The extraordinary in the ordinary


We all have those moments that go beyond words. Something seen or heard can touch us in a way we can’t describe, but in effect it softens us, warms us, expands us with a sense of light. We feel wide open to the beauty of God in creation.

Our senses are the doorways. They may be open to birdsong or the dew in the heart of a rose, clouds sculpted by wind, the touch of cat’s fur. In an instant the experience enters us and is transformed.

When we are held in such a moment, we may remember lines from a poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. ‘Earth is on fire with heaven/ and every common bush is charged with God / but only those who see take off their shoes.’

We know the movement as taking off our inner shoes. Not only shoes! The clothing of everyday thoughts and words disappears. Our hearts feel naked, newborn. Our breath seems to mingle with sacred spirit and we feel ourselves becoming infinitely, beautifully vulnerable.

The moment passes leaving us in a slightly different place. It’s as though a wave has picked us up, carried us and then receded, leaving us further up the beach.

Later, when we analyse one of these graced moments, we realise God has touched us through something quite ordinary.

What made Moses take off his shoes? Nothing dramatic, not heavens filled with fire, nor earthquake or tsunami, not even a decent sandstorm. Just a little bush filled with the fire of God’s presence. That’s what Moses saw and it was enough to change a nation.

When we reflect on the gospels we see the same pattern in Jesus’ teaching – ordinary things containing extraordinary insights: flowers, seeds, sparrows, weeds, candles, yeast, wine, small coins, little fish, children. In fact, we can’t find anything in Jesus’ good news that comes from grandeur and great human achievement. It’s all about encountering God in the little everyday things around us. All that we need is awareness. As Elizabeth Barrett Browning said, “Only those who see take off their shoes.”

Having reflected this far, we begin to see God’s presence all around us. We tend to

go beyond divisions and understand that everything that happens to us is inherently right, everything is a teacher.

We also see that spiritual journey is not a matter of “here to there” Every part of it is “here.”

At this stage too, we sense the playfulness of Jesus within us. Faith is not hard work. It is more like play. We are children in a playground of love that is to be shared with others. If we fall over, love picks us up and kisses our wounds. If we wander too far, love will embrace us and ask us what we learned from those wanderings.

We know it is impossible to be lost from God’s love.

Surely this is what Jesus meant when he said, “Except you become as little children you cannot enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The truth seems so simple!

It’s extraordinary in its ordinariness.

  • Joy Cowley is a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and retreat facilitator.
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