?  Have you ever seen a baby smile up at its father or mother and grasp their finger in its tiny hand?  If we can start seeing God in these seemingly ordinary and mundane things, God will not seem so far away, but will fill the space around us and in us like having a shade lifted from our eyes revealing the sacred world around us.

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