Reveal: Finding God in the Ordinary
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.