Reveal: Finding God in the Ordinary

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Epiphany of the Lord: Isaiah 60:1-6; Psalm 72:1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-12

“The incredible gift of the ordinary! Glory comes streaming from the table of daily life.”

– Macrina Wiederkehr

Today, in the rhythm of the church year, we celebrate the feast of the Epiphany—the manifestation of God in earthly form. Taking its themes from the journey of the Magi, the “wise” foreigners who undertook a journey of discovery in search of the Christ child, Epiphany reminds us that the Divine does indeed show up in unexpected places—among ordinary people in ordinary settings.

The fact that Mary and Joseph were an ordinary young couple making the best of a tough situation, reminds us that the light of God’s presence can shine in the midst of our own dark nights.

The fact that ordinary shepherds were among the first witnesses of the greatest story ever told, encourages us to be awake and alert to the good news of Christ’s presence in the wilderness places of our own lives.

The fact that the Magi were Gentiles reminds us that even though Jesus was the King of the Jews, he was born as a Savior for all humankind, not just those who were specially chosen.

This is good news for all of us!

In Celebration of the Ordinary

On the Sunday following Epiphany, we commemorate Jesus’ baptism by John in the Jordan River; this launches us into the season between Christmas and Easter which we identify as Ordinary Time.

In Christian tradition, the weeks between the Incarnation and the Resurrection are called Ordinary Time because we are not celebrating any particular mystery of our faith but rather the mystery of Christ with us in all aspects of our lives. The Incarnation—God with us in the flesh—transforms every aspect of our human experience into a place of encounter with the Holy One. It takes more than a day or a week to fully live into this reality; it takes practice to learn how to recognize it.

“In the liturgical year we live the life of Jesus day after day until one day it becomes our own.”

Joan Chittister writes, “The time between Christmas and Lent, and the time between Pentecost and Advent [are] known as Ordinary Time, time outside the seasons of the two great feasts of the church. Time to rest in the contemplation of those centers of the faith that are the lodestones of our souls…in this period that is between the two poles of the life of Jesus, we get to pause awhile. To take it all in. To make the connection between that life, that reality, and our own. Ordinary time gives us time to contemplate the intersection between the life of Jesus and our own…In the liturgical year we live the life of Jesus day after day until one day it becomes our own.”1

Things Get Really Exciting

Some people find themselves in an emotional slump after the intense waiting of Advent, which culminates with Christmas, and then is followed immediately by celebrations associated with the chronological New Year. This let-down is understandable given the adrenalin-pumping pace of the holidays. It can feel like everything we looked forward to is now behind us and all that lies ahead is cold weather (for some) and getting back to work.

However, the celebration of Epiphany—with its emphasis on how God visits us in the midst of the ordinary—can actually fill us with anticipation. Epiphany reminds us that Ordinary Time is a season when things can get really exciting as we reflect on the “extraordinarily ordinary” aspects of Jesus’ birth story; it encourages us to renew our determination to seek God in the ordinary aspects of our own lives as well.

There is a Christian practice that can help us with this. It is called the examen of consciousness and it is so very simple. All we have to do is take a few minutes at the end of every day to review the events of that day asking God to show us evidence of the Divine Presence we might have missed. (You may prefer to take a few minutes in the morning to look back on the previous 24 hours.)

As we reflect on every aspect of the day—waking, showering and dressing, eating, commuting, relating with others, difficulties and challenges at work, moments of pleasure and pain, consolation and desolation, decision-making, interacting with the news and needs of the world, returning home, the evening spent with friends or family, working late, crawling into bed—we can ask God, “Show me where you were present, making the ordinary extraordinary.”  Reveal yourself to me.

When the Ordinary Becomes Extraordinary

In my experience, God always uses this heart-felt request to heighten my awareness of divine presence in the ordinary moments of my life.  When we incorporate this simple practice into our daily routine, Ordinary Time becomes anything but ordinary! May this prayer offer us a way to begin (or continue) this practice together.

We thought we knew where to find you;

we hardly needed a star to guide the way,
just perseverance and common sense;
why do you hide yourself away from the powerful
and join refugees and outcasts,
calling us to follow you there?
     Wise God, give us wisdom.

We thought we had laid you safe in the manger;
we wrapped you in the thickest sentiment we could find,
and stressed how long ago you came to us;
why do you break upon us in daily life
with messages of peace and goodwill
demanding that we do something about it?
     Just and righteous God, give us justice and righteousness.

So where else would we expect to find you
but in the ordinary place with the faithful people,
turning the world to your purpose through them?
Bring us to that manger, to that true rejoicing,
which will make wisdom, justice, and righteousness alive in us.


1 Joan Chittister, The Liturgical Year  (Nashville:  Thomas Nelson: 2009), p. 96, 97.
2 Stephen Orchard, Bread of Tomorrow: Prayers for the Church Year, Janet Morley, ed. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1992), p. 48.

©Ruth Haley Barton. 2014. Not to be reproduced without permission.

Ruth Haley Barton

Ruth (Doctor of Divinity, Northern Seminary) is founder and chief essence officer of the Transforming Center. A teacher, seasoned spiritual director (Shalem Institute), and retreat leader, Ruth is the author of numerous books and resources on the spiritual life including Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership, Sacred Rhythms, Life Together in Christ, Pursuing God’s Will Together, Invitation to Solitude and Silence, Invitation to Retreat, and Embracing Rhythms of Work and Rest.
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Thank you Ruth! Your words resonated with a desire deep within me that I have not yet named. I am headed into a day of solitude this week – perfect timing. Many blessings!

This past Advent we invited our entire congregation to journey together through Advent using, “Advent Reflections: Revive, Restore, Reveal.” The response was overwhelming. Comments included…”It was the first experience I encountered studying the scripture of the Lectionary.” “This study brought me closer to my church family as we discussed the scriptures after our personal encounter with the text.” As a staff the book was the foundation of our devotional time each week.

The response was so positive we have already ordered the books, “Lent: A Season of Returning,” for a church devotional guide for Lent. Give prayerful thought to using these materials to build community in your congregation.

Thanks, Bob! It is such a blessing to know that your congregation journeyed so deeply and intentionally through Advent! It is one thing to journey as an individual but quite another to journey together in community! May your tribe increase…

This is so, so good. My soul thanks Father for you!

I think so often we get blinded by the flashing paparazzi-like lights flashing in our face as we pursue the extraordinarily grandiose that we miss the eyes of Jesus glancing up at us from the ordinary interactions of people we pass every day. We sweep passed them in our flowing garbs, eyes dancing with the flashes that dazzle us, searching for the red-carpet where we think we belong. We long more to be used by God in sensational ways, than we long for the sacred space that ordinary-common-everyday service with our savior creates.

Father have mercy on us! May we all experience an “examen of consciousness” everyday!

Keep speaking truth my friend.

[…] One of the blogs I follow, Emily Freeman’s Chatting At The Sky, linked to a blog post titled Finding God in the Ordinary. It resonated with me so much that I immediately got on my computer and am sharing it with you […]

Thank you

Thank you so much for this post. It is what has been heavy on my heart for many years for those to whom I minister to. You have written my thoughts so well. Thank you. I rejoice in sharing it with all my Facebook friends and family.

Thank you. It always encourages Ruth when she gets feedback. Also, we appreciate you sharing it with others. If you haven’t already noticed, we have a Facebook page. Like us on Facebook – we often post things you won’t find in our blog.

I did not realize it, but I had fallen into a kind if lethargy and melancholy today. I had not understood why, but I was dreading the coming of ordinary days without special music, programs, or celebrations to anticipate. I so needed this post. It reminds me that Christ is always with us, and we have the extraordinary privilege of His extraordinary presence every day. Thank you so much.

Well said and amen!

amazing, thought provoking article. thank you so much!

You’re welcome!

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