Perhaps it is particular to young people, but some people’s worst fear is to have an ordinary life, to be ordinary. We want to be great. We want to be so much more than we are right now. For a lot of us, ‘ordinary’ means to fail to be all that we are capable of being. So we can be tempted to reach out an aggressive arm and make ourselves great. But, should we fear ‘the ordinary’?
God calls some people and sets them apart. But there are people he leaves in the crowd, those that he does not “withdraw from the world.”
These are people who do ordinary work, who have an ordinary family, or who are ordinary single people. These are people with ordinary sicknesses and ordinary sorrows. They live in ordinary houses and wear ordinary clothes. They are people with ordinary lives – people that we meet on any street.
As people on ordinary streets, we believe with our whole hearts that the street, the world that God has placed us in, is the place of our holiness.
It doesn’t matter what work we do, whether we are holding a broom or a pen, speaking or being silent, repairing things or giving a lecture, taking care of a sick person, or typing on a computer.
All of that is only the shell of a splendid reality – the encounter of the soul with God, renewed each moment, growing in grace each minute, always becoming lovelier for God.
Is the doorbell ringing? Quick, let’s open the door. God is coming to love us. Need information? Here it is… God is coming to love us. Is it time to eat? Let’s sit down to eat because God is coming to love us.
Let’s let him do it. (Madeleine Delbrel quoted in The Extraordinary Parents of St. Therese of Lisieux)
We long for glory, and, well, we should! St. Paul spoke of a “mystery hidden for ages and generations” and it was that…
“Christ lives in you, by which we have the hope of glory.” (Col 1:26-27)
So our yearning to be great and to be extraordinary is vital to any spiritual life. It is a hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matt. 5:6), it is love stirring in our hearts (Lk 24:32) to be taken up into God. But, for now, those waves must crash on the shore of our ordinary lives. And we must not disdain it.
Our Master abandoned Himself of the appearance of Godliness (Phil. 2:5-8) and plunged into a really ordinary life: a womb, a crèche, a job, a family, sandals, common clothes and regular friends. And so, as in all things, Jesus led the way for us. In our embrace of our ordinary lives, we can breathe easier knowing that we are following our Master.
But, in doing this, He also pointed to something that G.K. Chesterton saw quite well:
The most extraordinary thing in the world is an ordinary man and an ordinary woman and their ordinary children. (Chesterton)
It would also seem that veneration for concrete reality is kindled by the contemplative impulse which seeks the divine meaning underlying all beings. G.K. Chesterton, considering his life in retrospect, said that he had always had the almost mystical conviction of the miracle in all that exists, and of the rapture dwelling essentially within all experience. (Josef Pieper)
So we are left to live in a paradox. On the one hand, we hope for glory and seek the greatness of God Himself. And, yet, on the other hand, we must live in the ordinary and very much allow ourselves to be at peace in our ordinary lives (else our search become prideful and idolatrous). For the extraordinary hides in the ordinary and the ordinary is incarnated, and, thus, concealed extraordinariness.
This is who Jesus is. The extraordinary made ordinary so that the ordinary might be made extraordinary. Let’s strive to be like Him.