Clergy Letter for July and August, by the Rev’d Derek Hinge
I have been thinking quite a bit about the word ‘ordinary’. How would you use that word in day to day conversation? ‘The food in the restaurant was ordinary’. ‘The clothes we are wearing are ‘ordinary’. ‘The team’s performance was ‘ordinary’. Or, of someone who has died, we might say that he/she led an ordinary life. Describing something as ordinary isn’t quite an insult but It certainly isn’t a compliment. When the school Inspectors conclude their work, the school is classified as excellent, good, satisfactory or unsatisfactory. ‘Satisfactory’ is seen as ordinary and not good enough.
Of course a desire for excellence, for doing our best in whatever we are doing is a healthy human vocation in response to God’s great goodness. But in our modem society, our pursuit of the best has got out of hand. Everything has to be bigger, better, more attractive. Today our lives will be more exciting, more fulfilling, more satisfying than yesterday. Have you noticed how the sizes of cups in Starbucks are described — tall, medium, large? Now, in the USA, ‘trente’ cup size has been Introduced which is bigger than the average human stomach. ‘Ordinary’ it seems is no longer. We move ever onwards from big to bigger, good to better, exciting to more exciting. ‘Ordinary’ is dull, unsatisfactory and to be avoided at all costs.
The Church’s Year leads us to focus on the main events of the Christian story. But, once we come to Trinity Sunday (May 22nd this year), we move into that long period of the year until November which is called ‘Ordinary’ time. Thus, ‘ordinary’ time includes all those days, in between the major festivals, in which we live most of our lives. We can do two things with these ‘ordinary’ days — either wish/idle them away until the next main event comes; or, attempt to make every day special so that there are no ordinary days left. Ordinariness is essential to our well-being as people and a vital part of our life in a Christian community. We need the ordinary in order to appreciate the extraordinary. Brushing your teeth, doing the washing up, making a cuppa, aren’t very glamorous but they are the stuff of our everyday living. Living every day to the full is about living contentedly with the ordinary in order to be open to the extraordinary.
I came across this poem by R.S.Thomas, it is called ‘The Bright Field’*
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now that I must give all I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.
Too often perhaps we miss the pearl of great price because our vision is dazzled either by an imagined future glory, or, a rose-tinted memory of the past. In truth the special, the extraordinary is found in the ordinary if only we have eyes to see it.
By ‘Ordinary’ time is meant ‘measured’ time as the weeks after Trinity are numbered. There is a suggestion of a rhythm of life. Ordinary time invites us to become ‘measured people’, committed to a greater spaciousness of living, less frenetic, more generous to ourselves, and to re-establish our own rhythm of life and prayer that works with our personality, our diaries and our circumstances; and to see ordinary time as maybe an opportunity to review our rhythm. It is not easy. It takes some discipline, practice and determination to get beyond the boredom, distraction and busyness of what we dismiss as ordinary into a rhythm beyond where we can discover the extraordinary.
As I reflected on all this, I began to realize that the Christian story is full of ordinary people, whose eyes were opened to the extraordinary, not because they were super-spiritual but because, through their ordinariness, they were open to the extraordinary. Holidays are an opportunity to open ourselves to the action of God’s spirit in the ordinariness of our lives that we may become extraordinary ordinary people!
*Quoted by Paula Gooder in her book ‘Everyday God’