Sacrament of Ordinariness

Daily I read the newspaper.  It is a life-long habit.  I am one of the old-timers who actually like to hold the hard copy in my hand.  Most of the paper I read early in the morning with a cup of coffee.  Although too much of the news is stuff I may already know because I also check things on the internet or see them on television, nevertheless I like to read the paper.  Neither of my kids would read a newspaper, if you handed it to them.  I am confident the future of newspapers, as we know them, is in peril.             

I often start with the sports page.  That probably is a holdover from when I was a kid.  Today I know sports is not the most important thing in the world.  In fact, much of sports are not worth much.  I especially don’t like professional sports.  But I read about sports of all sorts as if I were an addict.           

I almost never would expect to find anything spiritually uplifting in the sports section.  I also do not really expect to read that section and be inspired or be given a neat idea.  But recently I got one of those unexpected gifts from the front of the sports page.  It was by a local writer, Bill Livingston, whom I have met, but don’t know well.  I like his work.           

The title of the article was “Triumph of the Ordinary.”  In effect, Livingston argues that the focus on the biggest, most spectacular in sports masks what he calls “the power of the ordinary.”  I loved that phrase---the power of the ordinary.  Somehow it resonates with a truth that makes perfect sense to me.  I eagerly read on in the article.  He talked about such things as the bunt in baseball as an example of the power of the ordinary.  We all know there is much hoopla around the home run.  The quaint bunt---the ordinary---gets little attention.  But it is very important.           

Livingston develops a case, which makes sense to me.  He argues, “the ordinary play…becomes a sign of dependability.”  He continues, “Dependability replicated often enough becomes consistency.  Consistency with enough longevity becomes a Hall of Fame career.”  He makes a very good point when he notes that it takes a long time before we begin to understand and appreciate the power of the ordinary.             

Perhaps our culture is so hyperactive and impatient, we don’t value or appreciate the little things in life.  We would rather see grandeur and wait for the bombastic.  We want to see the big splash and do not value the little drip.  Livingston’s article is really about baseball, but it applies to any arena where the ordinary plays a huge, but often underappreciated role.           

Near the end of the article he writes about baseball, “The sacrament of ordinariness is part of it.”  I was nearly dumbfounded when I read that phrase: the sacrament of ordinariness.  Immediately that phrase became a wonderful spiritual descriptor of how the ordinariness in our lives can play an important role.           

Even though I am a Quaker, I value quite highly the meaning and purpose of the sacramental.  For too long I heard Quakers say that “we don’t have sacraments.”  That simply is not true.  More to the truth was for me to learn Quakers seek to see and find that all of life is sacramental.  Livingston’s phrase---the sacrament of ordinariness---is a perceptive way to put it.  I knew instantly that I had a new way to articulate a deep truth for me.           

If all of life is potentially sacramental, then surely there has to be a way in which the ordinary---the routine---has to be a sacramental conduit.  Certainly not all of life---my life anyway---is flashy, full of grandeur and bombastic.  Most of my life is lived routinely and in the middle of my ordinariness.  But it can be spiritual.  And with Livingston’s help, I know it can be sacramental---the sacrament of ordinariness.            

A sacrament is a visible sign of an invisible grace or inner holiness.  If I translate that into my ordinary life, then I can come to see my ordinariness potentially as a visible sign of an invisible grace.  Let me use an example.  A simple example is my commitment to being nice.  That sounds simplistic.  Being nice is no big deal.  Most people are nice.             

Because it is so simple and prevalent, it is easy to overlook or underappreciate the power of ordinariness---the power of being nice.  Being nice is much like the bunt in baseball.  It is a little thing.  In fact it is sacrificial.  Being nice is a little thing and, often, sacrificial.  But being nice is sacramental.  It is a sign of a kind of divine grace.  Being nice is a graceful act.           

I am grateful to a sports writer and an innocuous little article on baseball to give me a great idea for spirituality and an understanding of the spiritual life.  It really is good news.  And good news itself---regardless of source---is a cause for thanksgiving and celebration.  I love knowing that I can go through my day doing some simple, ordinary things and know they are, in fact, powerful and sacramental. 

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