A reflection on Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, by Tish Harrison Warren. Chapter Seven: Checking Email
It was late spring last year, around this time maybe, and I happened to be at one of those proverbial crossroads in life. If we can stay in metaphor-land for a minute, I had limped and scratched and scrabbled my way to that crossroads and l couldn’t seem to make it any further but plopped down in the dust with the contents of my backpack splayed all around. I didn’t know at all how to pick up and keep moving so I sat there still, maybe even defeated.
Back in the real world, I was going to work every day at a good job, with people that I really liked, a boss who appreciated me, and doing work that could certainly be construed as meaningful. Also during that time, through nothing short of a modern-day miracle, I had taken up residence in a carriage house on the property of a darling, generous friend in beautiful home set on acres of land in the middle of a thriving St. Louis suburb. And there was a pool – a really good one. It was heated in the spring, so beginning early in the season, I would come home from work, float on my back and let the water slosh in my ears while I closed my eyes and spent time with my worn-out self on that dusty road, staring with broken confusion at the things of life scattered around me.
I was floating one day, and worrying. As usual. That day, it was about the “therefore, go”-ness of it all. “How,” I asked God, bold as if I were floating next to and conversing with one of my best girlfriends, “am I, being the me that I am, supposed to ‘therefore, go’?” I’m not an evangelist in a stand-on-the-street-corner, witness-to-my-hairdresser way, not an evangelist in the way I was raised to be. The aggressive, soul-saving, hell-fire teachings of my childhood were a large part of the confusion that drove me from religion as a young adult. Now that I had opened the door again to (consciously) invite God into my everyday life, how was I supposed to interpret the mission, or sending out? And as quick as I asked the question and stood up from my float to retrieve a ball one of my friend’s dogs had dropped in the pool, just as average as the way I tossed the ball and watched Eddie chase it through the grass, I felt an answer bubble up, like a casual response from that girlfriend swimming along with me, “Write and pray, Sara. That’s your way.” Oh, right, I thought. Of course. I went back into my float, breathing deep and staring at the giant true-blue sky, smiling and handing the me on the dusty road a cup of cool water.
There was a lot in flux at that moment in life, and many things have now begun to settle out, so I can look back with at least a bit of perspective. One of the fruits of that day in the pool/that time spent on the road is a clarity that prayer is a way of life. I Thessalonians 5:17 says “Pray without ceasing.” In a 2015 Washington Times article, Barry Black, chaplain of the US Senate, wrote: “The Greek word for ‘without ceasing’ [here] …doesn’t mean nonstop — but actually means constantly recurring. In other words, we can punctuate our moments with intervals of recurring prayer.”
I’ve long thought of my life’s vocation as writing, and fantasized (and prayed for) a time when that vocation would line up with an everyday-life kind of career, but with that swimming pool epiphany floating around in my head, I wonder… what if praying is my vocation too? I’ve been doing it in a “constantly recurring” way for years, as a means of survival, a surrender that gets me to the next moment, and the next, and the next. And what if praying is part of my response to the sending out, my action of daily “therefore, go”-ing?
Tish says, “Holiness itself is something like a craft — not an abstract state to which we ascend, but an earthy wisdom and love that is part and parcel of how we spend our day” (94). I think she’s got that right. Doing my everyday life work of responding to emails, creating marketing materials, filing paperwork, planning events, answering the phone, and acting as a sounding board to for the people around me — all in an attitude of ceaseless prayer is one of my ways of being sent, of living out the great commission, of embracing that missio Dei.
I did eventually get up out of the dirt and keep on walking the path, and that backpack is feeling lighter most days now. But it does still get heavy, and whether I feel the weight or not, I’m asking for help every step of the way. Vocation or moment-to-moment plea, this praying without ceasing thing has become a way of life and I like to think it matters beyond my own little mixed-up, dusty-road, sometimes great-big-swimming-pool world.
Well, from my lips to God’s ears, as they say. Amen and amen.