Sacred Everyday

Martin Sheen & Mystery

A reflection on Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, by Tish Harrison Warren. Chapter Nine: Calling a Friend

I’ve long been a fan of Krista Tippett’s radio show, On Being. A few years ago, soon after I’d started attending church again after a 20-odd year hiatus, I grew particularly enamored of Krista’s interview with Martin Sheen. It seemed strange to me at first, not knowing anything about Sheen’s faith life, that he’d be on the show. After I listened to the interview once though, I went back to it again and again, mostly to experience the child-like liveliness and apparent joy of his belief.

During one section of the interview, Sheen talks about communion, and the way he describes the sensation of love in taking that meal together gets me every time.

“Whoever the crowd is I’m getting on line with, you just look at the people who are on that line, that community. That is the greatest and simplest expression of… trying to explain this mystery… I never ever can get over it. It’s just something you have to surrender to. And just saying yeah, I’m with them. That’s the community of saints” ( 12/16/2015).

It’s the way he talks about “the community of saints,” that I want to hear over and over, the warmth of connection in his voice – there’s almost a chuckle underneath, a well-doesn’t-this-just-beat-all kind of chuckle. It’s an expression of clear and grateful wonder at being a part of a body much bigger than ever we can see.

Tish gets at this when she writes about her former priest who, “asked us to imagine the communion table stretching on for miles, to remind us that when we take communion, we mysteriously feast with all those who are in Christ” (119).

There is something overpoweringly connecting about it, about standing eye to eye with a person sharing the bread and the cup, about the long string of us, all together, all the same in our humanity and our humility, stepping forward to receive what is offered in grace.

The Gathering is the church I was active with in St. Louis, the church I came to after that long hiatus; they celebrate communion every week. For the first five or six weeks I attended church there, I stepped carefully to the side as the other congregants made their way forward to receive the bread and wine. I didn’t go myself because I wasn’t sure what I believed, and I understood fully the importance of this act, the symbolism and power of it.

The day I chose to participate was so average and so momentous. I walked into church and found my way to what was becoming my usual spot. I hadn’t yet decided whether I’d take communion when it was time. Later in the service, as people began to proceed, since I sat near the back, I had some time to think. Part of the liturgy that was spoken and, at that church sung, every week as a lead-up to communion included this:

Pastor: And so, in remembrance of these your mighty acts in Jesus Christ, we offer ourselves in praise and thanksgiving as a holy and living sacrifice, in union with Christ’s offering for us, as we proclaim the mystery of our faith (emphasis added).

CongregationChrist has died; Christ is risen; Christ will come again.

As I stood there trying to puzzle out whether to step aside again or move into the line, I thought, Do I believe this? From deep inside, I felt a simple, Yes. Then I asked, Do I want to be a part of this? And by “this,” I meant, this following Jesus thing, this being a part of the “community of saints” thing, this not doing life alone, but in kinship with people who believe in the inexplicable divine mystery that doesn’t make a lot of practical sense thing. Yes, I thought. Solidly, quietly, calmly, Yes. I wanted to proclaim, with these people, the mystery of our faith. I went forward, surrendering to the unknowability.

This is one of the things I love about communion, the understanding that what we’re doing there together is mysterious and also powerful. It doesn’t make head-sense, but it makes so much heart-sense, so much in-this-together sense, so much we-are-not-doing-life-alone sense. We are, together, part of a body; in community, we are so much more than our own little parts.

We are, as I can hear in Martin Sheen’s voice during that On Being interview a mysterious, joyous, childlike wonder.


This post was written as part of the Sacred Everyday blog project for Vermont Hills UMC in Portland, OR.


A reflection on Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, by Tish Harrison Warren. Chapter Eight: Sitting in Traffic

I recently finished reading The Count of Monte Cristo, an insanely long, intricately plotted tome of a book swelling with revenge and pain, drama and swashbuckling, unexpected softness and love. If I had to tell you the theme of the eleven-hundred-some-odd pages, it would be the three words Edmond Dantes (aka the count) speaks, as the story comes to a close, to encourage the young man he loves as a son: “Wait and hope.”

Tish echoes this in describing how the liturgical calendar shapes her life. “I practice year after year,” she writes, “waiting and hoping” (108).

I think maybe this is the theme of our lives, period. Right? So much more of our time is spent in the waiting than in the… wait, what else is it that we do?

A few years ago, while visiting Southern California in the wake of treatment for ovarian cancer, I went to church with my aunt and cousin. I was not in a great place. Tired, and tired of being tired, and tired of waiting for this whole thing to be over. (By the way, this “whole thing” is never over; this whole waiting thing… this is life.) That morning at church, my aunt asked her friend, Peter, to pray for me. Among other scriptures, Peter prayed Isaiah 40:31: “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles, run and not be weary, walk and not faint.”

Waiting doesn’t mean that nothing is happening. Tish writes, “God is at work in and through us as we wait. Our waiting is active and purposeful… a fallow field is never dormant. As dirt sits waiting for things to be planted and grown, there is work being done invisibly and silently…leaven[ing] the soil, making it richer and better” (111).

We must wait, for in the waiting our strength is renewed. Over and over again.

One day, in the very thick of it, my therapist said to me, enigmatic smile and single lifted eyebrow, “So, you’re telling me you want things to hurry up and get meaningful?” “Yes!” I said laughing and crying at the same time. “Is that so wrong?”

Twenty-some years ago, I read a vignette written by a Buddhist teacher; it has stuck with me year after year after year. (I believe it was Thich Nhat Hanh in a tiny little volume called Being Peace.) He said, when we get frustrated and harried – perhaps when we’re stuck in traffic, it is good to remind ourselves of this: “I am exactly where I need to be.”

I practice this in meditation. From the time I close my eyes till the time I hear the ending chime, I practice the understanding that, yes, I am exactly where I need to be. I don’t need to feel rushed because it won’t speed up the timer and I am exactly where I need to be. I don’t need to worry about the next thing in my day because I am exactly where I need to be.

Side note: it is impossible to say that sentence too many times.

Waiting is an end in itself. There is action in the waiting. Anticipation. Preparation. Tish writes, “We are oriented to our future hope, yet we do not try to escape from our present reality, from the real and present brokenness and suffering in the world” (112). We must wait with attention and intention toward the, often overwhelming, reality of things.

There is no escape from it. But, the meditation helps.

I think that’s the end of this post. Oh, were you waiting for me to get to the point?

As Tish quotes her friend Jan, “I was waiting for the gift. But I’ve come to see that the waiting is the gift” (emphasis added).

You’re welcome.


This post was written as part of the Sacred Everyday blog project for Vermont Hills UMC in Portland, OR.

The "Therefore, go"-ness of it all

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.

And yet…

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.


This post was written as part of the Sacred Everyday blog project for Vermont Hills UMC in Portland, OR.

The Wise One: On My Mom and Food

A reflection on Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, by Tish Harrison Warren. Chapter Five: Eating Leftovers

When I was a pre-teen, it became a singular delight to accompany my mom to bridal and baby showers, to take part, even if just perched on the floor by my mom’s chair with a cup of sherbet punch balanced in my lap, in these rituals of womanhood. At one wedding shower, instead of the regular games, the organizer asked all the married women to bestow on the bride-to-be one bit of wisdom that would help her through her marriage. I don’t know what the other women said, but I remember being impressed by their depth and sincerity, the spiritual significance and grand ideas they presented. When it was my mom’s turn, she smiled this Cheshire-cat grin, shook her head, and said, “The way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” The ladies laughed as if my mom were joking, but she, born of a hearty family where food played the centerpiece of connection, was not.

To my mom, nourishment equaled love.

This was not the farm-to-table, grass-fed, sustainable, mindful, clean-eating, put-any-label-you-like-on-it nourishment of today. When my mom talked about food, it was rich food, sweet food, not necessarily healthy food, but whatever it was that would make you know she was thinking just and only of you. I forgot my lunch one day in junior high and she showed up with a peanut butter and chocolate frosting sandwich. While my brothers and dad went on Boy Scout trips, my mom and I bonded over cheap carryout and bon bons (yes, literally, bon bons, the ice cream kind). When my brothers and I hurt our dad’s feelings one day, my mom baked him “warm cookies to soothe the coldness in his heart.” (No, we kids didn’t get any of those.) In my mom’s Italian family, learning to make “the sauce” (homemade meat sauce that cooks all day) was a rite of passage for womankind; after she died, I taught my brother and he still texts me photos each time he and his wife set aside a day to do it.

My mom wasn’t much of a hugger, but food… now there is where she showed her love. It’s a thing I do, in my own foodie way, and my brothers’ families both do too. The table, and specifically the spirit in which food is prepared, we learned, is all about connection.

“At the last supper,” Tish says, “Jesus tells his disciples to eat in remembrance of him. Of all the things Jesus could have chosen to be done ‘in remembrance of him,’ Jesus chose a meal” (63).

How much sense this makes! Food is the ultimate metaphor. The nutrients sustain us. Preparation and sharing the table connect us. Giving thanks humbles and aligns us.

As much as I love the various aspects of regular Sunday worship, nothing means more to me than communion, the time when we engage together in experiencing with our physical bodies the truth that Jesus was here with us and broke bread and drank wine, and sat around a table with his friends, and connected and learned and grew. Just like we do. And the mystery that he is with us still, in this bread and this wine, in the way we live and practice at being like him. What a glorious and tangible thing.

I was certainly a little bit embarrassed all those years ago at the bridal shower when my mom brought up food while the other women had been so deep. Now though, as many of us eventually do, I realize that, far from silly and flip as she may have seemed in that moment, my mother was actually a font of tried-and-true, honest-to-goodness, real-life wonderful wisdom. And I am forever in her debt.


This post was written as part of the Sacred Everyday blog project for Vermont Hills UMC in Portland, OR.

Standing Before the Grand Canyon Covering My Eyes

A reflection on Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, by Tish Harrison Warren. Chapter Three: Brushing Teeth

“Last week, I met Shawnessey for a tour of the Botanical Garden. When I arrived, she was sitting out front with a wheelchair for me. Since I hadn’t seen the garden before, she wanted me to experience the whole of it without getting too tired to enjoy it. The wheelchair was a blessing because, honestly, just getting myself ready and to the garden that day had worn me out. I willingly submitted to riding and was quiet for the first little while as Shawnessey pushed me down paths and I got used to this moment in my life. The moment when, after being alone and mostly quiet inside my apartment for days, I came out and took a seat and here was all of this wonder. Something about me being in a wheelchair and that day feeling so… unabashedly, adolescently fresh brought tears to my eyes. This was a moment so beautiful, it hurt to look at it. I fell in love with the garden, but maybe also with an imagination of going back someday when things are in bloom, and I can feel the muscles in my legs as I walk and walk and walk.”

I wrote that paragraph on October 29, 2014, three weeks after my last chemotherapy infusion. Having submitted to life-altering surgery and six months of chemo for ovarian cancer, at 38-years-old, my body was ravaged.

Talking about embodiment is complicated.

Honestly, to make it through that time, there was some necessary separation between what my body is and who I am. Now, 3+ years post-treatment, I am trying to make sense of it, to glue some of those broken bits back together again.

We who get to grow older will all eventually face some aspect of the frailty I felt that afternoon in a wheelchair in the garden. The knowledge of what that future holds makes me shy away from embracing the connection that inherently exists between the “disembodied spirits-floating-on-clouds spirituality” (38) that Tish warns against and this real-world fallible imperfect humanness that I inhabit.

Then there is Jesus. Incarnation. Sweat “like drops of blood falling to the ground” (Luke 22:44). Or, as Tish writes, “He slept. He ate. He groomed. He took naps, got his feet dirty…” (39). “The Word made flesh” (John 1:14).

God, in a body, getting it. Now, there is something to think about…

Several weeks ago, when Bo first preached something about our bodies as sites of worship, I went to him in wonder, told him that this idea was so resonant for me. Little did I know that this series, this book study, this particular chapter was coming.

Do you ever get the sense that you’re in the right place at the right time? Not because it feels good and safe and perfect, but because there are voices around you saying what you know a place deep inside you needs to hear?

I have been, for the last few years, trying to take my life back from cancer. I have felt the muscles in my legs walk and walk and walk. I have taken time to smell flowers, to cup them in my hands. I have stopped to stare up at the way sunshine comes through the leaves above me. I have put my arms around trees and felt the moss against my cheek. I can feel God in nature, in the very physicality of the world, but still, part of this idea of my spirit has remained safely tucked away from my physical embodiment because… I know how precarious that embodiment is.

Maybe it’s time to come back to a middle place. Maybe this is another step in that direction: writing this down, exploring in community the idea that my “skin and muscles and feet and hands are more sacred than any communion chalice or baptismal font,” that my body is “a worship space more wondrous than the most glorious ancient cathedral,” that I am “standing before the Grand Canyon or the Sistine Chapel” and covering my eyes (45).

Tish continues: “So, I will fight against my body’s fallenness. I will care for it as best I can, knowing that my body is sacred and that caring for it (and the other bodies around me) is a holy act.”

This is not an easy conversation – I don’t think examining the way we treat our bodies ever is – and I honestly can’t quite make sense of how any of us put our broken Humpty-Dumpty selves back together again, but we can embrace the truth that, by the grace of our persistent, present, life-giving Creator, someday, over time, God will.


This post was written as part of the Sacred Everyday blog project for Vermont Hills UMC in Portland, OR.

A New Day

A reflection on Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, by Tish Harrison Warren. Chapter Two: Making the Bed

“Isn’t it nice to think that tomorrow is a new day with no mistakes in it yet?” - Anne of Green Gables, Lucy Maude Montgomery

In chapter two of Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren writes, “The crucible of our formation is the monotony of our daily routines.” In chapter one, she quotes Annie Dillard: “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

Does the truth of these ideas make anyone else quake? Seriously, it feels like so much pressure!

Some of my fellow Sacred Everyday bloggers have posted this week about changes they’ve made or want to make in response to the ideas Tish puts forth in chapter 2. (Yes, Tish and I are still on a first-name basis.) Like Katie, I bought a regular old-fashioned alarm clock this week; goodbye to my iPhone sharing my pillow! Like John, I am listening differently when my fitness-tracker beeps. Engaging with the convictions we feel from this conversation is awesome. We’re only on week two I’m already thinking in new ways.

But something is weighing on me.

I once took a class that introduced, among many other things that I no longer remember, the concept of existential guilt, an idea that resonated so deeply in my person I can clearly remember the Ping! of yes-ness as I came to understand the meaning. That is, as a feeling of guilt – in me, breathlessness, anxiety, sorrow – that stems from a deep fear of not living up to one’s full potential. For those of us working to throw off the heavy mantle of perfectionism, facing up to the truth that what we choose to do forms us is akin to coming eye-to-eye with a charging bull.


Ok, phew. (Takes a deep, calming breath. Closes eyes. Centers.) But, there is that lesson from last week to add to the equation. That is: grace.

Thank God for grace. I mean, really. Thank you, God.

Into this mix of the importance of doing what I want to be – trying to live into my desire to, every day, take a long walk and pray and write and be present with the people I love –  of creating liturgies of daily life that reflect the woman I want to be, I have to remind myself to allow plenty of room for grace to step on in.

Routine is important. It does matter. I want to be mindful of mine. I am making changes.

I also aim to go slow. To be kind. To remind myself that my God is a God of forgiveness and space. Tish says, “Our hearts and loves are shaped by what we do again and again and again.” There is a softness to this change; it doesn’t happen over night. It’s not easy or fast; it’s not created by harsh rules. It involves forgiveness and acceptance. “The work of repentance and faith,” Tish writes, “is daily and repetitive. Again and again, we repent and believe.”

So, here I am reminding myself that attention, not perfection, is the goal. I’m not in this for ideal symmetry and zero mistakes. The long haul is about trying and failing, forgiveness and grace. I’ll do my best today and start over tomorrow, fresh and focused and maybe even a little bit hopeful.


This post was written as part of the Sacred Everyday blog project for Vermont Hills UMC in Portland, OR.

Such a Day as This

A reflection on Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life, by Tish Harrison Warren. Chapter One: Waking

There’s a sticker on the console of my car; it reads, Perhaps you were born for such a day as this. Pulled, a bit clumsily, from the Old Testament book of Esther – with the sticker-writer’s reinterpretation of inspirational soundbite meaning – this one-liner is supposed to make me think that this day might be something especially good.

Most mornings, as I climb into my car, jostling to get my lunch bag and purse and coffee and smoothie settled in their usual spots, I glance at the sticker and think something like, Hmmm… really? Today? And then I start my drive, at least momentarily imagining the possibility that today, out of all the days, might be important. Maybe I’ll engage with a stranger who desperately needs a simple moment of eye contact, or someone will ask for help I can give. Maybe my own path will meet a life-changing crossroads. I can get pretty grand and misty-eyed about it.

Or not. Sometimes I just drink my coffee and drive.

What I imagine Tish might say (I’m only one chapter in, but yes, the author and I are on a first-name basis), is that grand and misty-eyed or nonchalant, neither feeling is really the point. She’d say that every day we are born for such a day as this, not because of what we do or don’t do, but because, before we even climb up from that cloudy land between asleep and awake, “we begin beloved” (20).

Wait, just think about that because it’s a pretty life-altering thing to grasp. “We begin beloved.”

There is nothing wrong about my grand and misty-eyed maybes; making eye contact with that struggling person or listening for guidance on my path certainly do matter. But what Tish is trying to point out is that regardless of what we do or don’t do, want or don’t want, we wake up each day already living inside the heart of grace. Every single ordinary, monotonous day.

I think I’ve got a new perspective on that sticker now. And, yes, we were born for such a day as this, for such a day as every single one we get.


This post was written as part of the Sacred Everyday blog project for Vermont Hills UMC in Portland, OR.