Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Ordinary Holiness

"A Sacred Moment"
- Sunrise at the Desert Retreat House -

Yesterday I was fortunate enough to come across a wonderful interview recently featured on Krista Tippett's radio show, On Being. Ms. Tippett was speaking with the Quaker singer and poet, Carrie Newcomer, who I must admit I had never heard before. I have now become a big fan.

In the interview, Ms. Newcomer talked about her songs and poetry as celebrations of the holiness and sacredness of everyday life. Her music is not overtly religious and she never uses words like "God" in her poetry, but it is filled with a sense of transcendence and it is deeply spiritual.  

In the interview, Newcomer said that she gets inspiration for her music by simply paying attention to  the everyday moments of ordinary life:

I write a lot about finding something extraordinary in an ordinary day.
Maybe even something sacred in an ordinary day.
I write about it a lot and I think there is a longing for that kind of acknowledgement
that our daily lives are wondrous. 
And they're valuable. And they're honorable.

We often think of holiness or sacredness as being confined to a particular time or space in our lives.  We sit in a church, a temple or a mosque and that's a holy place. We dedicate a quiet time of the day for meditation and mindfulness, and that's a holy time. But I think Carrie Newcomer is right when she says that our everyday moments in our ordinary lives are places filled with wonder. Each and every moment of our ordinary existence is radiant with the energy of Holy Presence - it's all a matter of paying attention to it.

I actually believe that going to church, saying prayers or taking time to meditate provide us with "opportunities" for training ourselves to be more mindful in those everyday moments of life. When I sit quietly for 10 or 15 minutes, paying attention to my breathing, aware of what is happening "now," I am, in a sense, practicing for everyday living, practicing for paying attention in the supermarket, practicing for paying attention while I drive my car, eat my lunch or walk along a wilderness trail.

At the conclusion of the interview I heard yesterday,  Carrie Newcomer read one of her poems:

Every night before I go to sleep
I say out loud
three things that i am grateful for,
All the significant insignificant, extraordinary, ordinary stuff of my life.
It's a small practice and humble,
And yet I find I sleep better holding what lightens and softens my life.
Sunlight and blueberries,
Good dogs and wool socks,
A fine rain,
A good friend,
Fresh basil and wild phlox,
The song that always makes me cry no matter how many times I hear it.
Your quiet breathing,
The frost patterns on the windows,
English horns and banjos,
The smooth glassy calm of the morning pond,
An old coat, a new poem.

And after three things, more often than not,
I get on a roll and just keep going, naming and listing,
Until I lie grinning,
Blankets pulled up to my chin,
Awash with wonder at the sweetness of it all.

Our ordinary lives are sacred and holy. They are indeed "wondrous, valuable and honorable."

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