Everyday Sacraments

When I was seven, my family moved to a new town, and the Methodist pastor came to call. Before my parents could trap him in the living room, I took him on a tour of the yard where he admired the nursery I had set up to save helpless tadpoles from murderous neighbor boys. The following Sunday I sat in a church for the first time, smiling at the pastor who smiled back at me. I was already in love; but when he stood up to speak : likening God's care for the world to a little girl's care for a mess of tadpoles : something inside of me shifted for good. This God, it seemed, had something to do not only with the world I lived in but also with me and my place in it. Furthermore, the people in that church knew something about the connection that I did not, or at least had words for it that I did not: glory, majesty, holy Lord.

It took me many more years to make the connection for myself; but when I finally settled in a church it was (surprise!) a sacramental one, where I learned to recognize God's presence in the most ordinary things. Week by week, I participated in sacred mysteries, whereby common loaves of flatbread and cups of sweet wine became windows on another reality. Before my very eyes, tap water became the water of baptism and Pompeii olive oil the oil of blessing. Sacramental people called priests presided over these mysteries, which involved words and gestures as well as the things themselves. The hands of these priests, like mine, became further evidence of God's willingness to become flesh.

Such incarnation theology eventually made me immune to other theologies that told me my flesh was bad; but since I learned it in church I tended to spend more and more time there. Like many of my fellow worshippers I began to think things that only priests can do. I began to think of holiness as a church thing and not a world thing, until walking out the door into the sunlight again after a worship service became something of a letdown. Call it stage two.

Luckily the same church that taught me the definition of a sacrament ("an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace") also taught me that God's activity is not limited to two, seven or even seventy-times-seven such rites. Instead I learned the sacraments I practiced in church were patterns of countless ways that God uses material things to reach out to human beings in the world. Countless ways! Based upon this surprising revelation, I set out on a search for everyday sacraments. It was not long before I found them everywhere.

The same pattern of rebirth that I learned in baptism showed up in everything from bathing to watering plants. The same pattern of relationship that I learned in communion was available in every meal eaten mindfully. The laying on of hands took place as I held a crying baby or rubbed the shoulders of a tired friend. With a little oil, I could even offer the sacrament of a pretty good massage. When I walked outside and looked at the smoking compost heap, I saw a sacrament of death turning into life. When I used my little bottle of whiteout to correct a mistake, I remembered that my errors did not have to be permanent. Everywhere I turned the most insignificant things in the world were preaching little sermons to me. Everywhere I turned, the world was giving light. All that was required, apparently, was my willingness to be a priest, to walk through the world aware of God's presence, ready to hold ordinary things up to heaven with my own hands so that I and anyone else interested could see the holiness in them : even the soiled and broken things that were just waiting for someone to come along and love them (I learned this part from Jesus). Call it stage three.

Insofar as worship is the practice of reverence for that which is greater than myself, I have moved from the world to the church and back out into the world again. God is my name for the singular reality that has met me at every stage: in tornadoes and tadpoles, in the community of believers, and above all in the Word made Flesh, who has invited me to join him in the celebration of everyday sacraments in this world.

Following the leader, I take the very ordinary stuff of my life into my very human hands. I bless it, break it so that the light comes out, and then I offer it back to God, who nine times out of ten then says, "Thanks, but you can have it. I made it all for you."

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