The Common Good
June 2007

Sacred Ordinariness

by Malinda Elizabeth Berry | June 2007

Reflections on the Revised Common Lectionary, Cycle C.

"Ordinary time" in this season after Pentecost isn't only about "everydayness." Ordinary is the adjectival form of ordinal, which refers to a numerical sequence. It's a fitting description for a season that doesn't lead to Christmas or Easter; rather this is a season of noticing the days and weeks as they go by. Liturgically speaking, ordinary time gives us the space to kick back and consider the lilies of the field—literally. As writer Annie Dillard observed, "How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives." It makes sense to get on with the ordinary—believing that if God is in the details, surely God also is in the broad strokes.

Mujerista theologian Ada María Isasi-Díaz describes an understanding of the sacred that is imbued with ordinariness as "lo cotidiano." In From the Heart of Our People, Latina feminist theologian María Pilar Aquino builds on this concept by describing lo cotidiano as those "daily struggles for humanization, for a better quality of life, and for greater social justice" that give Christian faith meaning for so many of us.

Living in the ordinary through ordinary time makes social justice a spiritual discipline that can bring us to a new awareness of how God is above us, beneath us, and beside us.

Malinda Elizabeth Berry is a dissertation fellow at Goshen College in Goshen, Indiana.


June 3
Organic Theology
Proverbs 8:1-4, 22-31; Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; John 16:12-15

I teach an undergraduate theology course in which we talk about God and the Christian life in "organic" vs. "conventional" terms. Organic theology grows from the good earth God created, the good earth Wisdom sings about in Proverbs 8.

Asking faith questions using an organic approach is about wondering. If you are a plant, what kind of soil are you growing in? What is the soil pH? Are you getting the right balance of sunlight, shade, and water? If you are a house, from what materials are you made? On what kind of foundation are you built? In what kind of neighborhood do you live?

Through "lo cotidiano" (sacred ordinariness), our consciousnesses expand in the way the yeast leavens the flour, the salt opens up the flavors of food, and the lamp's light illuminates the house. We can also trace the metaphors of plant and house back to Jesus' parables. These parables are organic because they point to the parts of life that are "unplugged," where we're required to live in the everyday with a sense of connection that relies on the Holy Spirit, rather than DSL, to give us insight and open hearts that can receive God's wisdom.

In the context of Trinity Sunday, a day when we pay special attention to the mysteries of God's being and work in the world, taking a look at the Christian life with organic eyes allows us to revisit Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, and Pentecost, recognizing the freedom Jesus offers us to be moved by ordinary things.

Jesus wasn't born at the top of the Empire State Building. He and his disciples didn't drive in SUVs to a state-of-the-art retreat facility in Sedona to meditate before his arrest. Jesus wasn't resurrected on a spotlit Las Vegas stage. These historical moments that continue to give our lives shape, form, and meaning happened with the scent of cow manure in the air, in a moonlit garden, and on the outskirts of town amid hand-hewn stone.

June 10
New Life for a Broken System?
1 Kings 17:17-24; Psalm 146; Galatians 1:11-24; Luke 7:11-17

A physician in my community observed that we can only say the health care system isn't working if we're looking at it as a system that is supposed to provide health care. The system is running perfectly well if its job is to make profits for shareholders. But from a Christian perspective, health care is deathly ill; the very system that should make us well refuses to accept its own diagnosis.

Jesus' healing ministry is central to the gospel reading this week. Luke, himself a physician, tells us that the witnesses to Jesus' act of raising a dead man interpret it as prophetic (Luke 7:16). It's also an act of compassion toward the dead man's mother. There is something analogous to the U.S. health care crisis in this story.

In this day and age, we associate the ministry of healing with the health care profession. But with the professionalization of health care, I wonder what might be missing from our interpretation of Jesus' work in the world. What might happen if we pray for the Spirit to ignite our imaginations and fill us with passion to speak God's truth to corporate power, for us to embrace the prophetic challenge to breathe new life into a dying—if not already dead—body? Making connections between daily work in the health care field and Christian faith is one way to talk honestly about a big problem. Jesus expects us to care about sick and dying people.

June 17
Extravagant Forgiveness
2 Samuel 11:26 - 12:10, 13-15; Psalm 32; Galatians 2:15-21; Luke 7:36-8:3

This week's Hebrew Testament reading is one of my favorites, though my appreciation of this story is marked by schadenfreude, a German term that describes the satisfaction and joy we take in another's failure.

I was drawn to Nathan's fable when I was younger because its allegory is so obvious and David is completely unable to recognize himself. Plus, the revelatory moment is so intense: Nathan's proclamation of judgment and pointed questions strip away any defense David may have been able to cook up for himself (2 Samuel 12:7). To my teenage way of thinking, anyone who thought they could get away with treating people (namely Bathsheba and Uriah) so badly, just because he had power and authority—all the while being favored by God—well, it was just too much to watch him get away with so much.

With a bit more life experience and maturity, I don't feel quite so much schadenfreude when I read the story. Rather, I find Nathan's boldness to be a precursor to Jesus' parable in Luke. On the face of it, David is like the debtor owing 500 denarii (Luke 7:41). We need to allow God to forgive him with as much extravagance as is needed.

David's response to Nathan's story tells us that he can identify exploitation and injustice when he sees it. The tragedy is that he couldn't see it in himself. In what ways are we like David in how we use another's vulnerability to our advantage? For example, how does a choice to overlook the working conditions of laborers when going bargain-hunting on payday manifest schadenfreude? My aim is not to point fingers, but to recognize how subtle the consequences are of many of our choices.

How is the Spirit urging us to think about the patterns we create through daily living?

June 24
Incremental Evil
Isaiah 65:1-9; Psalm 22:19-28; Galatians 3:23-29; Luke 8:26-39

The Bible is filled with stories of regular people who end up in extraordinary circumstances. Have you ever been so filled with demonic spirits that you lived in a cave? That's extraordinary. Yet, in our gospel reading, Luke tells us that the man in this situation had grown accustomed to his life even in all his misery and pain. Even more interesting is that his community also had grown used to his extraordinary situation.

Seeing this man's spirit and body returned to him, the townspeople feared Jesus' might and power (Luke 8:37). But they also may have feared something else: Someone they had relegated to the margins of community now was ready to be reintegrated into their common life. What would happen now?

In most communities, we tend to both underestimate and ignore the power of group dynamics. If we are able to recognize that negative things happen when Jill and Jane are on the same committee or when Joe and Jack end up in the same Sunday school class, we tend to cultivate coping strategies. What is the alternative? Confronting problematic or even offensive behavior. But that can be just as destructive, so we end up doing what we need to do to live and let live without paying attention to how evil takes hold in small moments of indifference.

This posture of avoidance (one I frequently seek) reminds me of Martin Niemoeller's poetic and heartbreaking confession. During the rise of Nazism in the 1930s, he didn't speak up when they came for his neighbors because they were Jews or communists. His failure to speak up meant that when he needed a neighbor, there was no one left to speak up for him. The failure to recognize extreme and extraordinary circumstances closes us off to the incremental nature of evil.

The restoration of the man from Gerasenes also points to the community's failure and the community's need for healing. This is the gift of lo cotidiano. When we take everyday choices seriously and pay attention to what our choices mean, we are more open to the Spirit because we are guarding against indifference, avoidance, and injustice.

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