Growing up, my most meaningful experiences of faith were ones I considered “extraordinary.”
I spent my summers and many weekend retreats at a Presbyterian camp in northern Indiana where God’s extraordinary nature could be found in a beautiful sunset, a shooting star, powerful Bible studies and the very best of friends.
My first year of college I immediately sought out campus ministry groups that seemed to promise a weekly dose of “extraordinary.”
I quickly found that even the loudest, brightest, shiniest opportunities for worship soon lost their mystique. Eventually, I found myself back in the pews of the Presbyterian church, holding a hymnal and reciting the Apostles’ Creed. I’ve been there ever since.
There are many things about practicing faith that are ordinary. Especially in a liturgical tradition, you can walk into almost any church anywhere and there will be few surprises — gathering, confessing, proclaiming scripture, responding with hymns and a creed, being sent into the world with a blessing. That’s just what we do.
However, I was recently reminded that even the most ordinary things in our lives have the potential to be made extraordinary by the power of the Holy Spirit.
It happened at a memorial service at our church for an amazing woman whose life ended quickly and prematurely (in the opinion of those who loved her). It happened as we sang a hymn I have sung hundreds of times.
“And though this world, with devils filled, should threaten to undo us
We will not fear, for God hath willed His truth to triumph through us”
The language is somewhat dated, but on this day, as I looked out over the congregation, I was struck by the tenacity of faith gathered in that room.
These were people whose relationships with one another were, for the most part, cultivated in the midst of the ordinary. Over many years these friends attended Bible studies and committee meetings, sat next to each other at potlucks and sent each other cards for birthdays, anniversaries and graduations. They sang out of the hymnal and repeated the Apostles’ Creed. One might say their lives together had been quite ordinary.
Yet, in the face of death, they now had the audacity to proclaim that even the death of a beloved friend could not shake their hope in the life eternal. That kind of faith is far more extraordinary than anything I ever encountered in a brief weekend retreat.
Do not get me wrong; I believe in mountaintop moments — camp, retreats, conferences — are meaningful and necessary “booster shots” to our faith. But the quick moments of extraordinary are no substitute for a life of ordinary in which we slowly and gently, over many years, learn the stories of our faith, gather regularly with a body of people we come to love as family and proclaim a message of hope that will ultimately see us through our darkest days.
It is sometimes the most ordinary of our practices that help us to see the extraordinary nature of our lives together.
Rev. Kathy Wolf Reed serves as co-pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Auburn. Her writing has appeared in publications such as Journal for Preachers, The Christian Century, and Presbyterians Today.