How Brushing Your Teeth and Making Your Bed Can Make You More Like Christ–A Review of Tish Harrison Warren’s “Liturgy of the Ordinary”

This entry is part 34 of 34 in the series Book Reviews

 

Anglican priest Tish Harrison Warren believes that our daily practices are liturgies which form and shape our hearts. Whether we know it or not, whether we intend it or not, even the most mundane habits and routines of our day make us who we are. Just as a church may have liturgical practices on a Sunday morning designed to transform who and what we love and worship, so our day-to-day life can be filled with liturgical practices that similarly transform us. These daily liturgies, however, come in ordinary wrappings. In Liturgy of the Ordinary, Warren walks through a typical day and reveals the way in which eleven common activities can be redeemed and leveraged as habits which helps us love God and love neighbor. From the way we wake up, to the way we brush our teeth, to way we deal with a cranky spouse and handle the pile of email in our inbox, routine moments of the day carry the potential for becoming divine encounters and Christ-conforming moments.

Perhaps the greatest contribution of Warren’s book is that she enables us to see that we don’t have to add a lot of additional spiritual practices to our day in order to experience transformation. Instead, we can take activities in which we are already engaged (e.g., making the bed, eating leftovers, sitting in traffic) and use them more purposefully in our spiritual lives. One of the weaknesses of the book comes in her attempt to link most of the “ordinary” liturgies with a liturgical practice in her church. For readers who do not come from liturgical churches, this link proves somewhat cumbersome at times. In some instances, it feels forced. Still, Warren has done a masterful job illustrating ways in which even the most common parts of our days carry great potential for spiritual transformation. Below is a summary of Warren’s eleven ordinary liturgies.

 

 

Ordinary Activity

Liturgy of the Ordinary

Waking Up

Based on the Church Liturgy of Baptism

Matt. 3:13-17

Before I get out of bed, I “remember my baptism” and who I am based on that baptism–I am God’s beloved child with whom he is well-pleased.

“We are marked from our first waking moment by an identity that is given to us by grace: an identity that is deeper and more real than any other identity we will don that day.”

Making the Bed

Gen. 1

Instead of checking my smartphone first thing in the morning, I make the bed as an act of co-laboring with God and spend a few minutes of silence on it in order to push against my addiction to stimulation, input and entertainment.

“Our addiction to stimulation, input, and entertainment empties us out and makes us boring–unable to embrace the ordinary wonders of life in Christ.”

“Once a student met with [my husband’s professor] to complain about having to read Augustine’s Confessions. ‘It’s boring,’ the student whined. ‘No, it’s not boring,’ the professor responded. ‘You’re boring.’”

“ A sign hangs on the wall in a New Monastic Christian community house: ‘Everyone wants a revolution. No one wants to do the dishes.’”

Brushing My Teeth

Based on the Church Liturgy of Standing, Kneeling, Bowing

As I brush my teeth, I remember that He became flesh and our faith is always embodied and that my entire body can be used in service and worship to God (or to rebel against God).

“Christians are often accused of two wrong-headed views of the body. One is that we ignore the body in favor of a disembodied, spirits-floating-on-clouds spirituality. The other is that we are obsessed with bodies, focussing all our attention on policing sexual conduct and denigrating the body as a dirty source of evil.”

“Instead, these small tasks of caring for our bodies, as quotidian as they are, act as an embodied confession that our Creator, who mysteriously became flesh, has made our bodies well and deserves worship in and through our very cells, muscles, tissues, and teeth.”

“If the church does not teach us what our bodies are for, our culture certainly will.”

Losing My Keys

Based on the church Church Liturgy of Confession

Phil. 4:11

When I cannot find my keys so I can head out of the house and get on with my day I, it reveals “the lostness inside me and my misplaced reliance,” my need for all things to run smoothly. It challenge me to practice contentment in all circumstances.

“Everydayness is my problem. It’s easy to think about what you would do in wartime, or if the hurricane blows through,If you spent a month in Paris, or if your guy wins the election, or if you want the lottery or bought that thing you really wanted. It’s a lot more difficult to figure out how you’re going to get through today without despair.” (Rod Dreher)

Eating Leftovers

Based on the Church Liturgy of Word & Sacrament

The Last Supper

While I may have the rare remarkable meal, I am nourished more often by average and ordinary meals. They remind me of the average and ordinary ways by which God nourishes me. Saying grace before these meals shapes me and challenges me to give gratitude for all of God’s ordinary ways.

“There are very few good meals I remember and there are a few truly terrible meals I remember. But most of the meals I’ve eaten, thousands upon thousands, were utterly unremarkable…And yet that average, forgettable meal nourished me. Thousands of forgotten meals have brought me to today. They’ve sustained my life They were my daily bread.”

Fighting with My Spouse

Based on the Church Liturgy of Passing the Peace

At midday, when my husband drops by the house to pick something up, we get into a squabble. Not a relationship-ending fight. But a conflict we’ve had numerous times before that requires a work of “shalom.” It reminds me that I can’t hate war and yet refuse to work at peace at home. “Passing the peace” at home enables me to also do so outside of the home.

“I’m a pacifist who yells at her husband.”

“Earth is Forgiveness School. You might as well start at the dinner table. That way you can do this work in comfortable pants.” [Anne Lamott]

Checking Email

Based on the Church Liturgy of Blessing & Sending

During the afternoon I check my email. It feels like such menial work, something very “un-kingdom-like.” And yet when I was “blessed and sent” from Sunday’s worship service to participate in God’s work in the world, even this was part of that to which I was sent.

“I want to do the big work of the kingdom, but I have to learn to live it out in the small tasks before me–the missio Dei in the daily grind.”

Sitting in Traffic

Based on the Church Liturgy of the Church Calendar

As I pick up my kids from school, I am stuck once again in traffic. As much as I resent it, this circumstance teaches me something critical to my Christian formation. It teaches me to wait.

“But in my life, time is most often something I seek to manage, or something I resent–something, it seems, that I never have enough of. In my frenetic life, I forget how to slow down and wait.”

“Sitting in traffic, stuck, is one of very few times in my day where I embody the true state of my whole human existence–on the way, already but not yet, living as a creature in the in-between, waiting.”

Calling a Friend

Based on the Church Liturgy of Congregation & Community

After dinner I call a friend. This call reminds me that spirituality is not just about a personal relationship with God. It’s about working out my faith with other broken men and women. This phone call makes me part of a larger story, the cosmic story of Christ redeeming his bride.

“Christians throughout history…have confessed that it is impossible to have a relationship with Christ outside of a vital relationship with the church, Christ’s body.”

Drinking Tea

Based on the Church Liturgy of Sanctuary & Savoring

As I drink a cup of tea at the end of a long day, I’m tasting, hearing, feeling, seeing and smelling that God is good. While I am tempted to feel guilty about stopping to savor something pleasurable, enjoying the beauty of God’s creation is part of what I’m here to do.

“Being curators of beauty, pleasure, and delight is therefore an intrinsic part of our mission, a mission that recognizes the reality that truth is beautiful.”

Sleeping

Church Liturgy: Sabbath Rest

Ps. 127

As I prepare to sleep, I recall how sleeping reveals what/who I love, what/who I trust, and the fact that I have limits. Sleep reminds me to live within my limits.

“Our sleep habits both reveal and shape our loves. A decent indicator of what we love is that for which we willingly give up sleep.”

“No matter how much I love or fear something, ultimately my human need for rest kicks in.”

“What if Christians were known as a countercultural community of the well-rested–people who embrace our limits with zest and even joy?”

 

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