There is beauty, grace, mystery, and love all around us: all we have to do is pause and take the time to be attentive and to lean into the presence of God in everyday life. That is the wonderful and salutary message in this brief but poignant volume of spiritual essays by Kent Nerburn, the author of many books including Simple Truths, Small Graces, Make Me an Instrument of Your Peace, and Calm Surrender. His lyrical prose is a delight to read. Every word is set in just the right place and with the right emphasis. He has an artist's eye (his sculptures are at the Peace Museum in Hiroshima, Japan, and Westminster Benedictine Abbey in Mission, British Columbia, and elsewhere) and a knack for speaking from the heart about little acts of kindness and reverence that others might easily miss.
Over the years, Nerburn has become a master of everyday spirituality. This volume tutors us in the art of looking closely at what is going on around us. He explains:
"This is a book for those who seek to hear that whisper — who believe that God speaks as surely in the murmurs of the trees and the laughter of the children as from the pulpits of the churches and the synagogues; who know that a mother tucking a child into bed is offering a prayer of joyful praise as surely as the cantor or the minister or the monk at evening vespers."
Nerburn knows that spirit speaks to open, hospitable, and loving hearts. Do you want to go on an inspiring adventure into the ordinary precincts of life? Nerburn is your man. Do you want to discover fresh ways to respond to the natural world, the miracles of humble people, and the mysteries of ritual, art, and travel? Nerburn your the man. Do you want to savor the connections with children, elders, and those in mourning? Nerburn is your man.
In "The Sermon of the Birds," the author is in Oxford, England, when he hears birdsong outside his window. The music is so strange and enchanting that it compels him to ask several important questions and to ponder its meanings:
"Our lives are filled with moments like these ordinary moments when the hidden beauty of life breaks into our everyday awareness like an unbidden shaft of light. It is a brush with the sacred, a near occasion of grace.
"Too often we are blind to these moments. We are busy with our daily obligations and too occupied with our comings and goings to surround our hearts with the quiet that is necessary to hear life's softer songs.
"There is no shame in this. We are only human, and the demands of life make a raucous noise. But we must not let those demands drown out the quieter voices of the spirit. We must take the time to stop and listen, knowing that the voice of the spirit speaks more often in a whisper than a shout.
"For spirituality is far more than religious practice. It is a cast of mind, a leaning of the heart, a willingness to see the shadow of the divine mystery in all people and all things. It is feeling the presence of God in every encounter, and seeing the reflection of the divine in the face of every person we meet on the street."
The rest of Ordinary Sacred contains examples of this cast of mind, this leaning of the heart, and this cherishing of the divine in the faces of others. Nerburn writes a paean of praise to an eleven-year-old girl who views herself as "just a kid"; he savors the moment of a mother's tender embrace of her retarded son; he fondly regards an old toolbox as a sacramental reminder of his father; he watches a man flying a kite and feels he has witnessed a miracle; he shares why a work of art he ignored years ago now speaks volumes to him; he delves deeply in our need to express our thanks for what someone has given us; he honors two elders by listening carefully to what they say; he looks at the dying of a relative; and he attends a funeral on an Indian Reservation.
Talking about faith, Nerburn writes:
"We want our children to be people of faith, but we do not wish them to be blinded by belief. We see our task as helping them find their place in God's mansion. We do not care which room they choose, only that it be a place alive with the sacredness of life, the kinship of all creatures, and the true conviction that we are each our brothers' and sisters' keeper.
If this is within the hallowed walls of a church and the embracing arms of a traditional faith, so be it. If it is on a starlit hillside, or in the touch of a lonely person's hand, so be that as well. We pass no judgment on how the spirit speaks, asking only that it speak in a voice of kindness and love."
The spirit speaks on these pages make no mistake about that. These heartfelt stories and spiritual teachings take us to the many rooms in the mansion of God. Walk lightly, slowly, and take them into your heart with gladness. The many beauties on these pages will touch your mind and nourish your soul.