Friday, December 23, 2011

The Sacredness of the Ordinary

Elton Trueblood described the birth of Jesus bringing the sacred and the secular into a powerful human experience, through what he called “the common ventures of life”--birth, marriage, work, death. Richard Foster insists we can overcome what he terms the “heresy of 5 percent spirituality.” We can turn “ordinary experiences of life into prayer, seeing God in our ordinary life experiences, and praying throughout those ordinary experiences (Prayer, Finding the Heart's True Home/169).

He describes his ordinary, uneventful mother. She lived with neither drama, nor newspaper headline, nor high adventure, but she did live with Multiple Sclerosis. She died an “ordinary death,” he says, after living her “ordinary life,” but he concludes, she “did both well.”

Ordinary living can be so common, so uneventful, so tedious, and so repetitive. Young people today find ordinary life so “boring.” I heard George pray probably hundreds of times in church. If I heard him ask once for power, I heard him ask for power a hundred times; he wanted the extraordinary and asked for it often.

The Jews rejected the authority of Jesus because he was too ordinary. He was only a hometown kid, from small-town Nazareth, where everybody knew him as the son of the local carpenter. Born in a Bethlehem manger--an animal compound. Jesus didn‘t even have enough good social graces to even know how to pick his friends.

Jesus chose to run with a bunch of nobodies--fishermen, tax collectors, unsophisticated men. He ate with sinners. He kept mixed company of the questionable kind. He ignored tradition and social custom, even eating his meals with unwashed hands and neglecting all-important Sabbath-keeping laws. Whatever his moral character, he obviously was not of the kingly stature to lead the Hebrews in overthrowing their Roman conquerors or to make them the United States of the Middle East, while ruling from Jerusalem during an imagined Millennium. He just didn’t qualify as somebody significant.

A while back, a young pastor’s wife was diagnosed with cancer. He sent encouraging "half-time" notes when he could, but now he reports a changed outlook following a full course of chemo treatment. Their outlook has changed. In spite of the best Medical Science can offer, this may be their final earthly Christmas together.

A recent CT scan reveals her cancer has grown. In spite of the chemo--in spite of humanity’s best, the cancer has increased in size where it is. Although not spreading elsewhere, it “now appears more resistant“ - and - “there is nothing further than can be done.”

Further options offer “low success rates” and she finds herself “entirely weakened by the normal chemotherapy, so more and harsher therapy is not an option.” Hospice has come in for as long as needed … the present objective being simply to avert pain.

This family lives in what I call the “tediousness of everyday living. “ Nonetheless, their testimony says “Nobody knows how long she will be with me [us] … This is very difficult news to bear. Our hope has certainly been disappointed but our faith in a Heavenly Father, who can still restore her health or who may call her home, is not shaken. He is loving and good, but situation is hard right now for us. Continue to pray for us”, and that is Christmas at their house.

I remember a day not unlike theirs--3-6 months to complete a terminal illness. Somehow, by the Grace of God, my spouse survived and we anticipate our 65th anniversary within the next few weeks--nobodies in the Kingdom of God.

I think of the words of Richard Foster and the birth of a Christmas baby, to an engaged but unmarried girl, betrothed to a carpenter of unknown stature, born in an animal compound. That baby’s birth in Bethlehem was as insignificant as insignificant can get, but it was the beginning of a journey from Bethlehem to Calvary.

At Calvary, that innocent baby found himself a victim of crucifixion. The road from Bethlehem to Calvary is a transforming journey, and somewhere en route that baby became the embodiment of “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth on him should not perish, but should have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

The transformation was such that in the most agonizing and terrible moments of his coming death--nailed to a cross he did not deserve--he held on long enough to extend a word of loving hope, and eternal transformation to a criminal he had never met but who deserved his punishment.

Christmas reminds us that everybody is somebody. There is no such thing as an insignificant being--a nobody. Not in God’s sight! As Ethel Waters used to say, "God don't make no junk!" Meaningless moments do not exist. As we travel from Bethlehem (Christmas) to Calvary (Easter), we find the storyline is not about the church discovering God’s gifts and selfishly enjoying them (or Israel living as King of the Mountain in their political community).

Rather, we find the storyline is about the people of God living as a new community, an outpost where now God dwells and rules, giving allegiance to Him as Lord [rather than to kings and political leaders]. It is about living within that realm wherein “we must obey God rather than human beings (Acts 5:29), and living in-and-under the authority of God--a present authority in this besieged world.

Earth, as we know it, and heaven may be we know not quite where, but they are not that far apart. God’s powerful presence abides and rules in both rooms. Teilhard de Chardin reminds us that the value and interest of life is in the ordinary things rather than the more conspicuous. God is most readily found in the ordinary tediousness of everyday living, including the terminal attacks upon the body by disease and malignancy.

From Warner’s World, Christmas reinforces the reality we experience when we pray “Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven.” God love you and so do I ...

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