How to Find Mystery in the Ordinary

Grey clouds hover; shield the sun’s wake up call.  Water drips like a cranky faucet on the window ledge outside.  Droplets let go from eaves into palms of leafy-cupped hands.  I stretch horizontal under sheets; take freedom while H sleeps in Chicago.

It’s the first Monday of summer’s freedom and she puts her finger over her lips, hushes to avoid awakening the schedule.

My first-born drifts from her bed to mine, curls up beside me propped up pillowed with the computer on my lap. Two minutes later, sleep lulls her back and the rhythm of deep breathing cracks stillness open.  My fingers freeze in this moment, to honor His presence pushing time aside like clearing the kitchen counter.

We enter the room of Ordinary Time on the liturgical calendar, through the closet among sleeves and tired shoes to find the mystery in a long forgotten box on the top shelf beside the purses.  This season between Pentecost Sunday and the first Sunday of Advent is the longest season of the year.

The season without balloons and banquet tables confetti strewn. Ordinary Time is the finger paint artwork hanging on refrigerator doors so long you barely notice it anymore.

How do you search for the mystery of Christ beyond his birth and resurrection? Where do you find it?

May I suggest lectio divina, the ancient practice of prayerful meditation of the scriptures or lectio sacra (holy reading)? An opportunity for the Holy Spirit to awaken truth cloaked in parable, fiction and poetry  . . . . on the beach, your back porch, in seat 14D on Delta or the passenger seat of your mini van.

Sarah Arthur, author of At the Still Point, describes it this way:

“Curled up with a good story, we have encountered the memorable character, the articulate phrase, the evocative image, the small suggestion, the smuggled truth, the shattering epiphany, which changed us, and we weren’t even looking to be changed. It enriched our lives, and we didn’t even know our own poverty. We were not the same people afterward.”

As the sun peeks her golden eyes through shutters, I read scriptures, a blog post, an email from a friend that speaks words of encouragement as if she just read my mind, heard my prayer in a can stringed thousands of miles. And  God whispers, “You just opened the mystery, I’m right here.”

I’m pleased to be giving away two copies of Sarah Arthur’s wonderful book At the Still Point: A Literary Guide to Prayer in Ordinary Time.  “A journey of the imagination guided by poets and authors, both classic and contemporary, who have known the things of God but speak in metaphor.”

I originally found this beauty on Ann Voskamp’s reading list last fall. Let’s enjoy together, shall we?

Just leave a comment in this post on the blog, I’ll add your name in the drawing on Sunday, and two people will recieve a copy of the book in the mail.

Linking with Imperfect Prose, God Bumps, WWLW, Thought Provoking Thursday, Life in Bloom, One Beautiful Thing.


My kids pulled Leigh Kramer of HopefulLeigh and Jennifer Johnson Camp of You Are My Girls out of the bowl for the giveaway. Congrats ladies!

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91 Responses to How to Find Mystery in the Ordinary

  1. Sarah Arthur says:

    Thanks for this lovely review of my book–I’m sorry I didn’t notice it before. I hope the folks who received free copies enjoyed it! Would love to keep the conversation going on my blog too: Ordinary Time is winding down, but God’s beauties are everywhere. All the best!

    • I’m delighted that you stopped by Sarah. I love your book, use it several times a week and I was just talking about it at a writers retreat I attended over the weekend with The High Calling at Laity Lodge. I got an email from one of those who won your book saying how much she loves it just last week. She reads it out loud to her small group.

  2. ruth thatcher says:

    I love the idea that I can find the extra ordinary in my everyday life, makes me feel a whole lot less ‘ordinary’ through the mundane tasks that seem to mount up around me some days!

  3. Sandy says:

    Needing stillness and beauty in our chaotic life overseas!

  4. S. Etole says:

    I was struck by the quote you posted from this book today. Please count me in if it’s not too late.

  5. Andria eddy says:

    Shelly, you always put words to what I can’t say. I read your post after going to the grocery store and feeling the Lord’s presence but only being able to ask the Holy Spirit to tell the Lord what I couldn’t find words for. Thank you for blessing me every day. Andria Eddy

  6. Vicki Kessler says:

    My descriptive writer friend, you bless so many and as always I’m blessed to be a reader.

  7. Somehow I’m not surprised you found this book through the lovely Ann. She tutored so many of us in learning to open our eyes to find the mystery in the ordinary.

    Something about your poinsettia still blooming during Ordinary Time sort of gives me chills.

    • I have learned more from Ann than I can probably account for. She is one of the reasons I started blogging, that’s a long story for sitting down with tea. I know what you mean about the pointsettia still blooming. Every single time I go outside to bbq I am in awe. I decided to transplant it into a permanant pot. Hope I don’t kill it!

  8. You know, I think ordinary time is my very favorite time. It’s when I sense His presence the most. And we know there are no ordinary moments. :)

  9. You’ve done it and reeled me in, Shelly. Looking forward to getting my hands on this book. And will be seeking His extraordinary found in my ordinary day. Thank you, friend!

  10. Wowsers! Everybody wants that book!! :)

    I just love to read your writing and thought I’d say so. You’re descriptions are lovely. I can see it all perfectly in my head. I’m sure I’ve said that before, but I’ll just say it again. :)

    Mary Beth

  11. So lovely. I try to live in this vein, in the moment, appreciating it all. Because there is wonder everywhere and beauty all around. We need only have the eyes to see it.

  12. Lovely post. Please add me to the drawing.

  13. JoanJoan says:

    Shelly – you use such vivid descriptions in your writing and really draw your reader in. The book sounds wonderful! Have a blessed week and I’m glad you enjoying your summer.


  14. Yep, I know you don’t know me in real life, but if you did you would fix this little drawing so I would win. Why? Not too many still points in my life. I am in need of some major still points.

  15. oh friend. i would love to win this. but i will borrow it from the library if i don’t win because you’ve reminded me of what i’m missing: the quiet space of prayer. right now my prayers are all chaotic. i’m still reminded of my poverty, i guess, just above the din of little boys’ voices. i would love to have help being ushered into the stillness of God. love you shelly. happy summer!

    • Love you too Emily. And the quiet will come friend. I remember the season you are in like it was yesterday and wondering if I would ever have it again. Now things are a bit too quiet some days! :)

  16. Dolly says:

    Thank you for sharing the concept of “Ordinary Time” with me, your gorgeous photos, and book suggestion…all lovely. Blessings :)

  17. I love looking for Him in the ordinary… Wonder moments when you least expect. Beautiful, Shelly.

    • Pam, tried to leave a comment on your latest post three times unsuccessfully. Loved it and yes, I’ve had those angels many times in my life too. Sorry I couldn’t leave a proper comment, I’ll try again.

      • Thank you, Shelly. Do you know what the specific problem is? Are you getting a particular message stopping you? WordPress has told me they are revamping comments or something (I put a message from them in my latest post about that) but you are the second person in a few days who has told me that so I’m wondering if something else is going on? I’ll email you with my email address…

  18. Dea says:

    God surely takes the ordinary and makes it extraordinary. I am learning this slowly and surely. We just have to open up to it, seek and He is found—everywhere. I had the book in my reader for awhile and really enjoyed it so don’t add me in the drawing. I want someone else to find it’s treasures! Praying that you have a beautiful summer with your kids, my friend.

  19. Kim says:

    I’m leaving a comment because I love your words and the reminder/encouragement. Oh, and also because I want the book. ;)

  20. Alecia says:

    I love that moment of unexpected awakening. God shows me something and I didn’t even realize I was looking for it.

  21. I love the challenge of discovering His mysteries in special sacred moments not mandated by man. So often I get bound up spiritually by the idea that fellowship with Him must come in a dutifully planned, regimental “Bible study” or prayer time. You are right when you mentioned the special moments of fellowship that have come through blogs and messages from others. Thank you for the reminder & challenge and thank you for being one of those “special moments” He has used to bless me!

  22. What valuable suggestions. I found the mystery, today, in an intricate spider web and green spider, also in an outstretched snail. I being outside this time of year, enjoying the warmth and beauty of God’s creation.

  23. Lynn Morrissey says:

    Shelly, when reading your post, I couldn’t help but be reminded of these breathtakingly poetic words by lyricist John Greenleaf Whittier to the beautiful hymn, “Dear Lord and Father of Mankind.” They are my favorite verses: “Drop Thy still dews of quietness, till all our strivings cease; take from our souls the strain and stress, and let our ordered lives confess the beauty of Thy peace. Breathe through the heats of our desire Thy coolness and Thy balm; let sense be dumb, let flesh retire; Speak through the earthquake, wind, and fire, O still, small voice of calm.” In the stillness, we cease striving; then, in the quietness, we are able to hear God speak. And in the still-point orderliness of lives freed from strain and stress, we are able to experience God’s peace. I got to thinking about “ordinary” time. I understand its meaning, and yet, upon deeper examination, one realizes there is nothing *ordinary* about it (in the commonly defined meaning of the term). Ordinary time is ordained by God. What could possibly be ordinary about anything that He ordains? How interesting that the words “ordered,” “ordinary,” and “ordained,” all derive from the same root. So if God ordains even ordinary time, it is pregnant with meaning and pulsing with wonder. You asked, “How do you search for the mystery of Christ beyond His birth and resurrection? Where do you find it?” Of course we find Christ in His Word, as you said, and in the intimate communion of prayer, and we also find the mystery of Him in the extraordinariness of the ordinary, in this ordinary human life which He condescended to enflesh. His mystery is racing in every life-and-breath experience we live, in every “grey cloud, water droplet, and golden-eyed sun rising” we behold (as you so eloquently penned it). Oh thank you, Miss Shelly, for helping us to behold mystery with poet’s eyes. If we are to behold mystery, it’s crucial to have the eyes of a poet, eyes which see through the transparent ordinary, straight through to our extraordinary God! What greater compliment to your writing could there be than that you give us eyes to see, and words to still our hearts. I never win anything, and that’s ok. What I love is just a place to express praise to this extraordinary God our ours! Thank you so much for inviting that! You’re a treasure!

    • Oh my Lynn, your comments are so rich I have to read them more than once, sometimes twice. Thank you. I love the words of Whittier in that hymn. They make me want to bow and stay there awhile.

      • Lynn Morrissey says:

        Oh that’s it, Shelly! As God drops His still dews of quietness, we drop to our knees. We bow down. It’s always about worship!

  24. Yes, how do I seek Him, how do I see Him finding me? I was not familiar with “Ordinary Time” or this beautiful book, Shelly. I so appreciate your gentleness, perceptiveness, and wisdom.

  25. brian miller says:

    praying the scripture has been a tool in my kit for years…love the ordinary time of the fingerpaints on teh fridge too…i might just fingerpaint a bit with my boys tonight…smiles.

  26. Jillie says:

    Hi Shelly…..Boy, do I need my perspective opened. As I previously wrote to you, my ‘scenery’ of the last 36 years here in this house, has grown sadly ‘old’. I am feeling better since I last wrote to you. I’ve decided to just be grateful for all that I have, giving “Thanks” in this time of waiting for what He may have for me next. I want to see the good and dismiss the not-so-good. GOD has been so good to me. And I’m just going to trust that He is working in the not-yet-seen. This book giveaway sounds absolutely wonderful! Please put my name in the hat, k? As always, I am enjoying so much your daily posts. Always uplifting, and so anointed. You are my absolute favourite!
    Ontario, Canada

  27. r.elliott says:

    Shelly…your pictures are just always beautiful…do you mind me asking…what kind of camera do you use? I love the theme..ordinary time…yes…just drinking in the stillness of the moments…to open the mystery. I would love to read this book…thanks for offering a give away:)

    • Thanks Ro. I have a Canon Rebel XT. Before digital my aunt and uncle owned Moto Photo stores and gave me film and processed thousands of photos. It allowed me to learn how to take pictures and I wanted to have the same kind of freedom with a digital camera so I got the SLR version.

  28. That last photo is uh-maze-ing. I’m afraid if I move — or press the keys too hard — the droplets will fall off the leaf!

    I really like how you describe Ordinary Time as “the finger paint artwork hanging on refrigerator doors so long you barely notice it anymore.” It’s still beautiful, still worth looking at, but we forget to pay it much attention.

    • Jennifer, that photo is a tight shot of my pointsettia I couldn’t bare to throw away at Christmas. It still blooms! I took it with the bbq spatula under my arm while I was cooking hamburgers for dinner. Amazing what we don’t see in a photo!

  29. Sharita says:

    Your photos are incredible and your words match the caliber of your photos. Thank you so much for these sweet reminders! Blessings to you!

  30. Linda Nichols says:

    Hi Shelly,
    I can’t begin to tell you how much I enjoy reading your thoughts and viewing your fantastic photography. I really want to go to England to see some of the gorgeous sights you have shared with us. God has truly blessed you with the gift of writing and sharing. I feel special to have been able to share a little of your life with you while you were here in MHC. My love to H. Just as a little aside….I really hope I win a book!!

    • Oh Linda, what I treat to see you here in the comments. I don’t even know who is reading unless they tell me in the comments. And the love goes both ways ya know. You have been a huge blessing to me. So glad He allowed our paths to cross. Hope you win too.

  31. kd sullivan says:

    This is why I love coming here so much…you make the ordiniary extraordinary. You find the Mystery of all mysteries….I am hushed.

  32. Christina says:

    Sounds like a wonderful book. Finding the mystery of Christ in the ordinary, a great pursuit for this summer. Thanks for sharing about the book and inspiring the detective in me:)

  33. Beautiful. I began reading the Psalms aloud while recovering from a chronic illness many years ago. Everyday life is the most wonderful blessing I agree. I haven’t read the authors you mention yet–they sound excellent. Madeleine L’Engle and Luci Shaw are authors I read often. Ellen

    • Ellen, I hope your comment means you have fully recovered. And what a wonderful discipline, reading the Psalms aloud. I have come to love the Psalms more since becoming a writer. They are rich with beauty. Love Madeline L’Engle, not sure if I have read Luci Shaw. Think you will enjoy Still Point.

  34. Beautiful, beautiful words as always.
    I would love to read this book.

  35. Beautiful words, Shelly! I am currently learning to be a little more still, as I have taken June off from blogging, it’s been both easy and challenging unplugging from the world to plug myself into Him, my truest source of life… He is already teaching me so much about being still. This sounds like a lovely book, I hadn’t heard of it until now, either way, I’m adding it to my “must read” list ;) bless you, sweet friend. Praying you are finding some stillness for meditation on His good truths.

  36. Sharon O says:

    Would love a new and challenging book to read this summer. I always enjoy your blog and pictures you have a real gift. I love the way you challenge us to look deeper at the everyday ordinary parts of life that we could over look if we didn’t open our eyes to see.

    • Well, your comment means I am accomplishing the goal of making people think differently about the ordinary. That blesses me more than you know. Sharon, I think you would enjoy this book. Its something you ponder and meditate on, go back to, read slow. It’s rich.

  37. lolitavalle says:

    Peace in the midst of Chaos, calm in the face of fear, courage above the unknown and the mighty mountains, hope in His promises, dreams without inhibitions…….. content in what is at hand, joys in the little miracles…. like the faithfulness of the day breaking and dusking into dark, the free air to breathe, happy faces of the flowers in all their artful skirtings, chirps of birds……. I could go on all day. (So like listing “My Favorite Things”).

    Some might be hard to get if one lives in the city, but a trip to the mountains or to farmlands, will usher you enjoy the basics, the ordinary…….. yet so important, because we find God in them.

    Thanks, Ms. Shelly. I am nourished and blessed.

    • And I am blessed by your list of mystery finds in the ordinary. What a beautfiul heart you have! So enriched by your words, thank you.

      • lolitavalle says:

        ….. and like the path of a butterfly flitting and sniffing among the flowers, then suddenly coming to sit upon my shoulder. Beauty in His work of art. Takes away my breath for a moment of true joy.


  38. hopefulleigh says:

    This sounds wonderful! If I don’t win, I’ll be tracking down a copy for sure.

  39. Pam says:

    I find Christ in forgiveness, He is the stillness in my soul when I finally let go of the bad, and rest in Him. He is in the smile of a person mourning when they feel a moment of joy. I find Jesus in goodness, even amongst lifes storms.

  40. Danelle says:

    I am absolutely sure this book would be a perfect read for me. I am always amazed by all the beautiful Truth that is unlocked through strings of words in literature and poetry. The more I see, the more I see. :)
    Please put my name in the hat or jar or whatever system you will use.
    Ordinary time. I love this post friend. Love it.
    All the extraordinary is locked deep in the simple. :)

  41. Cynthia says:

    “Ordinary Time is the finger paint artwork hanging on refrigerator doors so long you barely notice it anymore.” Yes. So perfectly stated. I needed to read this today. Thank you for sharing your beautiful words.

  42. Leese says:

    I actually have this book and am appreciating it greatly as I’m in the middle of being forced to be ‘still’ due to some major health challenges. I’d love to get the copies to bless some friends who have come alongside me and been Jesus’ hands and feet to me in really tangible ways during this really hard time!

    • so glad you already know about the book and sorry to hear about your health challenges. We don’t realize what we take for granted until its taken from us do we? Praying for healing and comfort. Just to be clear and maybe I need to be clearer on the post, I’m giving one copy to two individuals. Want as many people to have it as possible. Thanks for bringing that to my attention.

  43. That book sounds amazing! And your photos, those simple ordinary things that remind us of extraordinary mysteries. Lectio divina is wonderful, and Visio divina, but I’ve yet to try Lectio sacra. I will. Definitely. Great encouragement. Love the Ordinary.

    • I’ll slip your name in the hat Heather. She takes some amazing passages from classic literature that I never thought about in a spiritual context on first reading (like Wind in the Willows) and opens perspective.

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