I can’t tell you exactly when it happened or how long I’ve known this to be true, but in the last few years I’ve come to a startling conviction that has influenced everything about my life: the mundane is spiritual. The question is not when or how the mundane becomes spiritual; the question is whether we have the awareness to notice that it already is.
One older saint described it to me this way: “You know how ‘location, location, location’ is the primary rule of real estate? Well, ‘awareness, awareness, awareness’ is the primary rule of spiritual maturity and growth in holiness.” And you know what? I think she’s absolutely right.
Just in the last week I’ve seen this truth amidst my most tedious, boring, and unflattering moments:
I was tired, hot, and sweaty walking my son home from school in the scorching August heat when he stopped to notice the whimsical branches of a willow tree draped over the sidewalk in our neighborhood. Suddenly, amidst the sweat and my rush to get home, I found myself in a place of awe, praise, and gratitude as I watched him ride his bike back and forth underneath the curtain of leaves.
Another day, in the middle of a hectic get-out-the-door dash, I looked down to see the joyful grin on my daughter’s face as she proudly displayed her three-year-old fashion sense with sparkles and accessories in every place possible. Her glee stopped me in my tracks, and I too was brought to a place of joy that put my frustration and busyness on the back burner.
During a casual lunch with a friend, I stopped talking and looked into her eyes just long enough to notice something there she hadn’t said. When I asked about it, the floodgates of desire and disappointment opened, and all of a sudden she invited me into the most sacred of spaces in her heart.
Then on Saturday, after a busy week of deadlines and caring for a sick child, I had to admit my weariness and finally consented to an afternoon nap. As my son reminded me that “rest is important, Mommy,” I sensed the affirmation of my Good Shepherd who waits for me to let him restore my soul.
A walk through the neighborhood, raising children, lunch conversation, sleep—could these really be the places where God meets us? These places of dirt, sweat, frustration, emotion, and exhaustion may not seem calm enough, clean enough, or holy enough for God to be with us. But if not here, then where?
We go looking for God somewhere outside of our normal life experiences and end up missing God altogether.
The separation of mundane and spiritual can cause much harm. We go looking for God somewhere outside of our normal life experiences and end up missing God altogether. In the process we try to become something we are not, trading the gift of transformation for the burden of self-managed change. God is not some place far off, waiting for us to arrive; the Holy One is in our very midst, waiting for us to notice!
How do we become people who can notice this God who is with us? How can we be fully present to the one who is always fully present with us? How do we pay attention even in the moments we want to hurry past? Just like anything else, this kind of awareness requires practice. And, although this too may seem unspiritual, it seems it is the only path of transformation the Spirit leads us on. And isn’t practice what we do in every other area of our lives? If we want to be excellent piano players, we don’t just sit down to play Mozart right away. We practice most things, from swimming and soccer to preaching and presenting to cake decorating and crocheting. Slowly but surely, after we’ve been practicing for a while, we realize we can do things we couldn’t do before.
The difference is, when we practice awareness of God’s presence and activity, we are not in control of our growth or transformation. Rather, we become increasingly more attuned to God’s agenda so that we can trust and participate in what God is doing in and around us.
I’ve found the best way to begin this practice is through St. Ignatius’s prayer of Daily Examen. We build muscles of awareness as we look for God in the recent past so we can become increasingly more aware of God in the present. To begin your own practice of awareness, set aside ten minutes at the end of each day this week for these five points of prayer:
1. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you see the events of the last twenty-four hours as God sees them.
2, Remember and name the day’s gifts, and give thanks for them.
3. Notice what emotions you felt. What is God saying to you in these feelings?
4. Ask the Spirit to guide you to one particular event or emotion of the day that is important, and pray repentance, gratitude, or petition accordingly.
5. Ask for what you need as you look ahead to tomorrow’s events and decisions.
In Living the Way of Jesus, Rev. Michaele LaVigne helps us understand how seemingly mundane things can become deeply spiritual practices. Using the Christian calendar as a guide, LaVigne invites us into easy, practical, and transformative weekly practices for use across each season of a three-year liturgical cycle. Alongside the exercises are helpful introductions into more traditional spiritual disciplines such as contemplative prayer, fasting, lectio divina, and silence. Living the Way of Jesus is now available for purchase here.