To see a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour. ~William Blake from Auguries of Innocence
If I look closely enough, I might find the extraordinary in the commonplace things of life. So I keep my eyes alert and my heart open to infinite possibilities.
Sometimes what I see is so extraordinary already, it is like uncovering a bit of heaven on earth. Up in the alpine meadows of the Cascade mountains grow delicate avalanche lilies in July, just as the snow melt is complete. Though brief in their blooming, they are our harbingers of heaven. Despite the chill and darkness of winter, they rise triumphant, an eternal promise of a someday never-ending summer.
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Sometimes I have loved the peacefulness of an ordinary Sunday. It is like standing in a newly planted garden after a warm rain. You can feel the silent and invisible life. ~Marilynne Robinson from Gilead
It is ordinary time, in the church calendar and in my life…
As I am covered with Sabbath rest quiet and deep as if planted in soil finally warming from a too long winter~
I realize there is nothing ordinary about what is happening in the church, in the world, or in me.
We are called by the Light to push away from darkness, to reach to the sky, to grasp and bloom and fruit.
We begin as mere and ordinary seed.
Therefore, nothing is more extraordinary than an ordinary Sunday.
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Because Christmas is almost here Because dancing fits so well with music Because inside baby clothes are miracles. Gaudete Because some people love you Because of chocolate Because pain does not last forever… Gaudete Because of laughter Because there really are angels Because your fingers fit your hands Because forgiveness is yours for the asking Because of children Because of parents. Gaudete Because the blind see. And the lame walk. Gaudete Because lepers are clean And the deaf hear. Gaudete Because the dead will live again And there is good news for the poor. Gaudete Because of Christmas Because of Jesus You rejoice. ~Brad Reynolds from “Gaudete”
Perhaps it is the nature of what I do, but I never lack for opportunities for rejoicing even when I may not realize it. Every day, whether it is on the farm, within my family or in my doctoring, I am witness to wonders that can bring me to my knees.
I can find joy in dozens of ordinary daily events, whether it is a well-painted sunrise or sunset, a sprightly lichen on an ancient tree, a spontaneous note of encouragement, or a patient’s smile when they are find relief from their symptoms.
Why should I pay particular attention to the little things when this bleak year threatens to extend beyond the turn of the calendar page?
Because the little things can be extraordinary .
Because I don’t want to miss an opportunity to say so.
God loves to hear our rejoicing in the Gift He has given.
Do not ask your children to strive for extraordinary lives. Such striving may seem admirable, but it is a way of foolishness. Help them instead to find the wonder and the marvel of an ordinary life. Show them the joy of tasting tomatoes, apples, and pears. Show them how to cry when pets and people die. Show them the infinite pleasure in the touch of a hand. And make the ordinary come alive for them. The extraordinary will take care of itself. ~William Martin from The Parent’s Tao Te Ching: Ancient Advice for Modern Parents
Parents can hold expectations of success for their children that reflect their own deficiencies or failures. After all, we want the world to be a better place for them than for us.
Yet no academic degree, no bank account, no notoriety or award can match living an ordinary life filled with extraordinary love.
I did disappoint my parents despite checking off all the boxes they hoped I would achieve in my younger years, because in retrospect, I disappointed myself.
I tended to cling to old grievances and resentments, withholding myself emotionally from them. I could have been more compassionate in their failing years, more available even though physically present. That is something I cannot undo except to pray now for forgiveness for my own deficiencies and failures.
Giving birth to three tall kind people who we have sent into the world, I hope for them what I wish I had understood when I was sent into the world by my parents: living an ordinary life of extraordinary love is more important than anything else they set out to do.
I rejoice as I see them foster such love with their spouses and their children and their communities: remembering, noticing and breathing life into each new day.
Seeing that, I can let go of my own disgrace and disappointment in myself.
I was cold and leaned against the big oak tree as if it were my mother wearing a rough apron of bark, her upraised arms warning of danger. Through those boughs and leaves I saw dark patches of sky… I looked to the roof of mom and dad’s house and wondered if the paisley couch patterns would change during the day. My brother peeked from a window and waved. When the bus came, I pawed away from the trunk, fumbled, and took my first step toward not returning. ~Dante Di Stefano from “With a Coat”
We shall not cease from exploration And the end of all our exploring Will be to arrive where we started And know the place for the first time. ~T.S. Eliot from “Little Gidding”
I remember the restlessness of my late teens when I learned homesickness was not a terminal condition. There was a world out there to be explored and I knew I was meant to be a designated explorer, seeking out the extraordinary.
Ordinary simply wouldn’t do. Ordinary was plentiful at home on a small farm with a predictable routine, a garden to be weeded and daily chores to be done, with middle-aged parents tight with tension in a struggling marriage.
On a whim at age nineteen, I applied for wild chimpanzee research study in Africa, and much to my shock, was accepted. A year of academic and physical preparation as well as Swahili language study was required, so this was no impulsive adventure. I had plenty of time to back out, reconsider and be ordinary again.
It was an adventure, far beyond what I had anticipated and trained for. When I had to decide between more exploration, without clear purpose or funding, or returning home, I opted to return to the place I started, seeing home differently, as if for the first time, after having been away.
Ordinary is a state of mind, not a place. I can choose to be deeply rooted in the mundane, or I can seek the extraordinary in attentive exploration of my everyday world.
Returning back where I started – knowing the place for the first time.
The house lights go off and the footlights come on. Even the chattiest stop chattering as they wait in darkness for the curtain to rise. In the orchestra pit, the violin bows are poised. The conductor has raised his baton.
In the silence of a midwinter dusk, there is far off in the deeps of it somewhere a sound so faint that for all you can tell it may be only the sound of the silence itself.
You hold your breath to listen.
You are aware of the beating of your heart…
The extraordinary thing that is about to happen is matched only by the extraordinary moment just before it happens.
Too often we stand on a lonely edge of life, waiting, wondering what comes next. Advent is our time to come together in anticipation of the extraordinary moment in human history.
The moment of silent expectation suspended between what we anticipate will happen and when it happens is one of sweetest tension and longing. Many find Christmas to be an anticlimax to the build up beforehand. In the true spirit of Advent, that can never be the case. The preparation for His coming foreshadows the joy we feel when we find ourselves never home alone again.
We are able to hold Him close, see His face, hear His Word – Christ as God in flesh. He is with us, He is in us and our hearts, jubilant, beat like His, our lungs breathe like His.
God makes us happy as only children can be happy. God wants to always be with us, wherever we may be – in our sin, in our suffering and death. We are no longer alone; God is with us. We are no longer homeless; a bit of the eternal home itself has moved unto us. ~Dietrich Bonhoeffer
A spoon in a cup of tea. Letters in yellow envelopes, the way a hand pushed lines into the soft paper. Morning laughter. A white shirt draped over her chair. An open window. The air. Call of one blackbird. Silence of another. November. Summer. My love for you, I say. My love for you infinity times a million, my son says. Sounds of piano notes as they rest in treetops. The road from here to there. Grief, that floating, lost swan. ~Paige Riehl “Things That Cannot Die” from Suspension
Anticipation of an early morning call so not much sleep last night. When the call came – a new grandson announced from miles away-
we laughed gleefully at this gift
our love expanded infinity times a million for these brand new parents, this new life joining the world, this new road to travel together from here to there. All that is ordinary is now new and extraordinary.
Love through the generations cannot die but thrives and pulses alive. We laugh and cry at once at the generous grace of our good God who turns all human grief to joy.
…this has been a day of grace in the dead of winter, the hard knuckle of the year, a day that unwrapped itself like an unexpected gift, and the stars turn on, order themselves into the winter night. ~Barbara Crooker from Barbara Crooker: Selected Poems
…it’s easy to forget that the ordinary is just the extraordinary that’s happened over and over again. Sometimes the beauty of your life is apparent. Sometimes you have to go looking for it. And just because you have to look for it doesn’t mean it’s not there. God, grant me the grace of a normal day. ~Billy Coffey
…there is no such thing as a charmed life, not for any of us, no matter where we live or how mindfully we attend to the tasks at hand. But there are charmed moments, all the time, in every life and in every day, if we are only awake enough to experience them when they come and wise enough to appreciate them. ~Katrina Kenison from The Gift of an Ordinary Day
These dead of winter days are lengthening, slowly and surely, but I still leave the farm in darkness to head to my work in town, and I return in darkness at the end of the workday. Barn chores at either end of the day happen under moonlight and starlight.
Each day, so extraordinary in its ordinariness, is full of grace if I awake to really see it, even under cover of darkness.
The bones of the trees, and the bones of me, illuminated.
O child, Creator of all! How humbly you lie in the manger. You who rule powerfully in heaven!
There the heaven of heavens cannot contain you; here, however, you are held in the narrowest manger.
There, in the beginning of the world, you decorated the earth with green grasses that produced seed, with fruit-bearing trees that produced fruit, you ornamented the heavens with the sun, the moon, and the stars, the sky with winged birds, the waters with fish, you filled the land with reptiles, draft animals, and beasts; here, however, in the end of the world, you are wrapped in swaddling clothes!
O majesty! O lowness!
O sublimity! O humility!
O immense, eternal, and Ancient of Days!
O small, temporal infant whose life is not yet one day upon the earth!
There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice. John Calvin
We are blinded to the Glory given to us in a narrow manger if we allow ourselves to perceive it as something routine and commonplace. There is nothing commonplace about the gifts of Creation or the gift of His Son as Savior.
I can’t remember the last time I celebrated even a blade of grass, given how focused I am in mowing it into conformity and submission. Or the fruit of the trees, the birds of the air, the fish of the seas, the beasts of burden who work for us. Too often I’m not up early enough to witness the pink sunrise or I’m too busy to take time to watch the sun paint the sky red as it sets.
I miss opportunities to rejoice innumerable times a day. It takes only a moment of recognition and appreciation to feel joy, and for that moment time stands still. Life stretches a little longer when I stop to acknowledge the intention of creation and sending the Son of God to earth as an endless reservoir of rejoicing.
If a blade of grass, if a palette of color, if all this is made for joy, then the coming of Jesus into the world means I was made for joy as well.