The Book of Life: The Ordinary Way (Part 4)

We are marvelous creatures, fearfully and wonderfully made. Yet so much of what we do is utterly mundane.

These ten amazing fingers of ours—how do we use them? Even brain surgeons and concert pianists have to brush their teeth, eat, bathe, wipe—an endless diurnal series of basic maintenance tasks. The contrast between the banality of our lives and the glory for which we seem destined is a staggering paradox that faces us squarely every day, and increasingly as we grow older. 

Aging is the gradual encroachment of ordinariness. If we will not embrace the ordinary in our youth, the older we grow the more it will embrace us until eventually it completely overtakes us. Visit any home for the aged and ordinariness will engulf you. These are lives so stripped of the extraordinary that all that remains, at the end, are bodily functions. 

Small children, too, inhabit an ordinary world, utterly absorbed by small things. But are they bored? Oh no! This is the time of wonder, of boundless energy for an adventure that is inexhaustibly marvelous. For children the original shine is still on the world. Why does it fade as we grow older? Do we really think we’ll ever run out of new things? What is life about, if it’s not about continuing to be a little child, intoxicated with the ordinary? 

Mitch Albom, in his fine book Tuesdays With Morrie, asks his old dying friend, who can no longer do anything but lie in bed, what he would do if he could have one more healthy day. The day Morrie imagines is one of fairly normal activities: breakfast, lunch with friends, a walk, a good supper, an evening of dancing. At this description, Mitch Albom is stunned. 

“That’s it?” he writes. “It was so simple. So average … I figured he’d fly to Italy or have lunch with the President or romp on the seashore or try every exotic thing he could think of … How could he find perfection in such an average day? 

“Then I realized this was the whole point.” 

Amen! The goal of life is to discover perfection in the ordinary. 

Renaissance scholars spoke of a second Bible, a second form of God-revealing scripture, which was nature. The Liber Mundi, the Book of the World, was the laws of nature conceived as God’s own handwriting on the paper of matter. But God also writes on the flesh of our lives. What good is it to study the Bible if we cannot read the daily messages in the Book of Life? Our theology may be blinding us to the real world. According to Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God … Day after day they pour forth speech.” Nature is like a daily newspaper publishing the good news of God, and the same is true of the smallest details of our lives. Are we heeding these bulletins? 

The importance of ordinary life may be measured by how vexed we can become over the smallest event or mischance. A lost pair of socks or a spilled cup of coffee can put us off our whole day. True, something bigger no doubt underlies our agitation. Or does it? What if it’s just that our ordinary life is crying out, in its own language, for our attention, and we are ignoring it? 

God comes to us disguised as our own lives. The sleepless night, the car accident, the broken marriage all carry messages between the lines. While we cry out, “Where are you, God?” He is speaking loudly in our unemployment, our illness, or in the words and attitudes of our friends. Are we listening? Do we bother to pay attention to what is right under our noses?

Photo by Karen Mason

Next Post:  The Secret of Contentment: The Ordinary Way (Part 5)

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