Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life

What work matters? Was God more glorified when I taught fifth graders at a public elementary school or when I worked at a church? Is He more pleased when I write a children’s ministry lesson than when I fold laundry, read to my toddler, or empty the dishwasher? Even among those tasks, is there a hierarchy?

Intellectually I know the answer to these types of questions. I know about the sacred/secular split, why this blog is called Every Square Inch. I can quote Colossians 3:17 and 1 Corinthians 10:31. I know that all work can bring glory and honor to God, but how often do I live that way? How often do I end the statement that I’m a stay-at-home mom with either my past credentials or a longer acknowledgement about the part-time writing I do on the side. How often do I change a diaper or clean a high chair with a heart that believes the mundane matters, that the very nature of duties that are often thankless and never know completion can point to a bigger story? How often is my theology of work tested by the day-to-day monotony of every day life?

Every calling and every season of life know this tension. We all complete daily tasks that in the moment feel insignificant. The e-mailing or the filing or the bill paying or the clean up or the car pool feel like they’re getting in the way of the important work, the stuff that matters, the stuff that God can use. That’s why I think Tish Harrison Warren’s Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life is so important. In 153 well-crafted pages, the author goes through the events that make up all of our every day lives. From making the bed, brushing teeth, eating leftovers, checking e-mail, sitting in traffic, going to sleep, and more, readers are reminded that these ordinary moments can tell a bigger story.

All of us have our own series of liturgies, patterns that guide our day. These liturgies shape us in ways many of us fail to recognize but always reveal our deeper belief system and always involve worship of someone or something.

Here are four quotes that I found particularly important as a reader. Perhaps they might entice you to pick up a copy this summer and consider the practices that shape your days, your years, and your life.

  • “Alfred Hitchcock said movies are ‘life with the dull bits cut out.’ Car chases and first kisses, interesting plot lines and good conversations. We don’t want to watch our lead character going on a walk, stuck in traffic, or brushing his teeth—at least not for long, and not without a good soundtrack. We tend to want a Christian life with the dull bits cut out. Yet God made us to spend our days in rest, work, and play, taking care of our bodies, our families, our neighborhoods, our homes. What if all these boring parts matter to God? What if days passed in ways that feel small and insignificant to us are weighty with meaning and part of the abundant life that God has for us? Christ’s ordinary years are part of our redemption story. Because of the incarnation and those long unrecorded years of Jesus’ life, our small, normal lives matter…If Christ spent time in obscurity, then there is infinite worth in obscurity…There is no task too small or too routine to reflect God’s glory and worth.”
  • “My morning smartphone ritual was brief—no more than five or ten minutes. But I was imprinted. My day was imprinted by technology. And like a mountain lion cub attached to her humans, I’d look for all good things to come from glowing screens…Without realizing it, I had slowly built a habit: a steady resistance to and dread of boredom…We are shaped every day, whether we know it or not, by practices—rituals and liturgies that make us who we are. We receive these practices—which are often rote—not only from the church or the Scriptures but from the culture, from the air around us…We don’t wake up daily and form a way of being-in-the-world from scratch, and we don’t think our way through every action of our day. We move in patterns that we have set over time, day by day. These habits and practices shape our loves, our desires, and ultimately who we are and what we worship.”
  • “We are not left like Sisyphus, cursed by the gods to a life of meaninglessness, repeating the same pointless task for eternity. Instead, these small bits of our day are profoundly meaningful because they are the site of our worship. The crucible of our formation is in the monotony of our daily routines. In a culture that craves the big, the entertaining, the dramatic, and the shocking (sometimes literally), cultivating a life with space for silence and repetition is necessary for sustaining a life of faith.”
  • “But when we use our bodies for their intended purpose—in gathered worship, raising our hands or singing or knelling, or, in our average day, sleeping or savoring a meal or jumping or hiking or running or having sex with our spouse of kneeling in prayer or nursing a baby or digging a garden—it is glorious, as glorious as a great cathedral being used just as its architect had dreamt it would be…When I brush my teeth I am pushing back, in the smallest of ways, the death and chaos that will inevitably overtake my body. I am dust polishing dust. And yet I am not only dust. When God formed people from the dust, he breathed into us—through our lips and teeth—his very breath. So I will fight against my body’s fallenness. I will care for it as best I can, knowing that my body is sacred and that caring for it (and for the other bodies around me) is a holy act. I’ll hold on to the truth that my body, in all its brokenness, is beloved, and that one day it will be, like the resurrected body of Christ, glorious. Brushing my teeth, therefore, is a nonverbal prayer, an act of worship that claims the hope to come.”

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