Ashes. Dirt. Bread. Crumbs. Stones. Water. Oil. Coins. Wind.
We can find God in these ordinary things.
We often think our faith develops in mountaintop moments of great glory and revelation. Or we associate God with the beauty of magnificent cathedrals, sun-drenched stained glass and silver chalices. We think we have to be in a holy place to find God. But God is with us in the every day, and this Lent we are discovering how.
Every year, Westminster Church offers a Lenten Soup & Study series, gathering for a simple meal on Wednesday evenings and reflecting on how we find God in our lives. Past years have explored finding God in music, service, traditions, art, meditation, science and prayer. Because we cannot gather in person, we are holding this year’s Soup & Study on Zoom, and our discussions are based on a beautiful book by Jill Duffield called "Lent in Plain Sight." It’s a perfect book for this Lenten season, as we have spent the past 12 months confined to our homes and isolated from friends and family, which has forced us to find God in new ways. There’s been a lot of “ordinary” in this extraordinary year, and we are finding God is there with us.
Take ashes and dust, for instance. The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, at which we hear the words “You are dust and to dust you shall return.” It is a stark reminder of our mortality, but also one of hope, as the pastor marks our foreheads with the sign of the cross in ashes. This year, we distributed “drive-through ashes” in the church parking lot.
We’ve all had plenty of reminders of mortality in this pandemic year. Every day, we have watched the death tolls on the news, and we have experienced loss on more personal levels. Death has been all around us. Our small congregation of 175 members said painful goodbyes to 15 of our beloved members this past year. Yet we find God in the ashes of grief, remembering the joys and love that was shared, and finding faith in the promise of resurrection. We see God in ashes.
Bread is another ordinary object in which we can find God. Like many people, I have taken up bread baking this past year, both as a diversion and as a way to avoid going to the store. Watching the yeast foam is like watching something come alive. Kneading dough is comforting. Watching it rise feels triumphant. Baking bread takes patience and effort, but it produces a simple, delicious food that nourishes and fills us. Bread is nothing short of a miracle — a simple, everyday miracle, like breathing and growing and living.
Bread is one of the elements of communion, one of the two sacraments in the Presbyterian Church. In communion, we break bread and eat it, remembering Jesus’ words to his disciples at his last supper with them to “Do this and remember me.” Traditionally, when we shared communion in church, we would pass a silver tray with little cubes of bread and tiny cups of grape juice. This past year, in online worship, we gathered up bread (or crackers or cookies) and juice (or coffee or water) from our own kitchens, and shared communion together in front of our computer screens. Strangely, I found that communion took on a deeper meaning for me this way. We were sharing real food — simple items which nourish and comfort us — to remember Jesus. It seemed closer to what Jesus did with his disciples, taking the bread from the table in front of him and saying “This is my body.” An ordinary thing becomes sacred. We see God in bread.
How do we see God in ordinary things? We slow down and pay attention. We name the object and think about what it does and what it represents. Jill Duffield suggests asking yourself the question “What do you take for granted?” and then taking a moment to see common objects as gifts from God and saying a prayer of thanks. Take water, for instance. Plain ordinary water is the substance that makes up 60% of our bodies (and the planet), that refreshes us, cleans us, makes plants grow and keeps us alive. Thank God for water!
This Lent, look around you. God is in the simple, common, ordinary things which surround you. God is in plain sight every day.
Jill Fandrich is an elder at Westminster Presbyterian Church, 17 William St., Auburn, where she edits the newsletter, church website (westminsterauburn.org) and Facebook, Twitter and Instagram pages.