The Journey with Jesus - Notes to Myself
Weekly essays by Daniel B. Clendenin, PhD
Lo Cotidiano: "The Daily Thing"
For Sunday May 26, 2013
Lectionary Readings (Revised Common Lectionary, Year C)
Proverbs 8:1–4, 22–31
According to the church's liturgical calendar, the weeks after Pentecost are called "ordinary time." Lent is long gone. Easter festivities have faded from memory. With no fasts or feast days between Pentecost and Advent, we've entered the long lull of ordinary time. It's Memorial Day, the end of the school year, and the unofficial beginning of summer.
But is there any such thing as ordinary time or place for Christians? In fact, all time and every place is sacred.
In How To Be A Poet, Wendell Berry observes, "There are no unsacred places; / there are only sacred places / and desecrated places."
The same is true of time — there's no such thing as ordinary time, regardless of the church calendar. That's why in her poem Today Mary Oliver can forsake the "voodoos of ambition," take the day off, "fly low," and celebrate doing nothing at all.
And people. "There are no ordinary people," writes CS Lewis in The Weight of Glory. "You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations — these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit — immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”
Quaker spirituality honors the simple and the ordinary. With no creed, no liturgy, no sacred place defined by special architecture, no observance of holy days, no sacraments, and no professional clergy, Quaker simplicity emphasizes quietude, both in personal spirituality and in corporate worship. In the inner solitude of the human heart we meet the Creator of all time and space — God infinite, God intimate.
Celtic traditions speak of "thin places." These are places where the sacred and the profane intersect, times when the spiritual permeates the material. In "thin places" we experience God's extraordinary presence in our ordinary lives.
I recently enjoyed Esther de Waal's book of prayers called The Celtic Vision. One of the gifts of Celtic spirituality was that “it was a practice in which ordinary people in their daily lives took the tasks that lay to hand but treated them sacramentally, as pointing to a greater reality which lay beyond them. It is an approach to life which we have been in danger of losing, this sense of allowing the extraordinary to break in on the ordinary.” Her book thus includes prayers not only about saints and angels, but about farming and fishing, herding the cows and tending the hearth.
In her book Mujerista Theology (1996), the Latina theologian Ada María Isasi-Díaz described this intersection of the sacred and the mundane, the unexpected and the unexceptional, as lo cotidiano, "the daily thing" or "sacred ordinariness."
"I have much more to say to you," Jesus told his disciples (John 16:12). It's precisely in our ordinary times and places that we experience this "much more" promised by Jesus. And the "more" that he promised is often found in the "less" of our lives. When we don't get what we want or expect, God gives us something different, something unexpected, something sacred in the ordinary.
After three tumultuous years with Jesus, I imagine the disciples as exasperated by his words: "You mean there's more?!" But I'm sure they also felt a sense of expectation and longing: "There's more to come. There's more to my story. I'm not stuck in past failures or present fears. What more does the resurrected Lord have for me in my everyday and ordinary life?"
"Sacred ordinariness" requires a counter-intuitive and counter-cultural way of seeing the world and our lives. The Psalmist for this week says that God, whose majesty extends throughout the cosmos, silences the mighty with the songs of babes (8:2). And the feminized wisdom of God in Proverbs 8 calls out to all who would be truly wise.
In the epistle, Paul urges his Roman readers to face suffering with joy instead of despair, for nothing can separate them from God's love. They have every reason to believe that their hope will not disappoint them, contrary to external appearances (Romans 5:1–5).
Of course, there's a big difference between loving what God gives and longing for our own fantasies. The latter is a set-up for deep disappointment; the former is a path to Christian maturity. Mature faith doesn't anticipate a pre-determined outcome.
"Pray not to this end, that your own desires be fulfilled," advised Evagrius of Ponticus (345–399) in his Chapters on Prayer. "Once you have learned to accept this point, pray instead that 'Thy will be done' in me. In every matter ask him in this way for what is good and for what confers profit on your soul, for you yourself do not seek this so completely as he does."
Evagrius learned this lesson the hard way. Palladius (c. 400) describes how in his younger years Evagrius fell in love with the wife of an imperial official in Constantinople. "The woman loved him in return," writes Palladius, whereas Evagrius "wished to break off with the woman, who by now was eager and frantic, but he could not do so, so caught up was he in the bonds of concupiscence."
After a disturbing dream, the next day Evagrius boarded a ship for Jerusalem. There he met the famous Melania, one of the wealthiest women of her time, who was also deeply committed to the monastic movement. After a severe sickness that lasted six months, Evagrius "confessed the whole story" to Melania. She advised him to flee to the desert. So that's what Evagrius did.
For the last sixteen years of his life one of the greatest and most refined Christian intellectuals of his day submitted himself to the unlettered Coptic peasants of the harsh Egyptian desert. Today Evagrius is recognized as one of the most distinguished practitioners and guides of the early desert dwellers. And it all started in that most ordinary of human experiences — a broken love affair.
What did Evagrius learn in the desert? He learned to love the love of God more than his own desires. If and when we do that, he says, in words that echo the gospel for this week, "the Lord wishes to confer even greater favors than those you ask for."
For further reflection:
* Frederick Buechner, Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation (San Francisco: Harper, 1983), p. 3. “Listen to your life. Listen to what happens to you because it is through what happens to you that God speaks. It’s in language that’s not always easy to decipher, but it’s there powerfully, memorably, unforgettably.”
* Celtic Supplication
Originally from the Carmina Gadelica III, 55
Taken from Esther de Waal, editor, The Celtic Vision (Liguori, MO: Liguori/Triumph, 1988, 2001), p. 17
O Being of life!
O Being of peace!
O Being of time!
O being of eternity!
O being of eternity!
Keep me in good means.
Keep me in good intent,
Keep me in good estate,
Better than I know to ask,
Better than I know to ask!
Image credits: (1) Wikipedia.org; (2) FriendsOfTheRiver.org; and (3) Edgecastcdn.net.