Double Vision: Seeing the Extraordinary in the Ordinary

Seeing the ExtraordinaryA couple of weeks ago I was setting up for a training session for new EMs (Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion).  Needing a chalice, paten and communion cup for demonstration, I went to the drawer where the key to the cabinet which houses the vessels is kept but it was not there.  I looked in the other drawers and unlocked cabinets but still did not find it.  I had earlier greeted one of our sacristans, Jean, who was setting up for the Novena in the Ars Chapel so I went to find her to see if perhaps she had the key.  She did not but returned with me to the sacristy to search.  And search we did; she retraced all her steps and opened the drawers and cabinets she had accessed but again, to no avail.  We returned to the Ars Chapel to empty her handbag, suggesting that perhaps she had inadvertently dropped it in however, she had not. We returned to the Church and retraced her steps at least 3 times but still did not obtain the lost key.  We were rehearsing yet again, her actions in the sacristy and angsting about the misplaced key when, low and behold, it fell on the floor before us.  We had just been retracing the sacristan’s steps; one of them had been to replenish the hand towels with the freshly laundered ones and there it was, the key apparently had slipped in between the towels which we had examined 3 times before!  When the key fell before us we both paused in astonishment.  I said to the sacristan, “Jean, God is so good.”

Something so seemingly insignificant as this may have been dismissed as simply, “good luck” but I knew it was more than that.  Yes, God was looking out for us but more importantly, for those whom he had called to serve in a very important ministry. Their service and training for it, would not be thwarted.

How often does God reach down and show his presence to us yet we fail to recognize him?  St. Benedict, the Father of Western Monasticism, believed that “the encounter with God ought not be rare, because one should see God regularly and easily.”  “All you need to do”, he wrote, “is open your eyes; God is not absent from our world.”

We, as Catholics, approach the world with a sense of something more than which appears before us.  As we tend to our everyday tasks we view them sacramentally, as pointing to a greater reality.  This approach opens up a world in which nothing is too common to be exalted; everyday experiences hold the possibility of revelation.  This view of life must be focused or we risk losing or being blinded to the extraordinary in our midst. We, like the disciples on the way to Emmaus, may fail to recognize that Christ is in fact, alongside us.

Perhaps the first step is that we should sincerely desire to unearth God in our midst, for letting heaven break through will not happen automatically.  It lies at hand, but needs a determination on our part to realize it.  If we can recover this “double” vision, then we are able to transform what lies at hand and allow the mundane to become the edge of glory and “see” the extraordinary in the ordinary.

At times God may be encountered in the experience of absence.  Experiences of broken relationships, stress, burnout, frustration and hopelessness are a particular challenge to faith and too often our ability to view our world as a sacrament of divine mystery is weakened.  But the invitation remains for each of us to persevere and to grow in our trust in God’s desire to be lovingly present to us in all circumstances.

The biblical phrase, “If today you hear his voice..” (Hebrews 3:7) implies that the divine voice is accessible in our daily experience.  If we are to listen for the God who creates and sustains us, we need to take seriously and prayerfully the meeting between the creatures we are and all else that God holds in loving existence. This interface is the lived experience of our days.  It deserves prayerful attention and is a big part of how we know and respond to God.

I am reminded of the story of a young musician from a small city who traveled to New York City.  She was mesmerized by all the cars, buildings and people and very anxious about her upcoming audition.  As she emerged from the subway she felt disoriented.  She knew her destination was nearby but in which direction? Then, to her relief, she saw an elderly man coming toward her with a violin case tucked under his arm. Ah, he must surely know, she thought, so she inquired, “Excuse me sir, can you tell me how to get to Carnegie Hall?”  The old musician halted, looked pensive for a moment, and then offered, “Practice, practice, practice!”  We can say the same about our faith; being any good at it requires lots of practice.  Perseverance in faith is the best evidence of the sincerity of our faith.

What Jean and I experienced that evening when the keys “dropped from heaven” was the determination of God’s in-breaking into our midst.  What an awesome gift that was.  And like all gifts, one to be shared so that all may delight in its beauty.  If we look closely we will be able to find God in the ordinary of our lives; in fact we might be looking at  – but failing to recognize him  – each day.

  Earth’s crammed with heaven,

and every common bush afire with God;

But only he who sees, takes off his shoes-

The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries,

And daub their natural faces unaware……

Elizabeth Barrett Browning



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