Be Still: In the Ordinary
It had snowed the night before and the glass doors and windows in the living room gave way to a beautiful view of frosted over trees, dancing in the wind, and glimmering from the sun’s rays. I gazed upon this site and gave an audible yet soft “wow”.
I had just finished reading the reflection for that day in the Rejoice! Lenten Devotional I’d been working through (see the last two posts here and here for more on this book) and the theme for the day had been “Ordinary” through the eyes of St. Joseph. What Fr. Mark Toups was able to unpack here in a few short pages was remarkable and gave me real pause. The cliff note version that I wrote down that day is this…
How did Joseph view the ordinary?
- He found God in it because he lived with God and in God.
- He was intentional in the ordinary. This allowed the extraordinary to in fact be that- extraordinary, not burdensome or falling flat. Intentionality in and with both (the ordinary and extraordinary) is key.
- He wasn’t always longing for more because he didn’t have to because he saw God right where he was, regardless of external or internal factors. God always provided in these areas.
As I sat nestled in the couch separated from those iced over trees by a mere wall of glass, I contemplated the ordinary and the extraordinary through the eyes of St. Joseph. In that moment I had simultaneously stepped out of the ordinary (by going on a retreat) and stepped into the ordinary (by slowing down to experience nature, silence, and stillness more fully). How could this be? It was through this paradox that I realized this retreat was yes, perhaps an escape from the ordinary in some areas of my life but more so it was an opportunity for the enhancement of the extraordinary that is contained within the ordinary. In this case, the ordinary was the silence, was nature, was the consistent prayer schedule of the Benedictines, was the making of meals and sitting to enjoy them, was the early rising and early sleeping, was the sound of my sole footsteps echoing all around me. What made these all extraordinary through this retreat was the experience of them outside of my normal, daily life- even if they are each something I can encounter within my normal, daily and ordinary life as well.
This was my clue- my clue that experiencing the ordinary in an extraordinary way is possible. It just takes an active, intentional decision to pause -to be still- and to recognize God in that ordinary moment with you. When the ordinary becomes extraordinary in that way the constant longing for more begins to wane and we also gain a greater clarity of vision to view the extraordinary with true awe and wonder.
When we are longing to escape the ordinary a few things happen.
- Instead of trying to find what is extraordinary about the ordinary, we try to bring what is in and of itself extraordinary into every moment. This in turn dulls the extraordinary so when we encounter it on its own, we need bigger and bigger experiences in order for it to make any impact at all.
- i.e. Eating your favorite food all the time (extraordinary because it’s your favorite) makes it no longer special on special occasions. Your mom’s amazing lasagna every week means it’s not as special on your birthday and maybe you’re even sick of it by the time your birthday comes.
- Or turning random days into something worthy of a big celebration, get together, or purchase- just try listing all the “National _fill in the blank_ Days”.
- The ordinary is viewed as so terrible or monotonous that we find ourselves always planning for that next extraordinary experience. So much thought/longing/desire goes into it that when it finally arrives, we’re paying more attention to the fact it’s going to end and dreading the return of the ordinary than we pay to the actual extraordinary experience itself.
- i.e. Christmas. How many of us spend so much time buying gifts, planning parties, cooking food, etc. that once Christmas day (and the Christmas season which only begins on the 25th) actually comes you’re ready to take down the tree, cut the lights, and crash on the couch before the night even ends?
- Or a honeymoon or vacation that takes so much planning and build up that once the time comes it’s a whirlwind that’s hardly remembered, the trip ends, a month passes and you find yourself asking- When can we start planning another trip? Can we spend two weeks this time? Can we go even further from home than last time?
As Fr. Mark Toups said, “Joseph found God in the ordinary. Therefore, there was no need to overindulge or escape the ordinary because after all, what would he be looking to escape?”
So the question then becomes, how do we keep the extraordinary special?
- We acknowledge there is a time and season and it’s not meant to last forever. This is a legitimate true fact about its reality. Again, consider Christmas, or your birthday, or a pregnancy, or a vacation- they all last for a certain length of time.
- We find what is special about the ordinary in its own right.
- The ordinary gives us peace, stability, a place to grow & learn, form relationships & invest in others, embrace silence, grow in humility & virtue, repent and forgive often.
- We have to be intentional.
- Find ways to focus on the extraordinary during its rightful season so it doesn’t get lost, forgotten, or mistakenly seen as ordinary.
- The ordinary can be special too, it doesn’t necessarily mean boring or dull. Intentionally live your everyday life well and with joy. However, it can also be boring and in fact needs to be at times because boredom inspires creativity and encourages silence which is where we meet God and are called deeper into our co-creator relationship with Him.
Fr. Mark Toups again reiterates the importance of the separation here when he says, “If we are not intentional, we actually may lose sight of the extraordinary because of the extraordinary.”
As we try to wrap our minds around this idea of the ordinary and extraordinary, I ponder one more question. What do we all have that is both ordinary and extraordinary?
We all have one. In its physical manifestation it beats at relatively the same speed each moment to keep us alive. Yet, in its spiritual manifestation it is also what makes us each so incredibly and uniquely different. Ordinary and Extraordinary.
Joseph’s Chaste Heart
Mary’s Immaculate Heart
Jesus’ Most Sacred Heart
Use your heart and the hearts of the Holy Family to guide your journey through the ordinary and extraordinary.
BONUS: I also want to share a quote that I read from Matthew Kelly’s book, Life is Messy, shortly after my retreat. He titled this section, “Cherish the ordinary”.
“It was the ordinary things that saved me. I have experienced enough extraordinary to know that I would choose the ordinary over the extraordinary all day long. Learn to cherish the ordinary. Make a list of 20 ordinary things that bring you joy when you experience them consciously. Here’s my list: Breathing. Sleeping. Waking. Water. Nature. Food. Reading. Thinking. Conversation. Music. Art. Seasons. Friendship. Children. Kindness. Chocolate. Laughter. Hugs. Holding hands. Home. Allow the ordinary to heal you.”