“Sometimes I wonder about my life. I lead a small life – well, valuable, but small – and sometimes I wonder, do I do it because I like it, or because I haven’t been brave? So much of what I see reminds me of something I read in a book, when shouldn’t it be the other way around? I don’t really want an answer. I just want to send this cosmic question out into the void. So good night, dear void” (Meg Ryan as Kathleen Kelly, You’ve Got Mail).
“Better is a dinner of vegetables where love is than a fatted ox and hatred with it” (Proverbs 15:17).
On any day in the fall of 520 BCE, the average citizen of Jerusalem could look around and see…boring, inadequate, disappointing structures and little evidence of progress. Nothing like the golden age and magnificent edifices he or she had dreamed of in exile in Babylon. Not much of a homecoming. Those who had chosen to return when Cyrus gave the order were sometimes in conflict over land and ownership with the people who had not been carried off by the Babylonians. The latter had claimed abandoned parcels, since their owners were hundreds of miles away, and who knew if they would ever return? The temple project languished; 18 years after the return, there was still no central gathering place for worship, community life, and civic matters. The prophet Haggai especially urged the high priest and the Persian-appointed governor to ramp up progress on the building, promising God’s blessing if they did.
Haggai’s colleague Zechariah sought to reassure those who despised what he termed “the day of small things” (Zechariah 4:8). Better times were ahead! The governor, Zerubbabel, was going to oversee personally the laying of the foundation of the new temple; the prophet saw a “plummet” (to ensure straight walls) in the official’s hand, signifying his personal, on-site investment in the project.
I think Zechariah gave in to the complainers too quickly. Yes, at this remove, it’s easy to criticize. He probably needed to say something to get the arm-chair quarterback grumblers off his back and give some pastoral comfort to those who were genuinely distressed. But I wish he had pointed out that even the meager, the miserable, the marginal, and the misshapen can be and are the signs and vessels, the harbingers and heralds of the presence and action of God. Sometimes it is especially small things that point us to the divine.
We may want to live large and don’t do so because of lack of opportunity or gifts or because we lack the ambition or the willingness to risk that it might take to gain the celebrity, acclaim or riches we crave. But what if we choose to delight in small things and reject the big and flashy and spectacular? Suppose we have resources, but live below our means, pay off the credit card every month, dwell in a modest home? What if we enjoy the color of a bird, the sound of a word, the antics of a pet, a quiet evening at home with our spouse? Suppose we got our noses out of our phones and paid attention to the details of the world around us? Isn’t God in the routine, the ordinary, the silent, the everyday? There is nothing so quotidian and tiny that it cannot be shot through with the goodness and presence of the divine. It is in such things that God communicates to us his rich and abundant grace.
The prophet we call “Second Zechariah” (Zechariah 9-14), maybe two hundred years later, got it right. At the very end of the book, he wrote: “On that day there shall be inscribed on the bells of the horses, ‘Holy to the Lord.’ And the cooking pots in the house of the Lord shall be as holy as the bowls in front of the altar; and every cooking pot in Jerusalem and Judah shall be sacred to the Lord of hosts, so that all who sacrifice may come and use them to boil the flesh of the sacrifice” (Zechariah 14:20-21). Cooking pots. Horses’ bells. Small, ordinary things, holy to the Lord.
Every day is a sacrament.
© 2014 Tom Cheatham. All rights reserved.