On Monday morning I was home with a sick child (he’s just fine now!). To be honest, I was so tired that I was a little thankful to have an excuse to stay home and be with him. But first, I had a few work things that needed to be taken care of. As I moved from email to newsfeeds to social media feeds, I suddenly became very overwhelmed with how much pain and suffering I was seeing. A young mother facing a scary diagnosis. A young family who lost a daddy way too soon. Friends sandwiched between caring for their children and their aging parents. Friends and family struggling with things like depression, anxiety and just plain exhaustion. Not to mention, my own anxiety, worry and sadness about the state of my beloved United Methodist Church.
I suddenly got the urge to get up and light a candle. Not a fancy candle – just the one sitting on the shelf that I have lit many times before to help my house smell better. But this was different. The urgency was real as I dug through a drawer for a lighter. Then, as I lit it, John 1:5 immediately came to my mind, “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.”
“The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.” Tears come to my eyes even now as I type this.
An ordinary candle in my incredibly messy living room with wooden blocks and superhero action figures covering the floor while DinoTrux was on the TV right above it. And yet, the sacredness of the moment was palpable to me.
It got me thinking about ordinary things, and the power of ritual to help us notice the sacred in the ordinary.
On Saturday morning we were having breakfast with my sister-in-law who was in town for a quick trip. My son desperately needed some Chapstick, so I pulled out a tube from my purse. It had a yellow post-it note wrapped around it saying, “for lips,” which I had done on a day at work when I was desperate for Chapstick but could only find a new tube of “blessing balm.” (I didn’t want to accidentally bless someone with something that had been on my mouth!). However, my son quickly recognized the purple lid and said, “Hey! That’s blessing balm!” I had to convince him that while yes, it was just like the tubes Ms. Jennifer and his Sunday School teachers use to bless him and his classmates each Sunday, it really is just Chapstick. (Seriously, it took LOTS of convincing!)
A regular green apple scented candle makes God’s presence palpable.
A plain tube of Chapstick becomes a means of blessing one another and reminding them they are a beloved child of God.
A loaf of bread and a bottle of grape juice purchased at Target become a means of grace through which we connect with God as we remember and experience the sacrificial love of Christ.
Water from a faucet, the same water used for drinking or bathing, becomes a symbol of God’s prevenient grace and a welcome into the Christian Church.
A shell bought online in bulk from Oriental Trading Company becomes a powerful reminder of that baptism.
There is nothing special or magical about any of these items. So what makes them sacred? Is it God or is it us?
The obvious answer is well, if it’s sacred, then it must be God. But I’m starting to wonder if it is us. Is it us opening our eyes to recognize God in the midst of our mess? Is it us pausing to remember that God is always with us – even when we aren’t paying attention? Is it us participating in both ancient and off-the-cuff rituals, inviting God into the midst of our ordinary, beautiful and messy lives?
I know a woman in our church who has turned folding laundry, into a time of prayer. One of the early monastics prayed while doing the dishes. My third grade teacher encouraged us to stop and pray every time we heard a siren.
Where might you create ritual and discover the sacred in the midst of the ordinary?Where might you encounter God in the everyday routines of life? Where might you invite God into your literal or figurative mess?
(Please feel free to share in the comments as it may open another’s eyes to new ways of experiencing the sacred and connecting with God!)