An Ordinary Book to Read for Advent
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A Review of Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren.
People don’t always like the word ‘ordinary.’ We like things to be ‘awesome’ or ‘fresh’ or ‘exciting’ — anything but ordinary. In teaching and writing about the Church Year, I’ve noticed that a lot of people are confused by the fact that the calendar has Ordinary time in it.
We like the dessert, but we don’t like to eat our vegetables first.
And yet – and I learned this during that one year that I did Weight Watchers – if we do eat our vegetables and other “ordinary” food, eventually we start feeling better. We start enjoying all types of foods. We become healthy.
Tish Harrison Warren’s book Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life is, in some ways, an ordinary book. Its about an ordinary day in an ordinary life. Checking emails, fighting with your spouse, and sitting in traffic included. This ordinariness is what is actually beautiful and healthy about this wonderful little book.
Our ordinary, everyday lives are sacred – we just don’t always know it. Warren writes, “If Christ spent time in obscurity, then there is infinite worth found in obscurity… There is no task too small or too routine to reflect God’s glory and worth.”
An Anglican priest, wife, mother, missionary and writer, Tish explores each moment of one of her days alongside an aspect of our corporate worship. She manages to do this in a way that is reflective and insightful. She draws the reader in rather than drawing attention to herself. Her story is simply one story, but each story matters.
With each step of her day, from brushing teeth to going to sleep, she mindfully connects her activities to worship.
Waking, she remember her baptism. In our baptism, we are given new life. Each day is a new day. Remember your baptism.
Fighting with her husband, she remembers the Passing of the Peace on Sunday. This tiny piece of our liturgy that has a massive affect on our relationships – if we let it inform them. And she does find that though she resists it, she is seeking shalom. She needs to live out The Peace.
Losing her keys, she remembers that she is finite, mortal, and a sinner. The process of resisting honest repentance is a shared human experience, because of the Fall. Our communal confession of sin on Sundays is a chance to be honest with God, and it shapes our habits towards retaining this honesty throughout our week.
Becoming buried in email and other tasks reminds her that our worth is not tied up in doing particularly exalted “ministry” tasks, but that all of our work – even emailing – can bring glory to God. She writes, “I want to learn how to spend time over my inbox, laundry, and tax forms, yet mysteriously always on my knees, offering up my work as a prayer to the God who blesses and sends.”
She calls a friend. Something ordinary that we all do almost daily. This reminds her that “we need each other. We are immersed in the Christian life together. There is no merely private faith — everything we are and do as individuals affects the church community.” In this, we need the visible Body of Christ, and we need to gather with the Body, rather than trying to live out our faith alone.
And finally, rest. Sabbath. The ending of the day. She reflects, “But every evening, whether we like it or not, we must admit that we are not unlimited. Our bodies get tired. Our efforts prove futile. We are needy… And this must affect our bodily routines, our worship, and our view of God.”
In this she also points us to the liturgy itself as an act of resting. “It took me years to realize that our gathered worship on Sunday morning and our Sunday afternoon nap are interrelated.” How is that? Because we “learn the rhythms of spiritual rest through worship.”
This book helps us envision our liturgy and sacraments not as mere ceremony that takes place within church walls, but as powerful, life shaping and changing practices that turn our ordinary days into sacred time.
Warren’s writing is clear, open, and friendly. Her approach is devotional and yet pleasantly informative. She has a dynamic way of helping the reader learn something new about worship, or theology, or history without ever feeling stuffy. You will be glad you took some time to read this book.
So read this ordinary book during the Advent season of waiting and preparation, and you will find your own ordinary time revealed as nothing less than sacred.
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