lenten journal: ordinary



Look it up and you will see the dictionary doesn’t deal with the word too kindly:

of no special quality or interest;
plain or undistinguished;
somewhat inferior or below average;

And yet, I’m happy to report today was an ordinary day—and it was good.

According to the same dictionary, the part of the Catholic Mass that is repeated every time is called ordinary. In that context, the word carries some sense of essential, of ritual: meaningful repetition. I also think of the season of the church year between the end of Pentecost and the beginning of Advent that we refer to as Ordinary Time. I have come to see it as the time where we get to tell our part of the gospel story. From Advent to Pentecost, we follow the life of Jesus and then the beginning of the church; in ordinary time we have room to figure out what the story means on a day to day basis.

Today was a beautiful day here in Durham. Spring is a season that actually follows the calendar in this part of the world, so there was a cool breeze to accompany the sunshine. I had time this morning to read and write, had lunch with a good friend, picked up a few groceries, read and wrote some more, took a nap with the pups, cooked a little, listened to some music, and read a few email messages. One of them came from an old friend who introduced me to a new poet—Mark Nepo—with this quote:

My efforts now turn
from trying to outrun suffering
to accepting love wherever
I can find it.

The words sent me searching and I found these words of his as well:

The further I wake into this life, the more I realize that God is everywhere and the extraordinary is waiting quietly beneath the skin of all that is ordinary. Light is in both the broken bottle and the diamond, and music is in both the flowing violin and the water dripping from the drainage pipe. Yes, God is under the porch as well as on top of the mountain, and joy is in both the front row and the bleachers, if we are willing to be where we are.

I did a little bit of searching and learned Nepo is a cancer survivor, poet, teacher, and seeker. His journey has brought him to a profound sense of the importance of daily life, from what I read. I am grateful for the resonance I found there.

Maybe ordinary does mean all of those things the dictionary says, but not today. The dailiness of our lives is distinguished by how well we pay attention to the details, how well we turn habits into rituals, how deeply we sink our roots into the commonplace. We live ordinary lives shot through with love and grace and mercy, and we have the chance in our comings and goings to offer those things to one another when we meet over meals, in grocery lines, or just passing on the sidewalk, if we are willing to be where we are.



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