I was going to write today’s post about the lines I read in Tish Harrison Warren’s liturgy of the ordinary (and yes, the first letters in the title of her book are all small letters, and the cover features the makings of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, because the point of her book—which I’m loving—is to help us embrace the sacred in the ordinary.)
I was going to write about her words,
“In my tradition, Anglicanism, we baptize infants. Before they cognitively understand the story of Christ, before they can affirm a creed, before they can sit up, use the bathroom, or contribute significantly to the work of the church, grace is spoken over them and they are accepted as part of us. They are counted as God’s people before they have anything to show for themselves.” (p. 17)
Isn’t that what we celebrate at Christmas—that God came among us, gracing us with his own presence, with Himself, not because we had done anything to earn it but precisely because we couldn’t and because he loved us and wanted us to know it?
Or I was going to share the way she talks about the body as “the most sacred object on earth.” (That thought won’t let me go.)
“Sexual sin is a scandal in the Scriptures not because the apostles were blushing prigs—they were, in reality, a rather salty bunch—or because the body is dirty or evil, but because our skin and muscles and feet and hands are more sacred than any communion chalice or baptismal font. Ignoring Scripture’s teaching about the proper use of the body and using our bodies for our own false worship is a misuse of the sacred akin to using consecrated bread and wine in a Wiccan goddess ceremony.
Similarly, when we denigrate our bodies—whether through neglect or staring at our faces and counting up our flaws—we are belittling a sacred site, a worship space more wondrous than the most glorious, ancient cathedral. We are standing before the Grand Canyon or the Sistine Chapel and rolling our eyes.” (p. 45)
Isn’t this, too, what we celebrate at Christmas—that God further sanctified what he had already made in his image, breathed his own life into, and declared “very good” at creation, now taking flesh himself, joining himself to us in our flesh forever, making our human bodies not just the outer court of the temple but the holy of holies where God dwells?
But I’ve decided to share one moment where all this came together for me—the sacred in the ordinary, God’s holy presence in my own embodied longing.
I did something the other day that I’ve never done before and may never do again. There has been a stuffed lamb sitting in my cupboard for years. Its name is Shalom (Shalom Sheep if you want the full name) and my sister gave it to me soon after I moved out here, far away from family, “in case you get lonely.”
Some time recently Shalom migrated from the cupboard to sit on my bed. And on Friday morning when I made my bed, she was looking at me with such sad and lonely eyes that I couldn’t bear to leave her there. I felt like my heart was going to break if I turned away. So I picked her up and zipped her inside my hoodie, carrying her on my chest like a mom carries a baby in a snugglie. (I confess to feeling a little crazy as I did it—she’s a stuffed animal, for Pete’s sake!) But I sensed there was an invitation there for me, and the only way to hear the invitation was to step into it. So I zipped the little lonely lamb against my chest and carried her there most of the day, letting myself feel the tenderness that arose toward her. The tenderness itself was a gift that somehow overflowed into an ability to be more gentle with myself and others. But it was only that evening, hours after I’d removed the little lamb from my hoodie and tucked her under a blanket to wait while I went out in the slushy snow to listen to Handel’s Messiah that I began to see the deeper layer of gift.
I was sitting with a friend in the Orpheum theatre. The tenor had already sung, “Comfort ye, my people,” and the alto had reminded us that the child coming among us was called Emmanuel, “God with us.” The choir had sung that the child is born and the son given, and the soprano had called us to rejoice because our king comes.
And then the alto began to sing the reassurance from Isaiah 40, “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: and he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom . . .” And I remembered: God carries lonely little lambs next to his heart too! God had been inviting me to understand these words from the inside, to feel something of his own tenderness toward me. He aches when he sees me ache, and he doesn’t turn away. He picks me up (if I’ll let him) and tucks me safe in that swaddling space where I can hear his heartbeat and feel his warmth, hear his quiet whispers and feel his hand move to touch my back and know that I’m not alone. And this tender care isn’t just for extreme circumstances or moments of tragedy. It’s all part of the (extra)ordinary everyday love of the shepherd, part of being his, loved and known and cared for in the rise and fall of everyday life.