“Majesty in the midst of the mundane. Holiness in the filth of sheep manure and sweat. Divinity entering the world on the floor of a stable, through the womb of a teenager and in the presence of a carpenter…the merchants are unaware that God has visited the planet. The innkeeper would never believe that he had just sent God into the cold. And the people would scoff at anyone who told them the Messiah lay in the arms of a teenager on the outskirts of their village. They were all too busy to consider the possibility. Those who missed His Majesty’s arrival that night missed it not because of evil acts or malice; no, they missed it because they simply weren’t looking. Little has changed in the last two thousand years, has it?” (from God Came Near by Max Lucado)
The coming of Jesus marked a dramatic turn in the way we relate to God. No more do we journey to a place designated by a grand building dictated by pomp and circumstance. While by nature we will always love experiencing God in the extraordinary, even the extravagant, in Matthew 25 Jesus reveals an important counterpart, a healthy balance to solely focusing on the extraordinary. Jesus invites us to see God in the ordinary: in a cup of cold water, in a welcome to a stranger, in food or clothing given to someone in need, in a visit to the sick or imprisoned. “Whatever you did for them you did for me.” The invitation is to experiencing God in the common things of life, like a manger on a starry night. If we limit God to the dramatic and the extraordinary, not only will we devalue the ordinary, we will miss the many times he comes to us throughout our day. Someone has said, “When our everyday activities aren’t sacramental, they soon become flat and we unconsciously compensate for that by increasing the dosage.”
So how do we value the ordinary? How do we encounter God in all the days, hours and minutes when we are not experiencing the overtly spiritual or the spiritually dramatic? There is no method or technique to be mastered, but there is an attitude to be cultivated. It is possible for us to develop a constant, habitual awareness that God is present, and to learn to be attentive and responsive to that presence. We need to trust, of course, that God truly is with us, always, (Immanuel) even though we are not always aware of his presence.
Practicing this kind of awareness is a way of living into a deeper recognition of God’s activity in our lives and staying connected throughout our day. In a very real sense this is how these verses on prayer come to make sense:
1 Thess. 5:17 – “Pray without ceasing.”
Romans 12;12 – Be constant in prayer.”
Eph. 6:18 – “Pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests.”
Our lives, then, become a ceaseless prayer. All lines between secular and holy vanish and we realize that life itself is holy and we begin to truly live it unto God. We are no longer bound by the dissatisfaction of our consumer culture that tells us to keep striving for more stuff, more success, more money, more of everything. Instead we are invited to learn to live in the joy and contentment of seeing every moment as a gift from God. This causes all things to be celebratory.
“There is no event so common place but that God is present within it, always hiddenly, always leaving you room to recognize him. If I were called upon to state in a few words that essence of everything I was trying to say both as a novelist and as a preacher, it would be something like this: Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” (From Now and Then by Frederick Buechner)
Questions for Reflection:
How have you typically expected to encounter God?
What circumstance you do find yourself in that you need to see God in it? How can this happen?