Ordinary Times

Ronald Rolheiser
June 10, 2024
Reproduced with Permission
ronrolheiser.com

In its calendar, the church singles out special seasons to celebrate - Advent, Christmas, Lent, and Easter. But, outside of these special times, it invites us to live and celebrate Ordinary time.

Ordinary time. For most of us, I suspect, that phrase conjures up images of something that is less than special - bland, flat, routine, domestic, boring. Inside us there is the sense that the ordinary can weigh us down, swallow us up, and keep us outside the more rewarding waters of passion, romance, creativity, and celebration.

We easily vilify the ordinary. I remember a young woman, a student of mine, who shared in class that her greatest fear in life was to succumb to the ordinary, "to end up a content, ordinary housewife, happily doing laundry commercials!"

If you're an artist or have an artistic temperament, you're particularly prone to this kind of denigration because artists tend to set creativity in opposition to the ordinary. Doris Lessing, for example, once commented that George Eliot could have been a better writer "if she hadn't been so moral." What Lessing is suggesting is that Eliot kept herself too anchored in the ordinary, too safe, too secure, too far from the edges. Kathleen Norris, in her biographical work, The Virgin of Bennington, shares how as a young writer she fell victim to this ideology: "Artists, I believed were much too serious to live sane and normal lives. Driven by inexorable forces in an uncaring world, they were destined for an inevitable, sometimes deadly, but always ennobling wrestle with gloom and doom."

The ennobling wrestle with gloom and doom! That does have a seductive sound to it, particularly for those of us who fancy ourselves as artistic, intellectual, or spiritual. That's why, on a given day, any of us can feel a certain condescending pity for those who can achieve simple happiness. Easy for them, we think, but they're selling themselves short. That's the artist inside of us speaking. You never see an artist doing a laundry commercial!

Don't get me wrong. There is some merit to this. Jesus, himself, said that we do not live by bread alone. No artist needs an explanation of what that means. He or she knows that what Jesus meant by that, among other things, is that simple routine and a mortgage that's been paid do not necessarily make for heaven. We need bread, but we also need beauty and color. Doris Lessing, who was a great artist, joined the communist party as a young woman but she left after she'd matured. Why? One phrase says it all. She left the communist party, she says, "because they didn't believe in color!" Life, Jesus assures us, is not meant to be lived simply as an endless cycle of rising, going off to work, responsibly doing a job, coming home, having supper, getting things set for the next day, and then going back to bed.

And yet, and yet, there's much to be said for seemingly dram routine. The rhythm of the ordinary is, in the end, the deepest wellsprings from which to draw joy and meaning. Kathleen Norris, after telling us about her youthful temptation to sidestep the ordinary to engage in the more ennobling battle with gloom and doom, shares how a wonderful mentor, Betty Kray, helped steer her clear of that pitfall. Kray encouraged her to write out of her joy as well as her gloom. As Norris puts it: "She tried hard to convince me of what her friends who had been institutionalized for madness knew all too well: that the clean simple appreciation of ordinary, daily things, is a treasure like none on earth."

Sometimes it takes an illness to teach us that. When we regain health and energy after having been ill, off work, and out of our normal routines and rhythms, nothing is as sweet as returning to the ordinary - our work, our routine, the normal stuff of everyday life. Only after it has been taken away and then given back, do we realize that the clean simple appreciation of daily things is the ultimate treasure.

Artists, however, are still partially right. The ordinary can weigh us down and keep us outside the deeper waters of creativity, outside that one-in-a-million romance, and outside of the wildness that lets us dance. However, that being admitted, the ordinary is what keeps us from being swept away. The rhythm of the ordinary anchors our sanity.

Paul Simon, in an old 1970s song entitled, An American Tune, sings about coping with confusion, mistakes, betrayal, and other events that shatter our peace. He ends a rather sad ballad quite peacefully with these words: "Still tomorrow's gonna be another working day, and I'm trying to get some rest. That's all I'm trying, is to get some rest."

Sometimes obedience to that imperative is what saves our sanity. There's a lot to be said for being a contented, little person, anchored in the rhythms of the ordinary, and perhaps even doing laundry commercials.

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