“The sacred is in the ordinary. It is to be found in one's daily life, in one's neighbors, friends, and family, in one's own backyard. To be looking elsewhere for miracles is to me a sure sign of ignorance that everything is miraculous.” - Abraham Maslow
I was raised to correlate spiritual growth and vitality with the frequency and intensity of "spiritual experiences." If prayer, worship, or reading the Scriptures did not bring strong feelings of euphoria and transcendence, or (occasionally) conviction and repentance, then I thought I was stagnant, stunted, or just sleeping. My spirituality was defined by the highlights, not the in-betweens. My faith was only as good as my last "high."
Exhibit A: Youth Camp
I worked in youth ministry for many years, and the experience of all experiences was always youth camp. Every year, without fail, we'd take three dozen or so teens and cloister ourselves up in cabins on a lake in the remotest parts of Maine to enjoy fantastic food, exciting adventures, crazy games, and - of course - intense times of worship, preaching, and prayer. And every year tears flowed, commitments were made, relationships were restored, and new friendships flourished.
And it was all truly beautiful. I did it for more than 10 years and loved every second of it. But almost without fail the energy and passion that students felt at camp faded within a few weeks - at most - after we returned from Maine like Peter, James, and John coming down from the Mount of Transfiguration.
As staff, we would encourage students to understand that things would be different when we got home. Every day cannot, and frankly will not, be like a day at camp. It is a unique environment. "Live from camp, not for it," was a phrase I coined to capture this. Don't live for the highlight, mountaintop experiences like we experience up north every year. Instead, allow that experience to feed you, fuel you, and empower you to go forth while recognizing it is not the norm.
But I've been realizing lately that I didn't take it far enough.
Sacralize the Ordinary
Although "live from camp, not for it" is a powerful truth, it is missing something: sacralize the ordinary - that is, make the ordinary things of life sacred, because they already are.
We can't get the big picture of "the meaning of life" if our answer does not incorporate all of it. (Click to share on Twitter)
We must not only recognize that every day cannot and will not be a "spiritual experience." We must learn the way in which the ordinary moments are soaked with spirituality - if only we have the eyes to see it. Because the vast majority of all the sacred and spiritual things in this world are found in the ordinary.
What does it look like when we sacralize the ordinary?
We do small practices with intentionality, recognizing how they shape us. The very first thing I do every morning is make my bed, remembering that my small act of making order out of chaos is a microscopic imitation of a God who works the same way, bringing light from darkness and life from death. I got this idea from Trish Warrison's brilliant book Liturgy of the Ordinary, and I wrote about it in my poem I make my bed and remember.
We see the image of God in the person directly in front of us and respond accordingly. This untitled poem captures the idea of finding God not just in the fantastic and "mystical," but in everyday interactions. My poem In you about a Syrian boy I am working with is a specific example of this.
We see the brokenness of our world as an opportunity to point to a more fundamental reality: that God in Christ stooped to enter that brokenness, chaos, and yes, even ordinary boringness, to be with us. I try to get at this idea in All Creation is Groaning.
When schedules are filled to bursting and we feel overwhelmed, we learn to stop in those in-between moments and remind ourselves that, rather than simply "busy," Life is Full.
From this, we learn that even small changes in the way we articulate our reality can transform our outlook. The one word gap between "life is busy" and "life is full" spans two totally different perspectives.
Experience a new wonder daily
Walk in the Way, view all parts with compassion, comprehend the whole, practice humility, experience a new wonder daily.
These words are about viewing life as holistically spiritual. We must learn to see the parts and the whole, the forest and the trees. We must view the parts with compassion - the good, the bad, the boring, the confusing, and the mundane. At the same time, we must see each of these as part of the whole. We can't get the big picture of "the meaning of life" if our answer does not incorporate all of it.
Next, we are reminded to practice humility. If we think we have it all figured out, we need to remember there's no way we ever could. And if we feel hopelessly lost and confused, we can take it as an encouragement that we just need to keep moving forward.
Last but far from least, the final line is absolutely essential: Experience a new wonder daily. The last thing I do before bed each night is to take a few moments to jot down a "moment of wonder" from that day in my journal. These come in so many shapes and sizes I won't even try to describe them, but I promise that if you start to intentionally look for wonder in at least one small place every day, even in the uneventful and the bland, you will begin to see a change in your thought-patterns, and you will be at the cusp of sacralizing the ordinary.
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