Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren

Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday LifeSummary: Seeking spiritual depth from ordinary life.

I have been reluctant to pick this up because so many have recommended it. I know I shouldn’t do that, but contrarianism is part of who I am. I also picked it up toward the end of the year when I was already way over my self imposed limit on reading more White authors. It seemed relevant at the time to the paper I was working on for my spiritual direction class. Although I ended up cutting the section of my paper that I referenced Liturgy of the Ordinary because it was too long, it did help me focus the essay.

The general focus of the book is to seek to find God in the mundane because the mundane is where we are most of the time. One of my objections to the book is also one of its strengths. Reflections like this are necessarily personal and encultured. We cannot make broad reflections that our outside of our culture and experience because they are then not ours. We are Christians, not abstractly but within our culture and experience.  So while I assumed going in that this book would be White, middle class, educated reflections, there was still some frustration with falling into stereotypes, and some pleasure when there were sections that I did not expect.

Even though Liturgy of the Ordinary is only three years old, it feels like so many people have previously read it that I can see its impact in other books and especially other articles. Part of that perception of widespread impact is that what is happening in the book is not actually new. I picked this up as a counterpoint to William Berry’s Finding God in All Things, which is an exploration of Ignatian spiritual practice and very similar in broad theme.

There is a lot of grace in the Liturgy of the Ordinary, and that grace is necessary and helpful; ordinary life can be hard. Rev Warren’s discussion about getting into arguments with her husband and needing to seek forgiveness, of having human limitations, of needing others, is part of what it means to be human. Humans are limited creatures and part of Christian discipleship is to embrace the limitations and live within them. Our culture wants us to perform and rise above our human limitations, but part of what Christ’s incarnation should show us is that even Christ, the true God made man, was human and had human limitations. Jesus needed sleep; he needed rest and time alone, he needed friends and community, and he could not have been born without a mother, and he could not have been a human without being a baby that had to be cared for.

There were times when I wanted Warren to see more than what she saw. But that is, in part, a rejection of her humanness. There is no way for her to communicate all of the insights of her life. There is no way for her to be more than who she is. But at the same time, I do want more, or more accurately, I want Evangelical culture to embrace other’s lives and cultures and limitations as they have embraced and given grace to the culture of middle class, White, educated motherhood. Motherhood is hard. The culture expects way too much of mothers. But at the same time, there is a grace that is given to White middle-class motherhood that is just not given to others.

The Liturgy of the Ordinary is a model of finding God. And it is a good one. God is in the mundane, and we do need to strive to see him there. At the same time, we also need to be striving to see God outside of ourselves and to have grace toward others that find him differently than we do.

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