Life is built on the mundane but lived at the edges. It is when the edges of life crowd us and fall upon us and sneak up on us that we become aware of how we have managed the mundane. Perhaps mundane is too bland a word to use because of its importance in life. It is those mundane habits that we build into our lives that prepare us for the edges — the extraordinary.
It is also the extraordinary events that reveal how well we have taken care of those mundane things that are rarely seen. We have seen infrastructure failures brought on by extraordinary weather events lately. Not the first time this has happened — we have Asian carp in our waters now as a result of flooding a few years back. I never gave a thought to how farmers controlled algae in their ponds, or whether drainage infrastructure would hold in New Orleans, or if the energy suppliers in Texas were prepared for a real cold snap — until the systems failed.
This is not to blame. The unforeseen, or at least unexpected, will continue to happen and we will from time to time be caught off guard. It is then that the mundane is suddenly seen in all of it beautiful complexity. We live in a world where the mundane is actually quite extraordinary. Even the simple act of going to the store to buy bananas or fresh seafood in the Ohio Valley is supported by fascinating systems. What is mundane to you and I require knowledge and execution from others.
It is the habits and daily routines that we execute on a regular basis that makes the extraordinary go a little better. On the positive side, think of vacations or special occasions. Without discipline in daily life, these things can be stressful rather than rewarding. On the negative side, there are disasters that will test our life’s infrastructure. How we have managed the mundane will be seen when the ordinary systems begin to fail. And it happens to all of us as we trek through this world.
Life is punctuated by events that define, remake, or redirect us. It is these shorter events on which we hang the rest of our story. We may talk about a wedding, a funeral, that really cold weather in 2021, or the pandemic. What we will talk less about are all the things that made us prepared or unprepared for these events. I do not remember most days; those days spent saving, resting, preparing, studying, or building. I do remember however, “that time when...” It might be a fish, an accident, a storm or a risk taken.
The key is to pay close attention to the mundane. To use those times of calm seas to prepare for the storms. Brother Lawrence (1614-1691) was a Carmelite lay brother in France. After he died an acquaintance wrote excerpts from conversations and called it “Practice of the Presence of God.” This is from Conversation Four and concerns paying attention to the mundane.
“He told me, that all consists in one hearty renunciation of everything which we are sensible does not lead to God; that we might accustom ourselves to a continual conversation with him, with freedom and in simplicity. That we need only to recognize God intimately present with us, to address ourselves to him every moment, that we may beg his assistance for knowing his will in things doubtful, and for rightly performing those which we plainly see he requires of us, offering them to him before we do them, and giving Him thanks when we have done.”
There is also courage to be found in attending to building a strong foundation during the mundane (this does not mean unimportant) parts of our lives. In Psalm 11 we see faith in the face of danger. The Psalmist will not run from the danger even though the foundations (infrastructure of life) are shaken.
In the Lord I take refuge;
how can you say to me,
“Flee like a bird to the mountains;
for lo, the wicked bend the bow,
they have fitted their arrow to the string,
to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart;
if the foundations are destroyed,
what can the righteous do”?
The Lord is in his holy temple,
the Lord’s throne is in heaven;
his eyes behold, his eyelids test, the children of men.
The Lord tests the righteous and the wicked,
and his soul hates him that loves violence.
It is not the sunny warm days that reveal who we are. It is the storms. It is the extraordinary that reveals the daily habits of our lives. Build well.