This morning’s post comes from John van de Laar, a professional spiritual seeker who loves facilitating times of playful prayer with fellow travellers. He lives in Cape Town, South Africa, with his wife and two sons, and loves words, music and unexpected beauty. He is the author of The Hour That Changes Everything – How worship transforms us into the people God calls us to be and blogs at sacredise.
Ordinariness gets a bad rap these days. With everything from Reality TV to the lottery promising instant fame and fortune, a mundane life of satisfying work, loving family and regular leisure can begin to look like failure. Even in faith circles it is common to feel the pressure to be extraordinary. Have you ever heard a word spoken over someone that assured them their lives would not be “great”? How many pastors don’t dream of founding the next mega-church? How many worship leaders don’t pray to write the next “great anthem of faith”? How many believers don’t feel somehow less because their prayers aren’t as dramatically answered as their friends, or because they haven’t been called to some extraordinary ministry?
The Advent season can take on this same sheen of extraordinariness. There are extraordinary displays and celebrations, extraordinary family gatherings and extraordinary spending. And, though we may feel that this is what is required by this season, it is actually the opposite.
What amazes me about Advent is the playfulness, the creativity and the ordinariness of it all. Yes, God’s glory breaks through, but in such unexpected and mundane places and people that it borders on the ridiculous. In the weeks leading up to Christmas we are invited to contemplate a (seemingly) homeless prophet who challenges the religious and political establishment and dips people in the river as a sign of their repentance, while facing his own doubts and questions concerning Jesus. We walk with a pregnant teenager, and her confused fiancé who must trust nothing more certain than a dream as confirmation of her story. In the Christmas celebration itself we meet hillside shepherds who are visited by a heavenly choir – which feels about as appropriate as Joshua Bell playing his $3 million Stradivarius violin in a Washington D.C. subway station!
And as the story unfolds we find foreign dignitaries presenting extravagant – and wholly inappropriate – gifts to a poor baby lying in a feeding trough. It’s hard not to smile when the divine absurdity of it all strikes you!
But, this is also typical of God’s coming – glory peeking through at inappropriate moments, in unexpected people. Quiet creativity turning mundanity into what Marcus Borg calls ‘thin places’ – where the divine is encountered in the ordinary world. These comings of God are constant, ubiquitous and available to anyone who chooses to acknowledge and receive them. But, to do so requires us to enter the playfulness, release our dignity and become part of the comedy.
Any personal practice that connects us with our own creativity, our own inner child, is helpful for drawing near to this coming Christ. And the miracle of these simple, mundane moments of playful prayer is that when we do encounter Christ, it will not be in some dramatic way, some extraordinary setting. It will be in the quiet laughter of our own hearts.