Monday, December 10, 2007

The Extraordinary Ordinary


How many of you remember your parents’ responses when, as a child, you announced, “I’m bored!”??? You were probably met with at least one of the following: “Boring people are bored,” “I can find work for you,” and, my personal favorite, posted by a teacher, “Looking for fun, run away and join the circus!" I couldn’t help but grin at that one, but as I was wondering lately how my Heavenly Father felt about my failure to see His grace in mundanity, He has caused the seed of Zechariah 4:10 (“For who has despised the day of small things…?”) to begin blossoming in my heart.
For those of us who are fans of speculative fiction, one of the reasons that we read it is because of our attraction to the heroic, even as we live in a world that increasingly has no heroes. But, I’ve been thinking, recently, that perhaps we need to redefine “heroic” in our minds to include the “mundane.”
I realize that this is a blog about speculative fiction & how it relates to our own “story” as Christians, but bear with me for a moment as I dig outside the realm of spec fic a bit to mine a few gems from an underrated classic.
In her little-known book Rose in Bloom, Little Women author Louisa May Alcott deftly tackles our need to redefine “greatness.” In the following passage, the heroine, Rose Campbell, is receiving some sage advice from her uncle Alec in response to her lament that her life, compared to her “accomplished” cousin & friend, is insignificant:

“I know I ought to be contented, but I’m not. My life is very comfortable but so quiet and uneventful I get tired of it, and want to launch out as others have, and do something, or at least try. I’m glad you think it isn’t bad of me, and I’d like to know what my gift is,” said Rose, looking less despondent already.

“The art of living for others so patiently and sweetly that we enjoy it as we do the sunshine, and are not half grateful enough for the great blessing.”

“It is very kind of you to say so, but I think I’d like a little fun and fame, nevertheless,” and Rose did not look as thankful as she ought.

“Very natural, dear; but the fun and the fame do not last; while the memory of a real helper is kept green long after poetry is forgotten and music silent. Can’t you believe that, and be happy?”

And after some consideration and help from Uncle Alec, who remarks on the many unnoticed things Rose does in every-day life, Rose responds joyfully,

“I’ve learned to do without gratitude: now I’ll learn not to care for praise, but to be contented to do my best, and have only God know.”

“He knows, and He rewards in His own good time. I think a quiet life like this often makes itself felt in better ways than one that the world sees and applauds; and some of the noblest are never known till they end, leaving a void in many hearts. Yours may be one of these if you choose to make it so…”

As New York preacher, David Wilkerson put it in a recent message on 1st Samuel 30:21 (where David salutes and honors those who stayed on the home-front as supporters equally with the heroic warriors who went to the front-lines), “…God forbid that you should be agitated in spirit because you don’t believe you’re doing anything important to God’s work. Your prayers, your support…your charitable spirit – all are honoring to God.”

Perhaps one of the most profound echoes of this continuing admonishment not to “despise the day of small things” was something I discovered in the current-release movie, Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium (and my readers thought I was never going to get to a speculative fiction analogy in this piece!).
This gem of a film opens with a tale, not so much about Mr. Magorium himself, but about one of his beloved protégés, Molly Mahoney, a young woman who has worked at the Emporium since girlhood.
Mahoney was playing Rachmaninoff at the tender age of eight and thus expected by everyone (including herself) to become a piano virtuoso, eventually writing her own concerto. The problem is that Mahoney could never “seem to find the right notes,” and thus continues at Mr. Magorium’s, working on her frustrated concerto in the evenings after work.
As she tries, in vain, to give the wise Mr. Magorium her two weeks notice, she tells him, “I’m stuck,” to which the child-like Magorium assumes her feet are stuck to his floor. “No,” Mahoney responds, “not to the floor…as a person.”
Later, filled with self-doubts about her ability to continue the beloved Magorium’s tender legacy, and still convinced that “greatness” for her would mean writing that expected concerto and becoming a piano virtuoso, a confused Mahoney asks poignantly, “Do you see a sparkle in me…something reflective of Something bigger trying to get out…?”
And I think that’s a question that so many of us are asking deep down inside and desperately wanting – no – needing to know the answer to.
In “reality,” I’m no swashbuckling “hero,” I have no outstanding talents lending to fame and fortune and at the end of my “ordinary” day I need to know that I really matter.
Well, the Bible says that we do. In Ephesians 2:10 we read that we are “…God’s workmanship, created for good works in Christ…” The Greek word here for “workmanship” is poema…we are God’s poem, His masterpiece, His concerto. Not that we may necessarily ever write an epic poem or paint a masterpiece or compose a concerto…we are these things!
So many of us are missing the beauty of the every day miracles all around us – in, and yes, even because of the mundanity – because we are waiting for life to finally “start” and our definition of “start” is when we finally do and are recognized for some “great” thing.
And all the while, the One whose first advent on a cold starry night in an animal feeding trough in Bethlehem was the epitome of a “small thing” and “mundane,” wants us to realize that we ARE that great thing!
At the end of Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium, Mahoney, in a visually stunning scene, finally realizes what Magorium saw in her all along…she was never meant to write that elusive concerto, but to blossom right where she was, as the manager of the Emporium, and as Mahoney sees this, we hear the music notes of her coming from her and touching everything in the store, bringing it to life. She was the concerto, all along!
In The Message translation, Romans 12:1 says, “Take your everyday, ordinary life – your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life – and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for Him.”
As we celebrate this season of Immanuel, God-with-us, let’s be careful not to “despise the day of small things,” but to see His wonder in the extraordinary ordinary all around us.

1 comment:

MirCat said...

YEAY! I'm so glad you're blogging! This makes me want to see this movie... ~Miriam