Tish’s day, like all of ours, starts with waking up. She, too, longs for more sleep. She, too, has bleary eyes and bad breath. Actually, she says it better. (If you haven’t decided to read the book yet, maybe this will help.)
I wake slowly. Even when the day demands I rally quickly—when my kids leap on top of me with sharp elbows or my alarm blares—I lie still for the first few seconds of the day, stunned, orienting, thoughts dulled. Then comes, slowly, the dawning of plans to make and goals for the day. But in those first delicate seconds, the bleary-eyed pause of waking before the tasks begin, before I get on my game, I’m greeted again with the truth of who I am in my most basic self.
Whether we’re children or heads of state, we sit in our pajamas for a moment, yawing, 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 as we first emerge from sleep, we are nothing but human, unimpressive, vulnerable, newly born into the day, blinking as our pupils adjust to the light and our brains emerge into consciousness.
I always try to stay in bed longer. My body is greedy for sleep—“Just a few more minutes!”
But it’s not just sleep I’m greedy for—it’s that in-between place, luminal consciousness, where I’m cozy, not quite alert to the demands that await me. I don’t want to face the warring, big and small, that lies ahead of me today. I don’t want to don an identity yet. I want to stay in the womb of my covers a little longer.
—Tish Harrison Warren, Liturgy of the Ordinary, pages 15-16.
For me, this page or so is worth the entire book. It’s also a promise of what’s to come. Tish takes something as ordinary and universal as waking up in the morning and coaxes from it profound truth about life and existence. “Soon we’ll get buttoned up into our identities . . . But as we first emerge from sleep, we are nothing but human, unimpressive, vulnerable . . . I don’t want to don an identity yet. I want to stay in the womb of my covers a little longer.”
What I appreciate most about how Tish approaches the ordinary is that she treats it as more than a mere analogy or illustration or excuse to jump to some grander disembodied truth. She treats the ordinary thing in itself as sacred. This is a gentle lesson many of us religious—especially preacher—types could learn from her. Waking is not merely like the way a sinner may awaken to the truth of the Gospel (or something like that). Rather, the waking moment of every day, in all its raw vulnerability, is itself sacred because it is the truest, most honest moment of our days. This is who we are, most deeply, in all our splendid ordinariness.
The Good News—what makes this a potentially formative habit—is that God calls this ordinary version of us “Beloved.” That’s our truth. Yet we spend much of our day buttoned up in identities that have so many other distorted criteria for assessment. Successful, or not. Competent, or not. Attractive, or not.
Henri Nouwen puts it this way,
Whether I am inflated or deflated, I lose touch with my truth and distort my vision of reality. . . . Being the Beloved expresses the core truth of our existence.[^1]
For both these authors, the heart of the spiritual life is to come to know oneself as God’s Beloved. So simple. So difficult.
It’s lifelong learning to be sure, but an opportunity not to be missed is that waking moment each day in which we can pause in the morning darkness and take to heart the truest assessment we will hear all day: “Beloved.”
What are ways you have found to ground yourself in God’s love? What makes it so difficult? What some other questions for reflection? Continue the conversation in the Comments section below.
[^1]: Henri J. M. Nouwen, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World (1992), page 33.