Our life is ordinary,
I read in a crumpled paper
abandoned on a bench.
Our life is ordinary,
the philosophers told me.
Ordinary life, ordinary days and cares,
a concert, a conversation,
strolls on the town’s outskirts,
good news, bad –
The opening stanzas of this poem say something pretty obvious, really. The poet might make the point with particular creativity, but he’s not really saying something that’s new to us. Life is ordinary. From day to day we go through experiences and relationships that aren’t exceptional or astonishing. Indeed, we could easily add to the little catalogue of ordinary events that the poet offers:
Eating breakfast in the morning.
Skimming through friends’ Facebook pages.
Sitting through a class.
Day in, day out – our life is ordinary.
This morning we’re beginning a series of sermons that will take us through the Fall, with a few interruptions along the way. And the title of the series is The Daily Grind. It’s a series of sermons on the ordinary things of life.
It seems that very often we are left trying to figure out how our faith connects with everyday life. Very often we are left questioning what difference faith makes for our daily existence. In this series we’re going to try and make some of those connections – to try and answer some of these questions.
We begin today by thinking about the first moment of every day – that very simple experience of getting up in the morning. But before we come to the theme for today, perhaps it’s helpful to say something more about the ordinariness of life – doing so I’d like to again turn to the poem in our bulletin. The last stanza of the poem Ordinary Life reads as follows:
Black cinemas crave light.
Forests breathe feverishly,
clouds sing softly,
a golden oriole prays for rain.
Ordinary life desires.
I love that last phrase. Ordinary life desires. It’s a beautiful turn of phrase. Ordinary life desires. That closing stanza suggests that even everyday, common things and experiences can be more than just ordinary. It suggests that even the boring, mundane activities of life can have a real significance – can have a deeper meaning. From the perspective of Christian faith we can’t really argue with that.
Just to be clear, we’re not talking about trying to make the ordinary extraordinary, which is very common in our culture. Indeed, in our society we seem to fall all over ourselves trying to make the common somehow astonishing. Think about reality television, which in many respects is about making the ordinary extraordinary. Or think about social networking sites like twitter and facebook – in part they appeal to us because they give the impression that the ordinary has become astonishing and uncommon.
If I paint my living room, well that’s just ordinary. But if I announce through facebook or twitter that I’ve just painted my living room pumpkin patch orange – well suddenly it feels like an event – it seems extraordinary. In our culture, the longing for significance, for fullness of life, translates sometimes into a desire that the ordinary become extraordinary. I suspect we will never achieve fullness in this way – in the end the extraordinary simply becomes the new ordinary. Satisfaction deferred.
In this sermon series we aren’t trying to make life extraordinary. Rather, we want to find fullness in the everyday – to see those cracks in the everyday from which shines the love of God in Christ. In John’s gospel, Jesus says: “I came that they might have life, and have it abundantly.” From the perspective of our faith in Jesus Christ, we want to find abundance, fullness, meaning, in the midst of the ordinary.
Well, what could be more ordinary than getting up in the morning? With that definitively everyday event we begin our series this week.
From our gospel reading this morning – Mark, chapter 1, verse 35:
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark out.
I don’t know about you, but very early in the morning while it is still dark out, I like to be curled up warmly under a duvet. Very early in the morning, while it is still dark out, I may have to crawl out of bed to sooth a cranky Esther, or to take Reuben back to his own bed, or to put the garbage out because we forgot to do it the night before. But early in the morning, when it is still dark out – when I see that the clock reads 5:30 or 6:00 or 6:30 – I like to roll over and try to get back to sleep.
We all have our own schedule, our own routine. At that hour, there are nurses heading out for a twelve hour shift at the Jewish General. At that hour there are cars criss-crossing the neighbourhood with piles of the Montreal Gazette and La Presse – to be delivered in time for breakfast. Some of us simply can’t sleep late any more – and so very early in the morning, while it is still dark out, for some it is perhaps time to head off to the kitchen, to put the kettle on for tea, to put some bread in the toaster for an early, light breakfast.
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark out, Jesus got up.
What do we do with that moment – whether our bodies resist the motion, or not – what do we do with that moment when we throw off the covers, when we lift our feet over the side of the bed, and we begin yet another day.
While we each begin the day in our own way, perhaps we share this in common – that as soon as the day begins, all manner of thoughts rush in at us. Those thoughts will vary depending on who we are – those thoughts will vary depending on our stage of life, our frame of mind, our daily activities – but as soon as we sit up and put our feet on the floor, or into a pair of slippers, the day begins and all manner of thoughts rush in at us.
Gotta get the kids ready – class pictures today.
I wonder what the results of that medical test will be?
Shoot, did I forget to pickup milk yesterday?
I’ve got that exam today – I hope I studied enough.
And before we know it, our day has begun. Before we know it, that rush of thoughts has captured our heart and mind and the start of the day is already well behind us. Before we know it we’re finished breakfast – before we know it we’re half way to work – before we know it we’re ending a phone conversation with a relative. But in letting ourselves get carried away by that rush of thoughts, there is a risk that something is lost. In letting ourselves get carried away by the rush of thoughts and activities, we risk losing touch with the abundant life the risen Jesus gives.
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark out, Jesus got up, left the house, and went off to an solitary place.
The gospel of Mark is punctuated by the word ‘immediately’. The greek word euthus, that we translate as ‘immediately’, or ‘with haste’ is used around 40 times by Mark. The frequent use of the word gives his gospel a sense of urgency and busyness.
And immediately the Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness.
Immediately Jesus called the James and John to follow him.
Immediately Jesus noticed that power had gone out from him.
Immediately he made his disciples get into the boat.
You almost get tired just reading the text. In the gospel of Mark, so much is done with haste – there is a real vividness to the narrative. And in general we remember how busy Jesus’ life was according to the gospel narratives. There are crowds of people following Jesus – it seems that he just can’t get away from them. When he isn’t followed by crowds seeking healing or instruction – then he is with his disciples – correcting them, teaching them.
Very early in the morning Jesus goes to an isolated place. Jesus leaves the house and goes out to be by himself. Jesus carves out a space in his day that is apart from the crowds, apart from his disciples – he carves out a space at the outset of his day that is apart from all of the thoughts and responsibilities that no doubt rushed in at him as the first grogginess of morning passed.
Can we do the same? At the outset of each very ordinary day – at the outset of each day, to create a protected space – a space against the onslaught of the day. To create a protected space where we push back all those thoughts and say: “Not yet.” “I’m not ready for you yet.”
But why? Why do we want to push back that onslaught of thoughts and activities first thing in the morning?
Very early in the morning, while it was still dark out, Jesus got up, left the house, and went off to the a solitary place, where he prayed.
Where he prayed… Early in the morning, Jesus goes to an isolated place in order to speak with the one he called Abba. Early in the morning, Jesus goes off by himself to pray to the one who said to Jesus at his baptism: “You are my son, whom I love.”
This past Tuesday six of us form KCKF went up for part of the day to the Benedictine Abbey at St. Benoit-du-lac – it was a beautiful day. We sat through the Eucharist, had a picnic overlooking the hills of the Eastern Township, and spent some time with a monk exploring the monastic life. But we noted that each and every day begins (as in most monastic communities) with prayer. Whether it is with Vigils at 5:00 a.m. or with Lauds at 7:30 a.m., the rhythm of the day begins in prayer. We often think that such a practice is reserved for the likes of monks – for religious types who don’t have to deal with ordinary life – with the real world. But if we are to find an answer to our longing for fullness, it will mean following the pattern of Jesus in prayer. We’re not necessarily talking about organized morning prayer – but about a personal practice – something we are invited to personally.
There’s so much we could say about what’s involved in carving out a space and time against the rush of the day – so much we could say about prayer in general. But first and foremost it is about becoming attentive – simply attentive to the God who is there while sleep – attentive to the God who is there while we are shaking off the grogginess – attentive to the God who will be there in each moment of our day. When we let ourselves get carried away in the morning by the thoughts and activities of the day – when we fail to carve out that space of resistance – Then we fail to become attentive to God – then we fail to become attentive to the God who in Jesus Christ brings joy, healing, forgiveness, and renewal to us in the everyday.
To go back to the poet: “The ordinary desires.” The ordinary reaches toward fullness. In the ordinariness of a Monday morning, or the ordinariness of a Saturday morning – there is something that asks for, longs for, more. And the ordinary finds an answer to this longing, it finds fullness, in attentiveness to God. The question is, perhaps: How will we ever experience the fullness of life in an ordinary morning if we are not attentive to the one who gives the morning, who gives life, and who makes all things new – the one who through Jesus Christ gives us and our world a future.
As we come toward a conclusion this morning – it is worth noting that this attentiveness has a second dimension – it involves, equally, attentiveness to others. The God who has shown his face in Jesus – this God invites love of neighbour, this God cares for our neighbour, this God wills to bring healing and wholeness to all those we encounter each day. Which means that to carve out a space and time for prayer in the morning – to resist that onslaught of thoughts and activities – is also to become attentive to those who are around us, or who will be shortly. It is to become attentive to the women and men to whom we might speak a word of hope, or offer a gesture of hospitality, or convey a word of truth.
In the ordinary – in the morning when there is sleep in our eyes, when we are just getting the kinks out of our legs, when we are alone with God – early in the morning, as we become attentive to God, we get a first taste of abundance. Everything may not suddenly become extraordinary, it may take time to develop a joyful discipline of attentiveness – but early in the morning there is a chance to get a taste of abundance. Joy and hope and purpose in relation to our risen Lord – a joy and hope and purpose that might overflows in the direction of others, in an attentiveness to the children, the women, the men around us. An abundance to be shared.
A morning prayer, from Malcolm Boyd, with which we close:
It’s morning, Jesus. It’s morning, and here’s that light and sound all over again.
I’ve got to move fast…get into the bathroom, wash up, grab a bite to eat, and run some more.
I just don’t feel like it, Lord. What I really want to do is get back into bed, pull up the covers, and sleep. All I seem to want today is the big sleep, and here I’ve got to run all over again.
Where am I running? You know these things I can’t understand. It’s not that I need you to tell me what everything means. What counts most is just that somebody knows, and it’s you. That helps a lot.
So I’ll follow along, okay? But lead, Lord. Now I’ve got to run. Are you running with me, Jesus?