Liturgy of the Ordinary:
Sacred Practices in Everyday Life
by Tish Harrison Warren
–Review by Teri Hyrkas
What comes to your mind when you read the word liturgy? The term unquestionably carries with it images of clerical vestments, brightly burning candles in sacred spaces, repeated prayers, and the fragrance of incense. The word liturgy also rings of church history. It has a backstory that includes the Protestant Reformation which saw the implementation of many changes in the church, including a massive revision of the liturgy. In her book Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life (2016, InterVarsity Press), Tish Harrison Warren, releases the ancient word from its traditional roots and refurbishes the idea of liturgy into a heartfelt pursuit of integrating Christ into daily activities. Warren, an Anglican priest, writes: “If I am to spend my whole life being transformed by the good news of Jesus, I must learn how grand, sweeping truths — doctrine, theology, ecclesiology, Christology — rub against the texture of an average day. How I spend this ordinary day in Christ is how I will spend my Christian life.”
In Liturgy of the Ordinary, Warren, whose childhood faith experience was in the Baptist tradition, freely declares her love of the Anglican church’s use of ancient liturgical practices. She also writes that she thoroughly enjoyed her time in seminary, which she describes as an interval of rigorous study and vibrant discussions. Moreover, it was in seminary that she realized the Christian life was not an odyssey to “get the right ideas in my head.” She eventually rejected the kind of Christianity which required that only her intellect be involved. She began to ask, “What would it mean to believe the gospel, not just in my brain, but also in my body?”
Drawing on James K.A. Smith’s book Desiring the Kingdom, Warren writes: “We are shaped every day, whether we know it or not, by practices — rituals and liturgies that make us who we are. We receive these practices — which are often rote — not only from the church or the Scriptures but from the culture… The question is, ‘What kind of Christian is our liturgy forming us to be?’ ” (29)
As she chronicles the events of a single day in her life, Warren shows in Liturgy of the Ordinary that several of her own quotidian routines and responses had become a liturgy adopted from the influences of the current culture rather than thoughtful actions originating from her life in Christ. The author candidly investigates her desire to check in with social media before she gets out of bed, acknowledges her lack of patience in coping with the frustrations of having small children, and admits to her anger when events at home seem to conspire to disrupt her work schedule. Warren then invites the reader into this question: “Could these menial tasks and trials be the place where one exchanges a faulty liturgy for a better one?”
Throughout the book the author unselfconsciously writes of her less than glamorous life as a parish priest and mother of two youngsters. As she describes her daily routines Warren employs various liturgical filters to view each activity: the rituals of standing, kneeling, bowing are used to observe the lowly act of brushing her teeth; the presence of scripture and communion are her frames for a meal of leftovers; the practices of blessing and sending come to her aid as she struggles to face the daily irritation of answering emails. By linking liturgical practices with common routines Warren offers a way to transfigure tedious occupations into meaningful actions
Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Places in Everyday Life is not a How-To collection of guidelines, it is a What-If conversation starter for creative changes. What if we brought the liturgy of Sunday worship into our weekday world? What if the fragrance of brewing coffee were the incense that turned our attention to God? What if the ringing of our cell phone were a reminder to pray? What if Jesus took precedence in our regular rituals?
Warren tests the typical understanding of liturgy throughout her book. She asserts the power of liturgy to help reshape daily drudgery into the delight of a Jesus-glorifying life while also dispelling the stiff and formal aura that can surround the traditional notion of liturgy. The reader’s opinion of what liturgy is and how it intersects with everyday routines is likely to be wonderfully challenged and beautifully changed after considering Tish Harrison Warren’s refreshing book, Liturgy of the Ordinary.
Thanks for discovering this book, Teri! I’m wondering if, having read James K.A. Smith, I should also read this book. What do you think? Is there enough here that goes beyond? I love the specific examples you mention, like brushing teeth as an opportunity to bow before the Lord. Are there more? I hadn’t thought of posture as liturgy. That’s really brilliant, and something I can easily weave into my daily life.
HI Tracey! Yes, “Liturgy of the Ordinary” is an excellent follow-up to JKA Smith’s books. Warren has obviously taken Smith’s observations to heart and brings them into the intimate setting of a daily routine. And yes, the author includes many suggestions from her own daily actions, opening the way for us to refashion our personal daily habits to become a liturgy, a form of daily worship. Warren’s unique perspective is being able to compare a “liturgy free” worship experience to the Anglican worship which is full of liturgical practices. The Anglican Order of Worship forms a framework for Warren to build upon.
Thanks, Tracey, for reading the review and posting your questions! Blessings!