Walking our Faith: The sacredness of the ordinary (column)
June 2, 2017
When I worked on Wall Street — mid-'80s fresh out of college — my marker of success was to leave my doorman building wearing a full-length mink coat and step into the Lincoln Town Car that would ferry me downtown to my office.
The other morning, I walked Henry and Max, my enormous Newfoundland dogs (yes, they look like black bears) down the dirt road of my neighborhood. I wore mud-streaked Sorel snow boots, so stunningly huge and ugly they resemble clown shoes. Yet so warm I wear them without socks on the coldest winter day and my toes remain toasty. I wore a sweater I knitted myself and my ubiquitous black leggings and turtleneck.
During my years in New York, my thoughts were of achieving the next big thing. My thought life in Breckenridge is the same. While the clothes and location have changed, my interior life remains enthralled with imagining, planning and pursuing.
My walk of faith shares this goal-directedness. My prayers are filled with asking God for a breakthrough in my work, a healing for a loved one, a change of heart in a relationship. When the manifestation is not evident, I feel rejected by God. Undaunted, I repeat the prayer again. Day after day. The result is an estranged relationship with God and a low-hum of anxiety that runs in the background, my eyes always on the horizon, my mind always racing forward.
That morning as I walked my dogs, I noticed birdsong in the trees. I closed my eyes and listened, differentiating one bird from another, and discovering the call and response of their conversation. As I walked on, my eyes discerned changing light and shadow that transformed bark on tree trunks from silver to copper to grey.
I walked more slowly, my shoulders relaxed. I inhaled deeply and noted the scent of pine and mud. I perceived the temperature difference between the air surrounding me and the coolness closer to the receding mounds of snow along the road.
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When I returned to my desk, I opened my journal and wrote three things I was grateful for and a Morning Page (in the spirit of Julie Cameron).
In the Book of St. Matthew, Jesus teaches:
"So my counsel is: Don't worry about things — food, drink, and clothes. For you already have life and a body — and they are far more important than what to eat and wear. Look at the birds! They don't worry about what to eat — they don't need to sow or reap or store up food — for your heavenly Father feeds them. And you are far more valuable to him than they are. Will all your worries add a single moment to your life?"
This passage is commonly mentioned to demonstrate God's provision. But Jesus could have used human actors to the same effect. I like to imagine Jesus chose birds in a field not only to show God's care for the simplest of his creatures, but also as a gentle nudge for us to consider the beauty of our surroundings.
Since my morning walk, I've made two changes: I am living more contemplatively with an intention to notice and appreciate my surroundings, and to do small things with great care. Whether this is preparing a meal or conversing with a friend, I want to stop my mind from wandering onto the next item on my to-do list, and instead, give my full attention to this task and this person.
In my faith life, the gratitude list I hurriedly jotted down becomes a prayer of genuine thanks-giving to God. Yes, I still mount tenacious campaigns on my behalf. But I also meet God and express my gratitude for the overlooked blessings in my life.
This is the sacredness of ordinary time. To live fully present requires living fully in God's presence. In every moment, past, present and future, God is already present. Therefore, I am asked to, "Give (my) entire attention to what God is doing right now, and don't get worked up about what may or may not happen tomorrow. God will help (me) deal with whatever hard things come up when the time comes." (Matthew 6:34 MSG). I can only do this when I communicate with God daily.
Our lives are made up of unheralded moments so unremarkable, change so incremental, we don't notice it. Until suddenly we face a crisis or achievement and are surprised at our growth. "This is how we make important changes — barely, poorly, slowly. And still, (God) raises His fist in triumph." (Anne Lamott, Small Victories)
Monumental accomplishments usually come after years of hard work. Yet, the joy and accolades can be fleeting. If they are our only source of happiness we will spend 95 percent of our lives in desperate yearning. Trusting God's presence in the ordinary present, I can give my attention to others. I can turn off my phone and focus on the voice of the one sitting next to me. I can take the hand of a loved one and savor the warmth of their skin next to mine. When we cultivate an appreciation of the sacred ordinary, the joy of the journey, we discover it is all a big thing and a blessing.
Suzanne Anderson is the author of "Love in a Time of War" and other books. You can reach her at Suzanne@suzanneelizabeths.com or facebook.com/suzanneelizabeths
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