The ecstasy of being ordinary

December 21, 2015
ADRIAN JOOSTEN
SPECIAL TO THE WCR

I was revisiting my old disintegrating red-coloured copy of G.K. Chesterton's work Heretics, a fascinating collection of essays surrounding the issues of Catholic orthodoxy in the author's society more than a century ago.

Among the delicious lines of Omar and the Sacred Vine lies a gem of a quote where he declares "it is more dazzling to catch a glimpse of the ecstasy of being ordinary." He would later write on this theme again in his sketch of St. Francis, "That ordinary life is an admirable thing in itself."

Chesterton was challenged in his day as we Christians are in ours, to value the normal and humdrum in our life while living in a culture that screams for us to pursue the faddish goals of extraordinary uniqueness and popularity.

Have I achieved my 15 minutes of fame, even if I haven't been on Survivor or Canada's Worst Driver? Am I living up to the Photoshopped standards of beauty with which the media bombards me?

Am I updating my social media sites fast enough so as not to be forgotten, to be seen as uninteresting and boring, that most wretched curse of the exposed life? Have I achieved that level of success or material wealth that will set me apart from the herd?

We are immersed in that notorious pursuit of notoriety. Can we resign ourselves to forego the stalking for public opprobrium and be content to seek the divine in the ordinary and mundane?

GIFT OF NORMALITY

Being normal is not a curse that leaves us living our lives among the dregs of humanity. Being normal is a gift that should become the foundation for daily reflection on what God calls us yet to do or become.

We are called by our Creator to embrace our human state as weak, plain and humble as it may be, just as Christ embraced his Incarnation.

But even more, we are to follow in Christ's footsteps as ordinary Christians doing extraordinary things in our world that popular culture and society may not understand: making vows and promises on which we will follow through, speaking out for the just treatment of refugees, the homeless and unborn, seeing the face of Christ in the handicapped, seeking to understand and respond to the challenges of climate change, or not losing hope for one's family while suffering from depression and going to a job which underpays and gives little respect.

RARELY APPLAUDED

Through actions such as these and others that mirror the values of the Beatitudes, we reveal the ecstatic or divine to which Chesterton refers. These actions may remain largely hidden and rarely applauded in popular culture, perhaps only witnessed by the angels and communion of saints themselves.

We have just left Ordinary Time in the Church calendar in preparation for Christmas. Yet, ironically, in a sense we are just continuing to seek and see the Divine in the familiar and normal of Advent and Christmas.

We will again hear the story of a lowly refugee couple - Mary and Joseph - seeking safety in a foreign land to give a future to their child, who in time will show his divinity in his enduring sacrifice for the salvation of the world. We will see in our liturgies how bread and wine, simple fruits of the earth, become gifts of cosmic proportion for our good and the good of all the world.

CARE AND SACRIFICE

We will see in our familiar Communion lines our human brothers and sisters in faith, shuffling with open hands and hearts to commune with their Lord and God. We will see how ordinary actions by unexceptional people of goodwill bring joy, hope and peace through their care and sacrifice for others.

It is a mystery and a blessing, this human condition, when we can look beyond the ordinary and see through sacramental eyes the glorious, the ecstatic and divine in the smallest and most humble creation of God and the smallest, most humble action of people.

Along with Chesterton, perhaps, we can add our voices and say, yes, the ordinary life is an admirable thing.