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“...There is a good reason we can find meaning in the monotonous, and religion in the routine: because it’s actually there.”
The pace of life in the city can drum the life right out of you. There’s a background noise of people and cars, punctuated by the occasional siren. It’s matched by an internal background noise of daily commutes, routine tasks, weekly meetings, shopping and laundry and project due dates. They coalesce to form a kind of droning drum beat throughout your day, accompanying you from one thing to the next, reminding you that there’s another thing coming a few minutes after this one.
The whole thing has a way of convincing you that life is not very...well, special. There are ways to cope with this, but for most of us they fall flat. Savoring the moment, stopping to smell the roses, etc., all seem like ways of dressing up what is really just monotonous daily activity. You can put lipstick on a pig, but it’s still a pig. You can get all jazzed up about how unique every day is, but you're still just going to work. Or getting ready for the next test. Or getting the kids to school on time. “Seeing the beauty in the everyday” feels like just more lipstick on the pig, more rose colored glasses for people who have energy for that sort of thing.
The problem seems to be that we think the drumbeat is the way life “really is,” and that the only options we have are to pretend things are different or cop to reality. But I think there is a good reason we can find meaning in the monotonous, and religion in the routine: because it’s actually there. I’ll explore that reason below, in the hopes that we can all begin to see things the way they actually are.
The monotony of the daily drumbeat makes the world feel like it never began and it will never end. But (regardless of your religious persuasion, by the way) this is not true. This is not the way things are. Christianity teaches us that everything around us had an intentional beginning, and is racing along its arc towards an intentional conclusion. The world and all that fills it belong to the Lord. From him, through him, and for him are all things. God is reconciling all things to himself.
This means that your daily participation in a commute, in eating lunch, in finishing project, in meeting someone else, is part of a larger arc than we realize. We are not dressing up a pig to think that our life is caught up in something large. Far from it. It’s those of us who forget that are pretending the world isn’t dressed in God’s own purposes.
Small children love surprises. They are, in the best sense, easily amused. They laugh easily. Their eyes widen in surprise multiple times a day. As adults, that wonder bemuses us. It’s cute, we think, but inaccurate. Because we know the world. We’ve seen a thing or two. Little surprises us.
G.K. Chesterton said that the world will never starve from want of wonders, but from want of wonder. And our wonder leaves us as we begin to consider ourselves acquainted with the world, unimpressed with its daily contours. The Grand Canyon is bigger than us, but most things are not.
And yet, we are small. Infinitesimally small. We live out our days on a humongous spinning ball of rocks and water and formations of carbon that turn into trees and kittens and sous chefs. That’s not pretend, that’s my actual situation as I type and yours as you read. For all our understanding, we haven’t begun to unlock the complexity of what God has made in our world and in our bodies. We are knocked down by the common cold, we leak water when we are very happy or very sad, we make strange, near uncontrollable noises when we find something funny.
There is enough in the world as it “really is” to make us laugh easily, cry easily, and be easily and regularly amazed. It’s not finding something that isn’t there. It’s realizing that, when we think we are very big, we’ve stopped paying attention. People who actually look at things—even ordinary things—are those who will never want for wonders.
Every day the sun rises and sets. Every season plants grow, die, and in the process spread seeds to start it all again. The earth rotates on its axis, fall gives way to winter, then spring, then summer, then fall again. God has put in our world rhythms and regularity.
Chesterton is again helpful here: He says it’s possible that these things aren’t automatic processes. Perhaps God has enough youthful vitality in him that every morning he tells the sun to rise again, and finds the same joy in it. Perhaps every daisy isn’t automatically made the same, but God makes each individually and hasn’t grown tired of their design.
We equate sameness with boredom. But there is a lot of joy in sameness. The reason it’s hard to sell a family home is because it is where we lived day in and day out. The comfort and security of a decades long friendship is built on consistency, a long stretch of the same thing over years. Different isn’t always exciting.
And the same is true of our every day. There is no law written in the universe that you have to stop enjoying something if it happens daily. There’s a worship to be had in the regularity. The rituals of lunchtime, of the “How was your weekend?” in the office break room, of brushing our teeth and grocery shopping, are not off limits to enjoyment because they are routine. It makes no sense to think that the taste of a cold drink with your sandwich or two seconds of connection with a coworker have no meaning because they happen a lot.
We use the word liturgy to talk about our corporate worship services. It means “the work of the people,” and that’s what we do when we gather: we work ourselves together in praise, confession, forgiveness, learning, and the Lord’s Supper.
The normalcy of our liturgy has always struck me. We aren’t transported to a higher spiritual plane. We take our normal bodies, the ones we use day in and day out, and we sit in pews, stand on legs, vibrate vocal cords, shake hands, give hugs, listen to sermons, drink coffee, walk to our cars. There’s a beauty in the normal of it all: God has asked us to use these hands he’s made to worship him. He gets glory in it. Two small folds in our throats vibrate at certain frequencies to the glory of God.
We carry the same bodies, the same neurons, the same vocal cords out into the world. When your hands grip the steering wheel, or raise a coffee mug, or wave at someone, they are doing what God made them to do. There is worship in it. Everyday life carries liturgy with us.
There’s more to be said on all of this. But the point is simple: we aren’t living in a routine world that we dress up to have meaning and joy. When we don’t find meaning, we are the ones who are living in a fake world. Embedded in your routines, your everyday drumbeat, is something real and true and worth enjoying.
Brian serves the church by overseeing preaching and Sunday morning services at Cornerstone.
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