Reading the Extraordinary in Ordinary Time: Sarah Arthur's At The Still Point


This summer I've been dipping into Sarah Arthur's, At The Still Point: A Literary Guide to Prayer in Ordinary Time, ordinary time being the time when nothing much is going on other than ordinary living, which means of course that a great deal is going on. Just not Easter, or Christmas, or other high points of the church year.

The book is structured into 29 chapters corresponding to 29 weeks. Each chapter or week has a theme and includes an opening and closing prayer, four Scripture readings, and several literary readings. The literary readings include poems and excerpts from works of literary fiction and nonfiction. There's also space for personal prayer and reflection.

The Scriptures and literary readings are like different voices in the same chorus.

Last week the topic of the chapter I read (week 16) was "Fresh Vision." The opening prayer, a poem by Christina Rossetti launched the theme with its first line: "Lord, purge our eyes to see."

From the Psalms: The Lord is the maker of earth and mountain peaks and the sea and dry land.

From "Morning Reflections," a poem, by Enuma Okoro, so beautiful I hardly breathed while reading it the first time:

"What is this unfolding,
this slow-going unraveling of gift held
in hands open
to the wonder and enchantment of it all?"

From the book of John: Jesus turns water into wine at a wedding.

From the classic poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, "Pied Beauty": "Glory be to God for dappled things–"

From the book of Romans: Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Nothing in all creation.

From the prayer of Hannah in Second Samuel: The Lord makes alive; the Lord raises up.

From The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoevsky:

"Alyosha stood, gazed, and suddenly threw himself down on the earth. He did not know why he embraced it.... But with every instant he felt clearly and, as it were, tangibly, that something firm and unshakeable as that vault of heaven had entered into his soul. It was as though some idea had seized the sovereignty of his mind – and it was for all his life and for ever and ever. He had fallen on the earth a weak boy, but rose up a resolute champion...."

In the book's introduction, Arthur writes, regarding the literary readings:

"I'm inviting you to experience them as an act of worship, which was how many of the authors experienced or even intended them, and also as an opportunity for prayer, for conversation with God. I'm inviting you to read them like you read good books in summertime, at the beach or with the windows open, crickets buzzing in the sweet grass. Read like one who expects to be enchanted, at twilight, by the light of the first star. Because God is at work, not only in overtly spiritual things – devotionals and memoirs, liturgies and hymns – but also in the imaginative lives of God's people, in their subcreative worlds (as J.R.R. Tolkein put it), in their carefully crafted turns of phrase."

Read that last sentence again.