Through the Lens of the Ordinary

by Chris Koellhoffer, IHM  December 1, 2018

One of the surprising and unexpected blessings of slowing down by choice or by circumstance is this: that, as our speed or mobility diminishes, a new awareness of our surroundings can simultaneously expand.IMG_2053 copy

Though illness or limitation often feels unwelcome, difficult, painful, or isolating, it can also be illuminating. When we have no choice but to remain confined or restricted in some way, we may more clearly hear the inanimate world around us, we may for the first time notice the silent companions that contribute to our well-being, not as disinterested, impassive bystanders, but as helpers waiting and standing at the ready to assist us.

If we’re already living with deep mindfulness, this will not be a new concept. Perhaps we already thank the mug as we hold a steaming cup of hot tea in the morning or sigh a “thank you” to the bed when we crawl into it at day’s end. Passing through a doorway as we depart our home, we may bless the space we’re leaving and pray for its safety until we return. Checking the weather, we may grab an umbrella and give thanks for the protection it offers from a downpour. With all the devices that are now part of our everyday lives, we may whisper a prayer of thanks (sometimes more like a plea for help!) to the laptop as we boot it up, or offer gratitude to our Smart phone for the ways it connects us with worlds both near and distant.

Advent is a season that illuminates over and over the presence and promise of the small and the overlooked. In the coming of Emmanuel, God-with-us, we see up close a baby born in the poorest of settings—a manger in a stable–and in a town, Bethlehem, which the prophet Micah (5:2) called one of the smallest, least noteworthy of locations. Yet Micah warns us not to be deceived by the ordinariness of it all: this seeming place of nothingness is the very one selected to welcome the arrival of the Son of God. Clearly, the Holy One has a different way of reckoning importance.

I read in Micah’s prophetic words one of the invitations of this holy season: to tend with singular care to the people we often take for granted, dismiss, or fail to acknowledge: weary delivery persons as well as weary parents working multiple jobs to provide for their children; the frail and vulnerable ones, refugees and migrants, homeless neighbors, the lonely or the mentally ill. May we pay special attention to them and recognize in them a sacred Presence.

Permit me to suggest that another Advent practice might simply be deepening our spirit of gratitude as we acknowledge and thank the inanimate and ordinary things that make our days more rich and eased and beautiful. Thank them, perhaps, by treating them with respect and care as they wait with us. No slamming of doors or angry driving, conscious of the energies we put out into the universe through these everyday companions. We might thank as well those who invent and manufacture these aids so that our world may live with comfort and wholeness and well-being. IMG_2061 copy

I so appreciate the wisdom of Pat Schneider’s exquisite poem, “The Patience of Ordinary Things”, for inspiring me to recognize the grace of the everyday and to enter into a new level of grateful awareness this Advent and all year round:

It is a kind of love, is it not?
How the cup holds the tea,
How the chair stands sturdy and foursquare,
How the floor receives the bottoms of shoes
Or toes. How the soles of our feet know
Where they’re supposed to be.
I’ve been thinking about the patience
Of ordinary things, how clothes
Wait respectfully in closets
And soap dries quietly in the dish,
And towels drink the wet
From the skin of the back.
And the lovely repetition of stairs.
And what is more generous than a window?

What indeed? In this loving, attentive spirit, may we enter this Advent awake and aware and grateful.


Sit in stillness in the spirit of this holy season.
Reflect on some of the ordinary things or experiences that are part of your everyday life.
Share this with the Holy One.
To what might you pay particular attention today?
Ask for the grace of noticing, and give thanks.

Please remember in your prayer all who will be part of an Advent retreat I’ll be leading for the Sisters of Mercy and Associates in Sea Isle City, NJ, December 7-9. Thank you, and Advent blessings to you and to all those who claim your attention and care through these days.

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5 thoughts on “Through the Lens of the Ordinary”

  1. Chris, thank you. You’ve reminded me of a practice which gave me much joy and yet, I’ve stopped somehow. I’ll open my eyes and heart to that again. The ordinary is extraordinary. May we be grateful for all that is given to us and build community with inanimate as well as all that lives. You’re genuine!

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