If you haven’t already heard of Tish Harrison Warren’s new book, The Liturgy of the Ordinary, it is my pleasure to bring it to your attention. I have already purchased three copies for dear friends, and if I had an unlimited budget, I would buy half a dozen more today. At just under $12, this Amazon #1 best seller is well worth your money and time.
The book is practical, easy to read, and Warren is transparent about her own life’s challenges. It isn’t an abstract or esoteric guide to spiritual formation. Rather, it consistently deals with the concrete quest that every follower of Jesus wrestles with sooner or later—how do I experience God’s presence in the ordinary moments of life? These form the basis for each chapter:
- Waking: Baptism and Learning to Be Beloved
- Making the Bed: Liturgy, Ritual, and What Forms a Life
- Brushing Teeth: Standing, Kneeling, Bowing, and Living in a Body
- Losing Keys: Confession and the Truth About Ourselves
- Eating Leftovers: Word, Sacrament, and Overlooked Nourishment
- Fighting with My Husband: Passing the Peace and the Everyday Work of Shalom
- Checking Email: Blessing and Sending
- Sitting in Traffic: Liturgical Time and an Unhurried God
- Calling a Friend: Congregation and Community
- Drinking Tea: Sanctuary and Savoring
- Sleeping: Sabbath, Rest, and the Work of God
I only regret she didn’t do a 12th chapter to make the number “biblical” but maybe she was being intentionally ordinary.
These ordinary moments, the essence of life’s drudgery, which reminds us all, from Hollywood stars and Presidents to our small-town neighbors, that we are fundamentally equal when the façades are pulled down. With spectacular precision, Warren not only exposes the ineffective (but dearly beloved) ways in which we deform ourselves and those around us in the way we respond to life, but she also offers insightful ways to reframe these moments with a view toward formation and a God centered orientation.
Chapters 1 (waking) and 11 (sleeping) bookend her reflections by underscoring that all of us come face to face with our humanity and vulnerability, our identity and our limitations. We awaken each day with morning breath and slacken our jaws as we drift off to sleep. How is it possible that such activities could possibly relate to spirituality?
After waking, there are various approaches to “making the bed” (chapter 2). What is the same for everyone, however, is that we each frame our day in our own unique way. This frame has a powerful influence on what unfolds. For example, Warren admits that she wakes slowly (as do I) and in a sleepy stupor grabs her phone to check the news or Facebook (as do I). Yet, the imprinting from entering the fray of political drama or Facebook controversy in these waking moments continues with us throughout the day.
As we go about the day, our bodily “maintenance,” such as “brushing teeth” (chapter 3), distracts us from more important tasks at hand. How many of us attempt to multitask while doing these types of activities? Many of us would prefer to dispense with these mindless activities altogether. Yet, we are created as embodied beings both now and for eternity. Could it be that God cares about our bodily “maintenance”?
At some point, everyone experiences moments when our false sense of control crumbles. Warren rightly asks how a tiny piece of metal could ruin her day by “losing keys” to her car (chapter 4). How is it possible to have a “spiritual moment” in the throes of a day altering crisis such as this when the logical outcome will mean being late for work, a critical meeting, the airport, or to pick up one’s child?
Eating is a mandatory part of daily life that at some point involves “eating leftovers” (chapter 5). What possible relevance could meals, most which we can’t even remember, have on our formation? Warren suggests that our inattentive posture toward food and the way we source it may offer a helpful analog for how we are “dulled to the wonders before” us (p. 68).
Anyone who is married will fight with his or her spouse. So, what could “fighting with my husband” (chapter 6), friend or coworker possibly have to do with formation? Warren paradoxically observes that, “most often what we’re fighting about […] isn’t really what we’re arguing about” (p. 74).
In chapter 7, “Checking Email,” explores the fact that most of us do not associate our secular work with God’s sacred work. Yet, Warren explains that missio Dei is not realized in theological platitudes, but rather in ordinary moments: “as I hone the craft of motherhood in small moments when I’m weary and frazzled and kneel down on my kitchen floor to listen to my crying child” (p. 94).
“Sitting in traffic” (chapter 8) in a standstill is probably one of the least agreeable places to experience God. We are hurried; God is not. We believe that time is money; God does not. Waiting is painful and unproductive, so we turn to our smartphones to redeem inefficient time. The problem comes when we fail to be present with those around us; our schedules are jam packed and our watch lists are so full that we are no longer aware. What if we changed our assumptions about time?
Part of being human means that we are designed to live in community. In chapter 9, “calling a friend,” Warren explores the fact that most of the body of Messiah are not like us. Not only do we experience tensions with our closest friends, but we quietly hold reservations about those with whom we worship. How could God love someone who supports _____? Yet, the universal church is only experienced in the particular church in a particular neighborhood with the particular people whom Jesus loves.
In chapter 10, “drinking tea,” Warren turns to our perennial struggle with pleasure. Some people are such dedicated workaholics that they feel guilty taking a break of any sort. At the other extreme, others are tempted to overindulge every pleasure that they can get their hands on. Ironically, the more we indulge, the more it dulls our delight. Yet, she contends, “A culture formed by the gospel will honor good and right enjoyment, celebration, and sensuousness” (p. 131). So, how do we do this?
Of course, I have only provided enough of a preview that I’ve hopefully piqued your interest to discover exactly how Warren responds to these sorts of questions. The astute reader will notice that she connects these ordinary, daily moments with elements of Anglican life and worship. To be clear, however, you do not need to know anything about the Anglican tradition to benefit from her insights. In fact, none of the friends for whom I purchased this book are Anglican!
If you take time to mull over and digest the feast that Warren offers, then attempt to implement these ideas, significant formation is bound to occur in your life. I am thrilled at what she has offered to the body of Messiah and eagerly anticipate the fruit this wisdom will bear.
*Review of Tish Harrison Warren, The Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2017).
Ben Snyder is a member of Soul Care Collective’s Steering Committee.