In which I (finally) write about 'liturgy of the ordinary'
On the first Monday in July I sat at my desk, and looked at my diary and to do list to plan out my week, and I spotted something weird. There was blank space in my diary. I blinked. And then I spent about half an hour remember what my job looked like what when there was space to do more than engage with the urgent, important, and the incoming email. All this is by way of explaining why I’m writing about a book I read in February in August. It’s been a very good few months, I just haven’t the hugest amount of time for sitting and processing. I’ve been reading (a lot) for breathing space, but I’ve not spent time bringing the subconscious brain stuff to the conscious level by writing about it. I just found a half-written blog post about Wonder Woman in my files…
Anyway I read Tish Harrison Warren’s book Liturgy of the Ordinary back in February, and (spoiler) I really really liked it. It looks at elements of the traditional church liturgy through the lens of every day activities like teeth-brushing, cooking and eating, fighting and making up, and getting stuck in traffic in order to explore what it means to live faithfully in the here and now.
I want to do the big work of the kingdom, but I have to live it out in the small tasks before me - the missio Dei in the daily grind.
It’s a real-world meditation on many of the ideas in James KA Smith’s recent books on cultural liturgies (which, if you didn’t know, I think are great) and I found it helpful, as a person who trades in big ideas and bookishness and sometimes casually flies by the mundane or skips them entirely in busy periods (oh the dishes in the sink some weeks). I’ve been trying to do better this year at not doing that. I started getting up half an hour earlier in May, using that time to water the plants and sit with my coffee for a little bit of quiet time while my brain wakes up, and I have great plans to spend more of my not at work or erranding time not running around doing quite so much. I’m tired of being Little Miss ‘Oh I can’t make that, because I booked something in six months ago’ all the time.
This book helped provoke and settle some of that in me, even if it’s still shaking out in practice.
There were two chapters I particularly liked. Eating Leftovers: word, sacrament and overlooked nourishment, and Sitting in Traffic: liturgical time and an unhurried God. Given that I like food and am fascinated by time, this is perhaps not surprising. But they’re related too.
In the food chapter, she talks (amng other things) about relearning to want slow, healthy food rather than the immediate kick (taste and energy) of something speedy (in her case, ramen, in mine, usually cheese toasties), and about how not paying attention to our food and its sources - which is easier to do when living at speed - leads to injustice. It connected with me in part because we’ve been doing a lot on this topic at work and in part because I love to cook but do it less and less when I’m running around doing more and more other things.
Which brings us to time. What is it? How dos it work? Is it a straight line? Isn’t it? how does God see it? Chronology is helpful, because it creates sense, a narrative, or a rhythm - but also unhelpful because it seems to demand clear patterns of cause-and-effect and divides time into blocks that are used up. I am the worst for wishing time away. To the weekend, the next time I’m seeing certain friends, the next holiday. For someone who likes sitting on the sofa reading an awful lot, I have a strong need to be moving. If I’m trying to get from a to b and there’s something in the way, be it a traffic jam or a delay on a train, I’ll always choose going around it in order to keep moving, even if it would take less time to stay still and wait for the blockage to clear.
The reality is that time is a stream we are swept into. Time is a gift from God, a means of worship. I need the church to remind me of reality: time is not a commodity that I control, manage or consume."
This line made me laugh, because I occasionally get cranky in church if the service feels like it’s lagging. But the shape of the church service will not be rushed. Harrison Warren talks about how the fact that the Christian faith centres around a long-term ultimate hope demands patience - and hopefully forms it in us. I wish it would hurry up forming in me.
(Sorry, too obvious a line to resist)
I had my garden redone over the winter, putting in big planters because I wanted to be able to grow things beyond my small pots and the occasional grow bag. I’ve gotten into gardening this year, and it’s really winding me down. I either water the plants in the morning before heading for the station, or first thing when I get in from work in the evening. It’s soothing, opening the back doors onto the patio and unwinding the hose. I love spotting how the plants are growing: are there sweet peas to pick, do the mangetout need training to their stakes - and how do I stop the little green worm bug things from living in my cabbages? I ate a lot of broad beans earlier in the summer. I discovered that the potatoes I’d planted (and whose type I’d forgotten) made the best baked chips. If you follow me on instagram, you’ll have experienced the take over of the corner of my garden by triffid-tomatoes. They’re green now, turning red, and I’m continually checking them for eating-ness or blight. If I spot the latter, I’m making a vat of green tomato chutney STAT.
The whole process is giving me an experience of food and time that I haven’t had since I took my Brownie gardener badge. It turns out that there’s nothing better than eating food that’s you’ve watched and waited for, and there a no amount of broad beans that I will not eat rather than waste things that I have invested money, time and garden space in. And the whole experience gives me a great deal of joy. Even fighting the green bugs off the cabbages.