HALLOWING the Ordinary

“Mom, can I get some spring church shoes that match my Easter dress from the storage room?”

Absentmindedly I nodded my head.  “Uh huh, that’s fine.  Just don’t make a mess.”

Several minutes later, my daughter returned upstairs from the storage room, wearing fancy, new “church” shoes.  “Now those aren’t for playing outside.  They’re only for church.”  If you’re a parent, you’ve probably had that conversation plenty of times with your own children.  I’m sure I’m not the only one who has envisioned tree climbing, scooter riding, and soccer playing children wearing fancy, new “church” shoes.

But whether you’re a parent or not, you too live by the same maxim that inspired my “they’re only for church” proclamation.  It’s the maxim of “saving and setting aside that which is particularly nice for someday special.”  We do that, right?  Whether we’re setting aside shoes, clothes, jewelry, silverware, plates, food, wine, napkins, tablecloths, towels, sheets, blankets, candles (and the list could go on), we all have a few reserved items that we hold back for someday special.

On one hand, I completely understand the concept.  Why use the beautiful handmade quilt on the bed that the pregnant kitty always chooses to have her babies on?  Why waste a delicious steak just to cut up into chunks to simmer all day in the crock-pot?  Why let your messy eater wear her favorite blouse on spaghetti night?  Some discretion is certainly necessary.  But sometimes too much is too much.

Several years ago, I realized we hadn’t eaten on our wedding china for far too many months.  Between it being a challenge to extricate from the china cabinet, and the clumsy fingers of ten children, I wanted to keep our beautiful china for someday special.  But then I realized that any day could be special, and that I’d much rather have a few nicks and chips in my wedding china along with some special memories, than beautifully preserved china that hadn’t ever been used.  And so we began pulling it out more often, much to the enjoyment of us all.

While we may follow this maxim with our stuff, we do so even more with something critically more important.  We do this with our lives and our faith.  We create arbitrary distinctions between that which is holy and sacred, and that which is ordinary and secular.  This dualism finds its way into every aspect of our lives.

We distinguish between sacred and secular in music, movies, books, coffee shops, and businesses.  We characterize jobs, professions, politicians, countries and behaviors as holy or ordinary.  For far too long we have lived our lives in two realms – our church selves and our regular selves.  We sing, act, dress, talk, pray one way on Sunday, and on the other six days of the week, are someone completely different.

And if we ever pause to consider the bizarreness of our behavior, we quickly justify it:  Sunday is God’s day.  I’m just a ________ (teacher, doctor, mom, service worker…), not a pastor.  God isn’t concerned with the details of my life.  What does raising children, paying taxes, working, cleaning the house, playing basketball, my romance struggles, today’s headlines, or where I buy my veggies have to do with God?  God doesn’t have anything to say to me about my life, just about my faith.

Dualism.  We put God in one box, and our lives in another.  There are things God cares about, speaks to, teaches on – and they mostly have to do with my sin, his forgiveness, and going to heaven.  And then there is the rest of life.

This is a tragic misunderstanding of God and his intention in our world, and in our lives.  Jesus’ incarnation in the world – into the ordinary, secular world – proves this isn’t the case.  Whether he was speaking with a woman fetching water, going fishing, taking a walk, eating dinner, getting caught in a storm, or attending a party, Jesus hallowed the ordinary.  He brought God’s message of hope and healing to the secular activities of his day.  And in so doing, blurred the line between the sacred and secular, the holy and the ordinary.

For all truth and beauty is from God.  Our talents and passions are given by God.  Our lives are meant to be lived in connection to God.  The loving, communal relationship of the Trinity – of God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit – invites us to share in their fellowship.  St. Iraenaeus said, “Our blessed Lord Jesus Christ became what we are in order to bring us to be what he is in himself.”

Life – true, joyful, life-giving, passionate life – is found when we break down the dualistic barriers we have erected, distinguishing between what is sacred and secular.  Kruger, author of The Great Dance, expresses this beautifully: “When you see the Trinity and the incarnation for what they are, you are poised to see yourself and your life in a new light, the true light.  You are poised to see that there is nothing ordinary about you and your life at all.  You are your life are the living expression of the glory and joy and beauty and love – the great dance – of the Father, Son and Spirit.” [p. 23]

Taking a hike, enjoying double-chocolate-chunk ice cream, playing board games with the kids, raking leaves, fixing the leaky faucet, paying the bills, chatting on facebook – all of these things are part of the great dance.  All of life is holy.  All is sacred.  God isn’t just confined to solemn gatherings on Sunday mornings.  His life, his passion, his fellowship, his dance is precisely what life is about.

What in your life does Jesus need to hallow?  What is “just ordinary” in your life that you can now consider holy?  Seeing life through this lens brings about a joy and richness that may well be missing.

But, truth be told, I’m still putting a limit on the kids playing outside in wearing church shoes!