Book Review: Tish Harrison Warren’s The Liturgy Of The Ordinary

In my last book review, I shared my frustration with not being able to find a book that addressed, in a Scriptural and reflective manner, how ordinary and everyday actions can have spiritual meaning.  Commenter Amanda pointed me to The Liturgy of the Ordinary with the encouragement that it might have more of what I was looking for – and boy, did it ever.

In fact, this book has ascended to my all-time favorites list after only one read-through, for two primary reasons: 1) it defines and addresses a spiritual struggle within the church, and 2) the concepts within have immediately translated into day-to-day change in my life.

Warren’s concern with the church is twofold.  First, she believes that we’ve unintentionally adopted a “holy hierarchy”: she points out that we value some ministries and prioritize them as holier than others.  Therefore, even when we don’t realize it, we’re more apt to value a pastor or a missionary or an artist as “going about God’s work” in a somehow more meaningful way than, say, someone sending an email, or making a bed.

Secondly, Warren believers that our current church/evangelical culture is forming us all into consumers who are constantly on the lookout for more and bigger and better – even in our worship, even in our spiritual lives.  Experiences aren’t worth having unless they take us to mountaintops.  Tasks aren’t worth doing unless they’re teaching us something new.  As a result, she says, we’ve eschewed the mundane, the ordinary, and the day-to-day actions of life.  We’ve forgotten that they, too, can be holy, can have meaning, can grow us spiritually and help us participate in the life of the church.

Each of the book’s chapters address a specific “mundane” facet of daily life: things like making the bed, sending emails, losing keys, waiting in traffic, drinking tea, calling a friend, and so on and so forth.  And in each chapter, Warren uses that entry point of the ordinary to guide us into a series of questions and reflections about ourselves, our spiritual lives, God, and the church.  Why not invite God into the day and affirm that we are beloved of Christ when we make the bed in the morning, rather than immediately dashing it off a to-do list and rushing to our phones?  Why not reflect on how our response to losing the keys says a lot about who we really are and what we really value over Christ? Why not accept the indulgence of drinking a good cup of tea in a quiet moment as an invitation to rejoice, to savor what the Lord has made and acknowledge that it is good?

Warren’s Anglican background is part and parcel of the book; she addresses aspects of her own tradition’s liturgy as she walks us through the “liturgy of the ordinary.”  I did not find this alienating; in fact, it interested me to understand the why and how of liturgy as her tradition practices it.  Practicing the “liturgy of the ordinary” also helps unveil the value of liturgy for the reader more generally: it’s not all “smells and bells,” a hollow set of meaningless rituals, but rather a way of using various touchstones, symbols, and actions as reminders of and invitations to reflect on God, on ourselves, and on the flaws and the holiness of God’s church.

If the very concept of liturgy offends you, or if you’re wary of a Christian author who claims to enjoy a good beer (as Warren does, at one point), then, sure, maybe this isn’t the book for you.  But the ideas and the concepts in this book were too great for me to pass  up.  The immediate outcome of reading The Liturgy of the Ordinary has been that I’ve started to approach the most boring and mundane tasks of my day differently.  Instead of being things to mark off on a to-do list, they’ve become places for me to stop, to reflect, to invite God in, to consider myself, to consider others.  And because of that, my days have become holier.  I’m spending more time with God.  I’m thinking more about who I am, and who I want to be, in Jesus.  And I am able to remember, every time I make a bed, that I am loved.

As a final point of praise, I’ll remark that this book truly feels like it’s written for everyone.  It’s not a book just for “women” and “housewives,” which is something I feel all too often when I read books centered on ideas of the “ordinary.”  This is a book for people who work outside the home and people who do not; for men and for women; for families and for singles.  And that makes it particularly valuable and unusual.

If this sounds like something you’d like, or if – like me – it sounds like something you’ve wanted for a while, then don’t hesitate.  You won’t regret it.

You can find The Liturgy of the Ordinary here on Amazon (and likely in a thousand other different places).


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