Ordinary Order

Musing: this word well summarizes the meandering drift of my Christian thoughts.  “May my meditation be pleasing to him, for I rejoice in the Lord”[1] is the exact idea of another author some three thousand years ago.  Today, we use the word “journaling” to communicate how we think when we write our reflections.

What is included in my journal seemed strange to me until I realized how much my writing reflected the Psalms.  With the ancient hymn writers, I include: recipes, incidents of my day, news items of warfare, reprint prayers, agonizing cries, calls for retribution from God against my enemies, ponderings on the ways of humanity, opines on international intrigue, joy in good things, poetry recitations, comments on the weather, remarks about creation, remembrances of historical events, or considerations over the obituary page.[2] The musings of the biblical author are not so different from my own.  What I have come to realize is that what is termed “ordinary” is providential, ordained by God.

“Ordinary” is where we begin (“origin”), where we go to get our bearings (“orient”), or where find direction (“ordinance”).  We arrange supplies, making lists (“ordnance”).  We put first things, first (“ordination”).  We organize and systematize our lives (“order”).  Ordinary order has come to mean what is regular or usual.[3] Alexander Pope stated, “Order is Heaven’s first concern.”[4] Duns Scotus referred to the distinctive nature of each individual thing as having “thisness”—a marker of creation’s order.  Richard Weaver’s Visions of Order claimed that the inner order of the soul sustained the outer order of society.[5] Jane Jacob’s magnum opus, The Death and Life of Great American Cities argues for “visual order” in every metropolis.[6] All these examples reflect the original, ordered ordnance orientation, ordained in Genesis 2:1: “Heaven and earth were finished, down to the last detail.”[7]

Culture constantly craves “new,” however, overthrowing order for detail.  We now use trite phrases such as “nothing out of the ordinary” to communicate that zip, zero, zilch happened to us today.  To this, Scripture is clear: even the animals know better, so let them teach us since humans are so dense.[8] Christians then suppose it is up to them to anoint cultural detail with some trivial “Christian” connection.  “Witness wear,” for example, changes Gold’s Gym to God’s Gym reducing the importance of physical exercise while whoring about for some bumper sticker theology.  The Almighty need not be imported into my world.  He is my world.  He created my world.  Before me, after me, it was and always will be His world. The ordinary order of life declares God is already here.

Against culture’s malaise for ordinary order and pathetic believers’ attempts to mimic culture is the wonder of verbal and visual art.  Isak Dinesen’s description of her friends’ supernatural view of everyday life is instructive in Out of Africa.  Once, awakened by her housekeeper to the harbinger of an all-consuming brush fire, the national explains, “I wanted to wake you up in case it was God coming.”  Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Glory be to God for dappled things” is a right Christian view of ordinary order.  Who could ever forget, once seen, Rembrandt’s etching in “The Good Samaritan” of a dog defecating in the corner of the picture?  All of life is a celebration, a reminder of the natural, God-given creation.  Of late, it has been Czeslaw Milosz who best captures ordinary order for me:

“My parents, my husband, my brother, my sister.”

I am listening in a cafeteria at breakfast.

The women’s voices rustle, fulfill themselves

In a ritual no doubt necessary.

I glance sidelong at their moving lips

And I delight in being here on earth

For one more moment, with them, here on earth

To celebrate our tiny, tiny my-ness.[9]

I end where I began, surveying some of the earthly delights in my journal: Turkey vultures, six foot wingspans outstretched, perfectly still, sunning themselves in the early morning; the majesty of a 12-point buck jolted by my sudden appearance, bounding in six foot high leaps into the tall brush; early morning fog rolling across the fields; walking on frozen Lake Bruce; starlight blanketing the night sky of north-central Indiana; watching purple martins zig-zag through the air, eating their fill of mosquitoes; marveling at farm fields bursting green in the spring, harvest-ready in the fall; returning the donkey’s brayed greeting when I walk around the lake; marveling at the two stands of pine trees placed in obvious rows; fearing the pop-up storms that exploded across the region last spring, so powerful in their deluge that I could not see the other side of the lake; jaw-dropping sunsets defying description even with a full box of 128 Crayola crayons.

Musing turns to music, the reflections of ordinary order in my journal: Psalm 148.

Dr. Mark Eckel ordinarily likes the ordinary because he likes order while teaching at Crossroads Bible College.

[1] Psalm 104:34.  A correlary usage appears in a sarcastic tone from Elijah to the prophets of Baal, “perhaps your god is musing” (1 Kings 18:27).  The suggestion in context seems to be a leisurely approach to life without much thought to action.  The positive idea of the word “musing”—individual reminiscing about life—perhaps best carries the meaning.  Gary G. Cohen. 1980. siyach. Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament. (Moody): 2:875-76.

[2] Recipes (“the eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season,” Ps 145:15); incidents (“when David hid in the cave,” Psalm 57); news items (“He saved them from the hand of the foe,” Ps 106:10); reprint prayers (Psalm 132:8-10; 2 Chronicles 6:41), cries of agony (about others’ slander, Psalm 7); calls for retribution (Psalm 137); ponderings (Psalm 107); opines on international intrigue (Psalm 18); rejoicings in good things (Psalm 136); poetry recitation (Psalm 45:1); comments on the weather (Psalm 147); remarks about creation (“even the sparrow has found a home” Ps 84:3); remembrances of historical events (Psalm 78); considerations from the obituary page (Psalm 90).

[3] ordo, ordiri. Joseph T. Shipley. 1945. Dictionary of Word Origins. (Philosophical Library): 33-34, 251

[4] Alexander Pope. 1910. “An Essay On Man.” The Harvard Classics. (Collier): 40:442.

[5] Richard M. Weaver. 1964, 1995. Visions of Order: The Cultural Crisis of Our Time. (Reprint, ISI).  Russell Kirk’s 1991, 1992 The Roots of American Order (Regnery), is dependent upon Weaver’s work.  Surprisingly, Kirk gives his friend Weaver no credit for the seminal ideas he records about “order” on pages 4-6.

[6] Jane Jacobs. 1961, 1993. The Death and Life of Great American Cities. (Modern Library): 485-510.

[7] The Message translation.

[8] Job 12:7-9; Jeremiah 8:7.

[9] The Collected Poems entitled “My-Ness” (437)

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