Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2016. 184 pp)
Tish Harrison Warren writes regularly for The Well, Her.Meneutics, and Christianity Today. She is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America, serving at Resurrection South Austin. After seven years of campus ministry with InterVarsity at Vanderbilt and the University of Texas at Austin, she now works with InterVarsity Women in the Academy & Professions.
Turning the Ordinary Extraordinary
Consider your average day. What did you do? In my day job, we work with clients to define a DITLO, short for “Day In The Life Of.” These exercises intrigue for a handful of reasons; they allow for people to think intentionally about their work and to open opportunities for improving productivity and efficiency. But the process includes its challenges. For many people, elaborating on their daily, mundane tasks becomes incredibly difficult. When nothing seemingly noteworthy occurs on any given day, it is near impossible to describe in any detail what those daily tasks look like.
In contrast, the special days of our lives (pun intended), sit in the recesses of our minds for eons. We can call up our first kiss, the day of our wedding, the day our favorite sports team won a championship, etc. We have a tendency to orient our memories and our actions to the grandiose and the special, setting aside the quotidian until it is ultimately forgotten.
But our daily lives matter, greatly. In Liturgy of the Ordinary, Tish Harrison Warren outlines how our daily tasks shape us. An intentional focus on how these actions form us frames Warren’s thesis.
Spiritual Formation through the Lens of the Typical Day
Organized around a typical day, Warren teases out theological principles and practical observations about intentional and liturgical practices that helps people flourish on the most ordinary of days.
Highlighting the theological foundations of making a bed, brushing teeth, checking email, reheating leftovers, waiting in traffic, and sleep, Warren argues for the deep meaning behind our activities.
On the purgatorial state between sleep and consciousness in the morning, Warren observes:
“Whether we’re children of heads of state, we sit in our pajamas for a moment, yawning, with messy hair and bad breath, unproductive, groping toward the day. Soon we’ll get buttoned up into our identities: mothers, business people, students, friends, citizens. We’ll spend our day conservative or liberal, rich or poor, earnest or cynical, fun-loving or serious. But was we first emerge from sleep, we are nothing but human, unimpressive, vulnerable, newly born into the day, blinking as our pupils adjust to light and our brains emerge into consciousness” (15-16).
On brushing teeth, Warren notes:
“So much of life, unavoidably, is just maintenance. Things need upkeep or they fall apart. We spend most of our days and much of our energy simply staving off inevitable entropy and decay” (37).
On reheating leftovers, she links nourishment to broader theological principles:
“Nourishment is always far more than biological nutrition. We are nourished by our communities. We are nourished by gratitude. We are nourished by justice. We are nourished when we know and love our neighbors” (72).
On checking email and the practical elements of vocation she urges:
“The reality is that time is a stream we are swept into. Time is a gift from God, a means of worship. I need the church to remind me of reality: time is not a commodity that I control, manage, or consume. The practice of liturgical time teaches me, day by day, that time is not mine. It does not revolve around me. Time revolves around God—what he has done, what he is doing, and what he will do” (108).
And of going to bed, she contends:
“What if Christians were known as a countercultural community of the well-rested—people who embrace our limits with zest and even joy? As believers we can relish sleep as not only necessary but as an embodied response to the truth of Scripture: we are finite, weak creatures who are abundantly cared for by our strong and loving Creator” (152).
While these observations are but a cross-section of deep, formational learning found in Liturgy of the Ordinary, hopefully they provide an appetizer for a valuable look into the needed intentionality of our daily lives. Whether we realize it or not, the activities of our days form us, often in ways we don’t understand. Consider the action of checking your smart phone the moment you wake up. That action orients us toward a dependency on technology as we continue to check our phone every 5 minutes throughout the day.
Liturgy of the Ordinary focuses on bringing the sacred to the standard practices of life. Recommended.
Verdict: 5 out of 5