This summer the exhibits of two artists – Edward Hopper at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and Camille Pissaro at the Milwaukee Art Museum – held a message that spoke to my heart.
The audio commentary giving background on the Pissaro exhibit described his work as depicting "the eloquence of the ordinary." The commentary on Hopper's paintings said his work was "illuminating the quiet drama of ordinary moments."
Hearing these comments only a few weeks apart in two different exhibitions caught my attention. The expression, "another day, another dollar," can characterize the attitude many people have toward their lives, no matter how mundane or high-powered their work may be.
From changing diapers to boarding one more airline flight, daily activities can be so repetitious that it's hard to feel inspired by them – to see the "eloquence of the ordinary." How do we stop this from happening? Enriching activities on the weekends and vacations can help. But is there a way to illuminate our own ordinary moments?
Two elements that transform the ordinary in art are light and color. There's also a divine light that can illumine our ordinary moments. I love a statement in a poem by Mary Baker Eddy that describes God as "Life divine, that owns each waiting hour" ("Poems," p. 4).
Knowing that divine Life "owns" each hour ahead of us can have a lot to do with the way we live each moment. Letting this divine influence hold our moments reveals beauty and love in the ordinary. It can bring a spark to the day, even to routine activities. It can transform the ordinary in an immediate and lasting way.
But getting caught up in the "everydayness" of things hides this light, as C.S. Lewis brings out in "The Screwtape Letters." The book presents a perspective on evil through the correspondence of a personified devil figure with his novice demon nephew. In the devil's instruction on how to corrupt a particular individual, he counseled his nephew, "Keep pressing home on him the ordinariness of things" – a bus passing by, the need for lunch – in order to keep him from thinking too deeply about reality.
Lewis's view of this press of the ordinary as a devilish influence indicates that getting bogged down by routine can result from a downward pull that needs to be combated. It would hide the goodness that's right in front of us. When you feel pressed by the routine, by sameness, dullness, the drudgery of dailiness, you can fight back. You can refuse to let that pressure flatten your inspiration or drain the life out of what you're doing. You can let the divine light illumine the beauty in the caring or love or whatever is motivating you. There's a huge difference between doing the same thing day after day, and doing the same thing while seeing the beauty and light that come as the result of looking deeper.
One way I've guarded against letting the mundane get me down is by taking to heart the plea of the Lord's Prayer, "Give us this day our daily bread." Mary Baker Eddy, who founded Christian Science, interpreted this line as "Give us grace for to-day; feed the famished affections" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," p. 17). Seeking daily bread – "grace for today" – can enlighten the ordinary. And the light that comes from this enlightens our way, revealing the love, joy, and delight that can be found in ordinary moments.
We don't need to escape the ordinary – but with the spiritual light of God's grace we can transform the ordinary.
The heavens declare the glory
Of Him who made all things;
Each day repeats the story,
Each night its tribute brings.
To earth's remotest border
His mighty power is known;
In beauty, grandeur, order,
His handiwork is shown.
Frederic W. Root, "Christian Science Hymnal," No. 329