Yesterday was going to be a busy one for Matt and Holly, and there was no time for the full church service, but they made sure to attend Sunday School for an hour before the chaos of the day took over. Our friend Wendy was leading the class that morning, and we wanted to be sure to attend.
The classes are generally lead by Dean Nelson, who has authored the book God Hides in Plain Sight. It comes highly recommended and I have been given a copy to read (It is next on my ever-growing stack of books to read). Anyway, Dean is apparently gone about a third of the time due to other commitments, so Wendy was standing in this weekend. If I may make a poor attempt to summarize, the topic was the extraordinary in the ordinary, and she used Abraham to illustrate her topic.
She mentioned that the Bible, like any work, most often hits only the highlights of a story or life. We come away with the impression that a person's story is more epic than it really was. There is so much ordinary life between the highlights, but that does not diminish the impact of the life. In fact much of the preparation for the extraordinary moments takes place in those mundane spaces in between. When we evaluate our own lives, often all we see is the ordinary, even though if our story was told in a similar abridged fashion, a reader might come away with the impression of an epic life we didn't see ourselves.
She also spoke of her in-laws and their farming heritage. Simple folks with simple lives, who would probably never say they were anything special. But when the stories are told of all they persevered through, and all they did for their friends and community, they were anything but ordinary folks.
Our lives (thankfully) are not comprised of one big event after another. It is those more mundane moments that often frame the extraordinary, like a week of rain around a spectacular sunny day. But in those mundane moments it is possible to find enlightenment as well. Wendy mentioned insights that have come when she is washing dishes in the sink, rather than when she is deep in prayer. I myself often look for "mindless" tasks to do so I can shut off the brain for a while. Of course the mind is never really at rest, but when you relax into moments that don't require active thought, wonderful things can bubble to the surface.
Running is a seemingly boring task, especially to a non-runner. But it is something that can sooth the soul, be a place for psychological and spiritual renewal, and possibly lead to moments of enlightenment. It is one of the few places where I find myself most completely "present" in the moment. The rhythmic steps and intake of breath providing a mantra to channel another level of consciousness. Beyond being a mindless task, I think the addition of a physical challenge helps break down mental walls even further. It is in finding our limits that we reach beyond what we normally see.
Matt nicely summed up Sunday school as kind of a book club with a single book as its focus, and that is how my first time felt. After Wendy's presentation, she asked if there were any questions, comments or additional thoughts. Like almost any group discussion, not many hands went up initially. The conversation started haltingly, but then got rolling after comments inspired other thoughts, which lead to further insights. People shared personal stories that expanded the topic of extraordinary people living seemingly ordinary lives, and there was the occasional wonderful tangent.
And like any good book discussion, you come away with a deeper understanding and appreciation when you discuss varying interpretations and points of view. Reading the Bible has been a goal for the last couple of years, but I have made only stumbling progress so far. I think I am stalled at Judges at this point. I think that the Sunday school classes and Dean's book may inspire me to pick it up for a third try.
I am still a decided agnostic, but I see my uncertainty as an asset rather than a liability at this point. I am interested in learning more about the many beliefs and viewpoints people have, how they provide comfort, and how they give them a foundation to make sense of the world. I am interested to attend the Sunday school classes now and then to hear people flesh out the stories in the Bible, and in their own lives. And of course I will continue to run, to sooth my soul and to listen for those unspoken thoughts.