The Joy of the Ordinary

This is the first week when I have gotten to the weekend with nary an idea about what I wanted to write in this blog. To be honest, it's been a rough couple of weeks. Some serious soul searching and big, difficult decisions, along with driving 1,500 miles back and forth to Texas in three days, has left me feeling pretty depleted. My daily practice of joy has felt lackluster at best. 

Richard Rohr to the rescue!! Just before leaving for Texas, I read something that he wrote, which I absolutely loved: "God is manifest in the ordinary, in the actual, in the daily, in the now. . ." So on Tuesday, as I was driving in through Eastern New Mexico and having a pretty terrible afternoon, I thought I would try looking for God in the ordinary, the actual, the daily, the now. My petri dish for this project was a town through which I drive fairly often, and which never fails to depress the hell out of me. 

The first billboard as I entered the city limits was faded almost to illegibility. It read: We KNOW You're Bored!!! Whatever the remedy for boredom that the billboard had been meant to offer had long since faded to oblivion. . .Not an auspicious start to my experiment.

But I persisted. As I drove past run-down houses with chained-up dogs next to mammoth rust-colored snow drifts, boarded-up buildings, and deteriorating trailers overflowing with trash, I tried a mantra: "Look for God in the ordinary and actual, daily and now." 

It wasn't working. All I could see was ugly, depressing, grim. Not one damn beautiful thing. Nothing uplifting for miles. And I was halfway through town.

That's when I got it. I was looking for something pretty, hopeful, special -- to prove to myself that God was there, even in that depressing town. That old Hollywood happy ending conditioning rearing its ugly head. 

I suppose I should take a moment here to explain what God means to me. For a long time, I had a lot of trouble with the word God. The White-Bearded Man in the Sky, the Judge of All My Sins. I didn't like hearing the word God, and I never used it in public. If you had told me then that I would be writing a blog about God, I would have said you were nuts.

My first breakthrough came when I read that, in over 35 languages, the word God and the word good are the same. So I started substituted the word Good for God, and I loved that. I liked praying to Good, and feeling that we were all the creation and ideas of Good. From there is began to flow -- and eventually it circled back to the three words painted on the wall of the Sunday Schools I attended: God is Love. Today, I would say, to me, God is simply the all-encompassing power of Good and of Love -- that is the Oneness that unites us all.

Using that definition, what I should have been looking for was much simpler than I was making it . I just needed anything to get me out of my funky head and back into the heart of Love.

At that moment, I passed a beat-up trailer surrounded by a fence made of large spoked steel wheels from some kind of farm machinery. They were white and rust and metal and cool looking. And there was God -- in that. What that fence said to me was that someone had made an effort, had wanted to do something creative and unique, and also recycled something in an awesome way. Seeing God in that rusted-out fence changed my whole drive. For the next five hours, I just found simple joy in simple things -- the blue neon lettering on a Greek diner, the reflection of the red lights of the oil derricks on a black unseen lake, the sun glinting off of a grain silo, the vast West Texas starry night when I stopped in the middle of nowhere to pee. And in joy, my heart is connected to the infinite Love that connects us all.

Brene Brown writes: "Joy comes to us in ordinary moments. We risk missing out on joy when we get too busy chasing down the extraordinary." She's so right.

We all have weeks when our joy practices feel uninspired. But maybe that's because we're inflating the whole idea of inspiration -- chasing down the extraordinary, instead of paying attention to the joy of the ordinary. Inspiration can sometimes seem like joy -- a cosmic crapshoot. Will it or won't it come? But if one of the definitions of inspiration is inhalation, or breathing in, why don't we keep it that simple? Breathe in, breathe out. In the ordinary, the daily, the actual, the now, we can always be inspired by, breathe in and breathe out joy.

So, this week, I thought I would share some photos -- all of which I have taken in the past five months -- of some of the ordinary, actual, daily and now that have reconnected me to joy and love and good. May they inspire you to see all the joy, love, and good in your hearts.

eggs spinach

When I'm on the road, the thing I miss most is my home-cooked breakfast -- two or three fried eggs and sauteed greens. To some people, I imagine this would not inspire nearly as much joy as, say, a freshly-baked croissant with a cafe au laid in a Parisian cafe. But for me, this breakfast -- ordinary as it may be -- never fails to bring me joy. They say that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. That being the case, how vital that each of us remember to breakfast on joy!

shadow tracks

I took this photo driving home on that same stretch of desolate Eastern New Mexico road I wrote about earlier. The sun was sinking lower in the sky and I decided to get out of the car and stretch my legs before it got dark. I found myself walking over to the railroad track, and I began taking pictures. Suddenly, the most ordinary stretch of New Mexico was illuminated in That Golden Light. I caught this photo. . . before some repairmen yelled at me to get off the tracks! Now, whenever I drive that stretch of road, I know that it is a place of great beauty. I loved that moment -- the joy I had in it, and the joy that remembering it brings.


I saw this tree as I was driving past it a few weeks ago in Northern New Mexico. Got halfway up a steep hill and it called me to turn around and pull into a driveway to take its picture. There was something so poignant and gorgeous about these heavy-laden boughs of unpicked apples that spoke to my heart. There were so many questions in its story. Why had they gone unpicked? Would they eventually fall off the branches with a heavy snow? What would happen in the spring? Just an ordinary tree on a January day reminding me of all the joy in the now.


I love Farmer's Markets, as much for the beauty of the food displays and the people watching as anything I might be tempted to buy. I am always snapping photos of produce, but leeks hold a special place in my heart. One of my dad's favorite cookbooks was called, First You Take a Leek. One of the things I loved best about my dad was that he was, at heart, always a nine-year-old boy, and there was something about that cookbook that tickled his nine-year-old heart. I never see leeks without thinking of my dad and smiling. Sometimes the ordinary carries with it joy-filled memories. . .We just have to take the time to remember them in our hearts.


I love taking pictures of signs and looking at them later to see what I am being told. I took this photo next to a big hole on a busy street in London. It seemed to be an apt description of what I've been doing in my soul these past few years. That morning, God was in the ordinary, actual, daily and now. Loud and clear!


I walk every morning. If I am traveling, I don't always have the time or the transportation to find someplace scenic. So I find the scenic wherever I can. I saw this leaf in the driveway of the Atlanta Marriott on a rainy morning in October. It was as beautiful as any jewel I have ever seen. 


People like to bitch and moan about flying. The service, the safety, the delays, the irritating people. But honestly, would you rather be in a covered wagon going across the desert with smelly unbathed strangers not knowing where the next watering hole is? Or perhaps a schooner in a massive storm puking up your hardtack and warding off scurvy? When I fly, I like to focus on gratitude, and one of the ways I do that is to sit next to a window and look at our gorgeous planet. Because I try to sit in exit rows for my long legs, my view is often obstructed by the wing. Or is it? Because sometimes that wing becomes a Brancusi and brings the whole sky to life. 


I took this photo of the underside of an Austin bridge on a hot autumn morning in September. An ordinary bridge, on an ordinary day that brought me so much joy. All I had to do was look!


I took so many gorgeous pictures of the landscape and the sheep and the stags on this gorgeous day in the English countryside with my friend Sarah. But this picture remains one of my favorites. Why? Because it is imperfect. . .and therefore perfect. The living flowers next to the dead buds, the moss on the wall, the crooked angle. I don't know. . .it just brings me joy. And isn't that enough?


No explanation needed. Look down, look up, look all around. If you really look, with your whole heart, you, too, will find Love in the ordinary, the actual, the daily, the now.


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