Monday, November 7, 2016

Liturgy Of The Ordinary: A Must Read Of 2016

Back when I worked in a bookstore, there was the thrill of discovering new writers with distinctive voices and depth to their writing. Certainly this was the case when I came across Lauren F. Winner's Girl Meets God and Kathleen Norris' Dakota: A Spiritual Geography. After reading both of these books, I would thrust them into the hands of anyone I could interest with, "Here! You've got to read this!" And then I eagerly awaited each new work that both of these authors came out with. Though I no longer work in a bookshop, I still love having that excitement when coming across a new author who has something to say and does so beautifully them. This is precisely what I felt reading Tish Harrison Warren's marvelous book entitled Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life whose prose elucidates thoughts I have had but have not yet found own my own words to express them.

My favorite authors (such as Winner, Norris, Annie Dillard, Eugene Peterson) are the ones who are able to make me stop and take notice of those things that I so often in my daily life fail to see and appreciate. There is a sacredness to life that tends to get lost in the frenetic and busyness of our schedules and all that is required of us from our jobs, our families, our friends and activities (not to mention how much time social media and our smart phones take up). The liturgy of the ordinary of which she writes shows how the sacred and the secular are intertwined and that the holy can be found in the mundane and commonplace of all of our lives. 

Theres a Greek word kalchino  which means "to search for the purple fish." These "purple fish" were shellfish that were highly prized for their rich purple dye used by the Greeks. Divers went to the bottom of the sea to try and find these elusive fish. Later on, Greek philosophers would use the term kalchino to mean plumbing the depths of oneself.  This is the same attitude the contemplative has during prayer and lectio divina. What's amazing is how Tish Harrison Warren is able to do this with the overlooked and often forgotten moments of our daily lives (such as the simple but often tiresome task of making a bed) and then translate them to erudite but understandable prose that makes you reframe your perspective. Take how she describes something like the simple pleasure of enjoying a cup of coffee or tea in the chapter entitled Sanctuary and Savoring:

"Pleasure is our deep human response to an encounter with beauty and goodness. In these moments of pleasure - of delight, enjoyment, awe, and revelry - we respond to God impulsively with our very bodies: Yes, we agree! Your creation is very good."

Warren's writing is poetic without being sentimental and cloying: how she writes does not get in the way of what she has to say.  The beauty of the sentences are matched by her profundity, humor, and honesty. This book invites you in, as if you were listening to a close friend in conversation sharing. She's not afraid to admit her flaws and failures and foibles, such as the irritation that builds with attempting to find lost keys.

"I cannot simply will myself to, as Paul says, "do all things without grumbling or disputing" (Phil. 2:14). It's not enough to merely want to be more content or to tell myself to cheer up. I need to cultivate the practice - the habits - of meeting Christ in these small moments of grief, frustration, and anger, of encountering Christ's death and resurrection - this being story of brokenness and redemption - in a small, gray, stir-crazy Tuesday morning." 

I read that sentence and hollered, "Comrade!"

Ever since Brother Lawrence wrote Practicing the Presence of God in the 17th century, many writers have covered the holiness found in the quotidian aspects of our day-to-day lives, but Warren makes the material her own and brings her own fresh insights to a subject some might think has been mined enough. She writes in a way that anyone in there busy, hurried, frenetic and distracted lives can breathe, find a moment of stillness to read her compassionate and transforming words so that we stop and become more attentive to those moments we tend to give little awareness but form the days that define our lives. Warren helps us to see our lives as God sees them: multiple ways to worship Him (from laundry to raising kids to working at our jobs). To see all of this as vocation that ultimately has eternal impact. 

"Ordinary love," she writes, "anonymous and unnoticed as it is, is the substance of peace on earth, the currency of God's grace in our daily life."

We need writers like her to remind us of these truths, to reframe our fragmented days into infinite worth because our Creator does. Our lives are the liturgy. This means that they are filled with the mystery as well as the mundane. 

Liturgy of the Ordinary is the kind of book where the reader doesn't want to rush through it all slap-dash to get finished, but one where you want to savor and meditate on each chapter.  

This book, which releases in December 2016, would make a great gift (to oneself or to a friend or family member) as well as a great choice for any book club. It will definitely make it to my best of 2016 list.

Tish Harrison Warren's official site:

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