Sunday, October 2, 2011

Finding God in the ordinary

Was it coincidence? Or, was grace breaking through my daily tasks?

A good start to the day
"Vineyard" by Stuart Miles
The morning’s work on my blog had gone reasonably well. I was commenting on a passage from the Gospel of Matthew (21.28-32) where Jesus is speaking to the chief priests and elders of the Jewish people. He tells them a story about two sons. The father asks each son to go work in the vineyard. The first son says “No”, but then reconsiders and goes. The second son says “Yes”, but does not follow through. Jesus asks, “Which of the two did the will of the father?” The answer is obvious, and the religious leaders get it right.

Even still, Jesus has some harsh words for this group. Essentially, he compares them to the second son. He tells them that the tax collectors and prostitutes, people who are public sinners, are closer to heaven than they are.

The tax collectors and sinners have contrite hearts. They know that their attempts at being holy are woefully inadequate, but still they search for God in their life. They are like the first son who at first refused to do the will of his father, but eventually sets out to please him.

They are layers of meaning to the story, but I was noodling on the idea that the religious leaders were imposters. They had turned God into a set of rules and regulations to be followed. They had become self-satisfied and complacent about their spiritual state. God had ceased to be a living presence for them. The religious leaders were posers.

In the afternoon, I confidently sat down to pen my column. Several frustrated hours later, I was feeling like an imposter myself, an ordinary woman masquerading as a religion columnist. 

“Give it a rest,” I thought, “Bake some cookies.”
"Chocolate Chip Cookies" by Grant Cochrane

I was sort of listening to the radio program, but mostly I was thinking about my column when I heard something that demanded my full attention.

“I have no idea what I’m doing,” said the voice on the radio. The comment, at that particular point in time, expressed my sentiments precisely.  A discussion on feelings of inadequacy ensued. Many people, despite their competence, expect to be discovered as frauds. The host actually used the word “imposter”.

That word, “imposter”, had been crashing into my consciousness all day. Were the connections between my reflection in the morning, my feelings of frustration in the afternoon, and the topic of this radio show trying to teach me something? 

A new column began to take shape.

Mysticism of ordinary life
In the midst of the commonplace activity of baking cookies, my mind and heart opened to the presence of God.  The little coincidences, all based around the word “imposter”, were a small grace, an exclamation mark in the day reminding me that we can find God in routine tasks.

This is what the Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner referred to as the mysticism of ordinary life.  This is not the traditional concept of Christian mysticism, where union with God is a privileged experience for a very few holy men and women. It is not the dramatic mysticism of ecstatic trances, visions, or spectacular phenomena.  

The mysticism of ordinary life finds God in daily life.  As Rahner expressed it in one of his prayers, “If there can ever be a way for me to you, then it leads through my daily drudge…I must also be able to find you in everything.”
Link to Rahner's spiritual writings. The Daily Drudge begins on page 45.

Responding faithfully to the presence of God in everything is not easy. Like the tax collectors and sinners, we sometimes find ourselves saying “no” to God.  Being always conscious of the presence of  God, who is ever present to us, is not easy. Like the chief priests and elders, we sometimes find ourselves forgetting God. We become wrapped up in ‘doing,’ instead of being in relationship with God.

Coincidence inspired insight
The connections around the word “imposter” that day may not have been divine intervention, but those connections certainly helped me to see that God was sharing life with me. The connections inspired insight.

Through the ordinary activity of baking cookies, I realized that God had been present throughout my day. Although I considered myself to be working in the vineyard, I was a little bit like the religious leaders. I had forgotten to be present to God.

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