I remember once years ago doing a workshop at Jubilee, the CCO's college student conference, helping students learn to think Christianly about their studies; it is a hallmark theme of Jubilee that God calls all of us to serve the Kingdom of Christ and the common good by being agents of God's goodness and light in the work-world. I proclaimed to the students that they can take their faith into the classroom and learn to relate their deepest convictions about God's principles to their academic work as they study for jobs that can become vocations. (Derek Melleby & Donald Optiz's Learning for the Love of God: A Student's Guide to Academic Faithfulness hadn't been published yet but I was talking about that sort of stuff. And, wow, do they ever do it well!)
It all sounds rather heady, I suppose -- developing the Christian mind, thinking Biblically, relating faith to learning, doing the work of being a Christian student -- but here's the thing: I tried to help them see that not only do they discover stuff about God's world and ways as they explore God's creation in their studies, and what they should be doing as agents of change within their professions or careers, but also that in so doing they can come to know God better.
They can actually find God right there in the lab, in the lecture hall, in the gym, in the library, while writing papers, doing projects, running experiments, planning presentations, taking tests. Learning to live seamlessly with a sense of being in God's world becomes a formative opportunity, an invitation to actually walk with God. With this approach, Barbara Brown Taylor's book title - An Altar in the World - is literally true. All of life is holy ground and all of life's moments becomes doorways into deeper spirituality.
THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE ORDINARY
There is a whole genre of books about what I call the "spirituality of the ordinary." (See a list of a few of them below, which we have for a limited time at 50% off.) We have them on a shelf within our section of books about spirituality but make no mistake: these are not books about meditation and mystical spirituality, not about deep reflection on Scripture or learning to fast or journal or walk a labyrinth. We have those kinds of books that are familiar to those who read about inner formation by way of practicing classic spiritual disciplines. These "spirituality of the ordinary" books invite us to not just "practice the presence of God" throughout the day, seeking spiritual awareness layered on top of ordinary stuff but to actually experience God's gracious presence in the doing of the ordinary stuff. The best "spirituality of the ordinary" resources are luminous, lovely, telling of epiphanies and encounters of God in the mundane.
Like anything, learning to practice the presence of God (Brother Lawrence's famous book by that name tells of his learning to pray while doing the dishes) and learning to encounter God in the daily takes practice. It takes some training to do well.
We have seen a number of good books recently about listening to God, about attentiveness, about being sensitive to the prodding and prompting of the Holy Spirit as she shows up moment by moment. Just for instance, consider The Listening Life: Embracing Attentiveness in a World of Distraction by Adam McHugh (IVP; $16.00) or A Spirituality of Listening: Living What We Hear by Keith Anderson (IVP; $16.00) two recent books that are wonderfully helpful. This is an important practice in its own right, to slow down, be attentive, and notice stuff, but it also shapes us, forms us, trains us, to see God in surprising places.
CAN WE TRULY FIND GOD IN THE MUNDANE AND MESSY?
I've wanted to share a list of books about finding God in the mundane, about the spirituality of the ordinary but I have been hesitant, in part because although I am a passionate preacher about this theme, I'm a novice at doing it myself. I am a bit ashamed about this, but there it is: walking with God moment-by-moment in a way that allows us to attend to God's Word and world and ways in the most ordinary of episodes of ordinary days is harder than is seems. I love the promise of Zechariah 14: 20 - 21 about the sacramental holiness of mundane things, but it isn't always clear how to live into that. And when things go sideways, as they do most days, well, don't get me started...
For some, though, it is hardly even imaginable, to walk with God in the so-called secular arenas of politics or science or art or entertainment, using technology or shopping or working or playing.
Perhaps it is still true, as the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote in "Aurora Leigh",
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit around and pluck blackberries.
And daub their natural faces unaware.
"The rest pluck blackberries."
Not that there is anything wrong with picking blackberries (that's the point, after all!) It is the word unaware that captures the problem.
We are invited to see all of life as worship, see all of life as a burning bush, experience God's presence in the most ordinary of moments, but we often move through our days unaware as a secularist or even atheist might. Or, we suppose God exists and maybe cares about our lives, out there somewhere, true enough, but distant. More likely we assert that God is close, but we forget. It may be part of our mind's ideas, a matter of theological truth to which we give assent, but it hasn't worked down to our heart, our skin and bones.
YOU ARE WHAT YOU LOVE
This, of course, is a major theme of the Hearts & Minds Book of the Year James K.A. Smith's You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Brazos; $24.99.) We've been promoting this great book (and the more scholarly predecessors, Imagining the Kingdom and Desiring the Kingdom) since it came out last Spring and at conferences lately have nearly insisted that folks buy it. Smith reminds us that we are not what we think we are. (The rationalist philosopher "I think therefore I am" Rene Descartes was just wrong about that.) Rather, as Saint Augustine said, we are what we love, we are restless, perhaps, if we love the wrong things. But we can learn to want the right things in the right way, leading to what David Naugle says in his must-read reflection on all of this, Reordered Love, Reordered Lives: Learning the Deep Meaning of Happiness (Eerdmans; $20.00.) Our daily habits work on our hearts, nearly subconsciously, "re-ordering" us, forming us to desire certain things, certain ways of life, based on visions of what we construe to be good and true. It follows that we can desire and imagine and live into God's ways if we realize that daily habits either pull us into the Divine orbit or push us into another way of being. We can learn to want God's presence (perhaps the first step of practicing the presence) through habit, through ritual, through worship, through practice. But, as the last third of Smith's remarkable book shows us, we embody the Kingdom in the world, living out, all the live-long day, the ways of God, because we've been shaped to do so. Or, perhaps, we don't, because we haven't been shaped to desire that. For better or ill, our habits and cultural liturgies have formed us.
As Smith puts it, "the things we do, do things to us."
And so, we are predisposed to be open and attentive to God in the daily grind, or, maybe, we are acculturated to not be so aware of such things. It's no wonder we don't find God in the classrooms or workplaces or even the living rooms of our lives if we are subconsciously already shaped to think God isn't really present or active or in relationship with us in those seemingly secular places.
THE BEST BOOK TO EXPLORE THIS PRACTICALLY, WISELY
The very best book I've found to explore all of this quite practically - finding God in the ordinary, the spirituality of the mundane, learned by habits and rituals and ways of living life in what can only be called sacramental - is the brand new Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren (IVP; $16.00.) It is, I am convinced, one of the best resources you will find to help you live faithfully throughout your ordinary days and it is one of the best resources to help you thereby come to know God better. I've been waiting for a book this good about these things for years, it seems, and this is it!
PLEASE READ THESE RAVE REVIEW BLURBS
Jen Pollock Michel (whose marvelously rich memoir about desire and ambition, Teach Us to Want is utterly germane to this topic) is spot on when she says:
Liturgy of the Ordinary is a baptism of vision. Tish Harrison Warren warmly and wisely helps us find God in the strangest of places: standing at the sink, sitting in traffic, stooping to make a bed. As it turns out, our everyday habits are imbued with the holy possibility of becoming new people in Christ.
The many rave reviews of this beautiful book are stunning. The book has quite a buzz already, even though it has only been out a week or so. Consider these:
This beautiful book will brush the dust from your dingy days and reveal the extraordinary that is to be found in the ordinary. No mundane daily task will be the same once these pages open your eyes to how the work of your hands reflects the ways of the Creator and the rhythms of eternity.
Karen Swallow Prior, author of Booked and Fierce Convictions
If Christianity is to retain its witness in our frenetic and fragmented age, it must take root not only in the thoughts and emotions but also in the daily lives and even bodies of those who call Christ Lord. Tish Harrison Warren has beautifully 'enfleshed' the concepts and doctrines of our faith into quotidian moments, showing how every hour of each day can become an occasion of grace and renewal. If you want to know how faith matters amid messy kitchens, unfinished manuscripts, marital spats, and unmade beds, Liturgy of the Ordinary will train your eyes to see holy beauty all around.
Katelyn Beaty, author of A Woman's Calling
Sometimes the difference between drudgery and epiphany is just seeing things from the right angle, a frame that reframes everything, even the mundane. This marvelous little book is that certain slant of light that illuminates the everyday as an arena of sanctification, where the Spirit makes us holy in ways we might miss. You don't need more to do in a day, Warren shows. Instead, reframe the everyday as an extension of worship, and folding the laundry, washing dishes, and even commuting become habitations of the Spirit.
James K. A. Smith, author of Desiring the Kingdom and You Are What You Love
SIMPLE WITH A TOUCH OF GENIUS
Andy Crouch begins his fantastic foreword by saying that "the structure of this book is simple, with a touch of genius." He continues,
It encompasses one day, from our very first moments of waking in the morning on the first page to our drifting off into sleep on the last. No more and no less. But in between, with the writer's (and indeed the poet's) gift of slowing down and paying the best kind of attention, Tish Harrison Warren connects the moments of an ordinary day with the extraordinary pattern of classical Christian worship.
THERE IS NO SECULAR PART
Andy's foreword reminds us that this book "dismantles that most stubborn of Christian heresies: the idea that there is any part of our lives that is secular, untouched by and disconnected from the real sacred work of worship and prayer." He unpacks that a bit in a very clear and compelling few paragraphs and then observes,
As someone who is both ordained to priestly service and who has invested her life in radical ways to serve the materially and spiritually poor, Tish is the perfect person to help us discover just how wrongheaded these sacred-secular distinctions are. Like all heresies, this one can only be conquered by the beauty of orthodoxy, and the beautiful orthodoxy that undermines all foolish secularizing is that endlessly surprising Christian doctrine, the incarnation.
And, so, Liturgy of the Ordinary is not only great to read to widen your understanding of the scope of spirituality and to help you learn to find God's holy presence in what Kathleen Norris has called "the quotidian mysteries" but it will help you, in an allusive way, to move through Advent and prepare to celebrate Christmas. Christmas is the high holy day when we party it up to remember that God took on human flesh and "moved into the neighborhood." Glory the angels sang, as holiness came to Earth. The implications are endless, but starting with the common place makes a lot of sense, eh? Yep, this book, which is so incarnational, helps us appreciate Christmas.
So, we want to happily and eagerly invite you to buy from us some copies of this beautiful, inspiring, insightful little volume. I am sure it will help you learn about the spirituality of the ordinary, it will help you encounter God in the real world, and it will underscore what Smith explained in We Are What We Love, namely (as Crouch puts it in that forward) that as plain as daily life may be (and as plain as worship sacraments are, too - bread, water), "All of this is far from ordinary."
Crouch continues, exquisitely,
Our bodies, our pleasures, our fears, our fatigues, our friendships, our fights - these are in fact the stuff of our formation and transformation into the frail but infinitely dignified creatures we are meant to be and shall become. Our moments of exaltation and stifled yawns - somehow they go together, part of the whole life that we are meant to offer to God day by day, as well as Sunday by Sunday, the life that God has taken into his own life. It is the life Christ himself assumed, and thus rescued and redeemed.
Well, that's just the prelude - you might imagine why this book is so very good, when this kind of precious insight sets it up. The foreword is good and the book itself is good, really good.
ONE LONG DAY, BLESSED AND BEING REDEEMED?
As Andy said, The Liturgy of the Ordinary is, in fact, a set of reflections that walk through one day in the author's life. She writes about waking up and making beds and cooking and emailing friends, commuting and more. I think the best thing to do is to just show the Table of Contents.
Please note not only the chapter titles but also the evocative subtitles. It will show you what Warren is up to. And she is up to a lot.
1. Waking Up: Baptism and Learning to be Beloved
2. Making the Bed: Liturgy, Ritual, and What Forms a Life
3. Brushing Teeth: Standing, Kneeling, Bowing, and Living in a Body
4. Losing Keys: Confession and the Truth about Ourselves
5. Eating Leftovers: Word, Sacrament, and Overlooked Nourishment
6. Fighting with My Husband: Passing the Peace and the Everyday Work of Shalom
7. Checking Email: Blessing and Sending
8. Sitting in Traffic: Liturgical Time and an Unhurried God
9. Calling a Friend: Congregation and Community
10. Drinking Tea: Sanctuary and Savoring
11. Sleeping: Sabbath, Rest, and the Work of God
That she is an ordained Anglican priest (and a wisely well read one at that) helps her appreciate the role of ritual, and gives her the liturgical and sacramental theology to frame these daily moments with the richest sort of spirituality. Others can help us unpack this kind of stuff, I'm sure, but this author is certainly well-prepared for just this project, making it the best book I've seen on finding God in the ordinary stuff of a daily life.
Ms Warren is an honest writer, living the kind of life that most of us live, fretting over stuff that demoralizes us all, offering insight on the good, the bad, and the ugly. (Losing keys? Fighting with her spouse? Waiting (impatiently) in traffic? Check, check, check.
YEP, I GET THAT...
And in her grand search for down-to-Earth spirituality and deep meaning, she's honest about all of it, with a smile, it seems:
In my mind I have an ideal for my table - friends and family gathered around a homegrown, local, organic feast with candles and laughter and well-behaved kids. A lot of beauty and butter.
But much of the time, my meals aren't like that.
And today I have left-overs.
Taco soup. Not homegrown. Not local. Corn and beans dumped from cans into a crockpot. It's a go-to meal for us, what we make when people are coming over because it is cheap and easy. It is adequate and a little boring. Now it is warmed over again on my stove for lunch.
I love this photo, but wished it had shown the less attractive left-overs...
Or, consider this -- nothing terribly special, but true for many of us:
Our sleep habits both reveal and shape our loves.... I love my kids, so I sacrifice sleep for them (often) - I nurse our baby or comfort our eldest after a nightmare. I love my husband and my close friends so I stay up late to keep a good conversation going a bit longer. Or we rise early to pray or take a friend to the airport.
But my willingness to sacrifice sleep also reveals less noble loves. I stay up later than I should, drowsy, collapsed on the couch, vaguely surfing the Internet, watching cute puppy videos. Or I stay up trying to squeeze more activity into the day, to pack it with as much productivity as possible. My disordered sleep reveals a disordered love, idols of entertainment or productivity.
And then she mentions Parks and Recreation. Ha.
Tish Warren is the kind of writer I like, moving easily from sociological research -- vividly brought to us from, say, wonderful quotes from This American Life with Ira Glass or an op-ed piece by Rod Dreher or a lively, contemporary documentary -- to personal stories from her own interesting life. Her theological bias is elegant, too - lines from The Book of Common Prayer merge with citations from Dorothy Bass and Steve Garber, Madeleine L'Engle and Tim Keller, ancient saints and modern poets. It is a very informative and yet delightfully enjoyable book to read.
And yeah, despite that tussle in chapter 6, here she is with her husband, also a priest, who is still smiling. Nice, eh?
There is a marvelous study guide in the back as well, designed for your own processing of this interesting content or for small group use. It would be perfect for a small group to read together, fantastic for an adult education class, great for a couple to do together. There are thoughtful discussion questions and specific practices suggested for each of the 11 chapters. It will help you, as she puts it, "learn how grand, sweeping truths - doctrine, theology, ecclesiology, Christology - rub against the texture of an average day."
15 OTHER BOOKS ABOUT THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE ORDINARY
ON SALE - HALF OFF WITH PURCHASE OF LITURGY OF THE ORDINARY: SACRED PRACTICES IN EVERYDAY LIFE
FOR ONE WEEK ONLY -- UNTIL FRIDAY, DECEMBER 9, 2016 -- THESE 15 ARE HALF-OFF IF YOU BUY ONE COPY (OR MORE) OF LITURGY OF THE ORDINARY (at our sale price of 10% off.) SUPPLIES ON MOST OF THESE ARE VERY LIMITED SO WE CAN ONLY SEND THE HALF-OFF ONES WHILE SUPPLIES LAST. ORDER TODAY; TELL US WHICH ONES YOU WANT.
The Pleasures of God: Finding Grace in the Ordinary J. Ellsworth Kalas (Abingdon) $15.00 A lovely little book with down to earth stories by a popular United Methodist pastor. Don't let this fool you -- he shows how "God touches every fiber of our being and every facet of our lives." One reviewer says he "gives us the gift of seeing the everyday with fresh eyes, until the ordinary shines with the extraordinary." The Dean of the Chapel at Asbury Seminary says this inspired her to "pay closer attention to the boring moments in life to see if they really would bear the weight..."
The Play of Light: Observations and Epiphanies in the Everyday World Louis J. Masson (Cowley) $14.95 A mature and very thoughtful set of memoiristic essays, beautifully told, allusive and thoughtful about nature and place and time and memory.
There are some marvelous endorsements by writerly types, including this from Brian Doyle, who says it is "dry witted, sharp-eyed, large-hearted... a poet of the miracle of the moment, an essayist of startling lyricism, grace, and mercy." How 'bout that?
White China: Finding the Divine in the Everyday Molly Wolf (Jossey Bass) $16.95 With close observations of the natural world, a fine degree of wit and charm, this Canadian author brings passion and insight. Don't miss the powerful forward by the late Phyllis Tickle; there is a blurb on the back by Nora Gallagher. What a beautiful book for this kind of tender spirituality. Wolf has another book called Sabbath Blessings and is known for this sort of work.
Sacred in the City: Seeing the Spiritual in the Everyday Margaret Silf (Lion Press) $16.95 I really, really like this handsome book designed with full color photos, presented on glossy paper, about finding God in the daily life of an urban-dweller, with meditations on the workplace and home, on the marketplace and the city streets themselves. Colorfully, thoughtfully, Silf "uncovers the shimmer of the sacred in the familiar places of everyday city living"
Eyes Wide Open: Enjoying God in Everything Steve DeWitt (Credo House) $14.99 DeWitt is an evangelical pastor who admitted that as a Christian he still "walked beaches, viewed sunsets, enjoyed music, ate desserts, and stared at the stars pretty much as an atheist." This is winsome, practical, and pleasant in helping us see the deep purposes of God in displaying beauty in the world. Very thoughtful, connected to a richly Reformed worldview.
Seeing God in the Ordinary: A Theology of the Everyday Michael Frost (Hendrickson) $12.95 This is a lesser known, early book by the passionate leader of the "missional church" movement -- and what a book it is! Clear, thoughtful, worldviewish, culturally engaged, it offers keys to do just what it says: find God in the ordinary by developing a theology of the everyday. I wish we'd have sold a bunch of these, and have promoted it for years, so maybe at half price, folks will see just how vital this is. Yes!
Your Daily Life Is Your Temple Anne Rowthorn (Seabury Books) $16.00 This author has traveled widely writing on many subjects, with a keen sense of social justice and solidarity with the marginalized. Here, she shares stories, looking for "traces of the holy" in her midst, challenging our notions of what spirituality is. Published by the classic Episcopalian publisher 10 years ago, the title is drawn from a line by Kahlil Gibran.
Spotting the Sacred: Noticing God in the Most Unlikely Places Bruce Main (Baker) $15.99 Main is a hero to many, an urban activist and evangelical advocate for justice and racial reconciliation. Perhaps the garbage can on the cover gives a hint: we can find God everywhere, and not just in the beautiful sunsets and glorious moments. There are lively stories here but good Bible study and Kingdom preaching, too. Nice blurbs on the back from Tony Campolo and from Richard Mouw.
Doors of the Sacred: Everyday Events as Hints of the Holy Bridget Haase (Paraclete) $14.99 Sister Bridget is a nun in the order of the Ursuline Sisters and has served in mission all over the world; she has seen suffering, served the sick, and yet is happy to find grace almost anywhere. She's a born storyteller and her stories draw you into spiritual realities found in the commonplace. Written like a devotional there are a nice set of "owning the story" reflection questions at the end of each reading. Paraclete always does classy books, and we have a few of these left.
Earthy Mysticism: Spirituality for Unspiritual People Tex Sample (Abingdon) $15.00 If you've ever heard Tex Sample speak you know he is a Texan, a lefty justice activist, and a church consultant helping congregations reach rural, poor, working-class folk. His southern storytelling just shines in this fun set of ruminations on God's presence in real world living. Blurbs are from Will Campbell and Stanley Hauerwas, if that gives you a sense of the sort of spirituality he brings.
Sparks of the Divine: Finding Inspiration in our Everyday World Dr. Drew Leder (Sorin Books) $14.95 There are soft black & white photos, calligraphied pull quotes, and nice little ideas for exercises here, giving this a feel that would be lovely for readers who are not young or overly edgy. As it says on the back "The notion that the world is filled with holy sparks is shared by religious traditions around the world. Learn to uncover this sacred dimension and you will begin to hallow the world and be healed by its powers..." The author is both a medical doctor and teaches philosophy; he has written widely about the role of the body in spirituality and has thought about health, wholeness and spirituality.
Waking Up to This Day: Seeing the Beauty Right Before Us Paula D'Arcy (Orbis) $17.00 D'Arcy came to great fame decades ago as an author and retreat leader when she wrote about grief in the international best-seller The Gift of the Red Bird. In this slim book she brings inspiring insights about being awake and aware. A rave blurb on the back is by Fr. Richard Rohr.
Soul Moments: Times When Heaven Touches Earth Isabel Anders (Cowley) $14.95 This author describes "soul moments" as times when heaven touches earth -- in the "here and now, in the thick of things, sometimes occurring as we are most aware of our human limitations and confusion. They encircle us, and, for their moment, name us: beloved, cherished, chosen. The experience passes, but the soul bears its indelible mark." The great Madeleine L'Engle wrote, "Soul Moments is, I believe, the loveliest book Anders has written so far, in content, expression, and depth.... it is a beautiful, encourageing, hopeful book. I loved reading it."
Simply Open: A Guide to Experiencing God in the Everyday Greg Paul (Thomas Nelson) $16.99 I have reviewed this before -- Greg Paul is known for gritty narratives of his work with the poor and homeless in inner city Toronto, and man, can he write. This book is, as it says, about being open to God's presence, experience God day by day, in any circumstance. This is wise and mature spiritual guidance, written with a lot of raw stories and good illustrations. Chapter titles are "open my... mouth, ears, nostrils, eyes, mind, heart, and more... Wow.
The Sacred Ordinary: Embracing the Holy in the Everyday: 112 Daily Meditations Leigh McLeroy (Revell) $12.99 Leigh McLeroy is a fine writer -- I was moved by her previous book The Beautiful Ache. She helps us expereince God with these short devotional-like storires. The sections are arranged under the headings of Ordinary Places, People, Things, Moments, and Words. She's artistic and attentive to God. Each entry includes a brief Scripture with questions. Very nicely done.