“We must also remember that no metamorphosis since pre-historic times is in any way comparable to the metamorphosis that we are now undergoing.”
“[Man is] a creature which is not only capable of gratuitous acts but of which it can be said that such acts are this creature’s hall-mark and sign-manual.”
David Jones, ‘Art and Sacrament’ in Epoch and Artist
Serious issues can call for serious measures. But at the same time, even the most challenging issues call for an ‘ordinary’ response. This is consoling and encouraging.
We might see it this way. The loss of the ordinary in human life has led to serious problems. Therefore, the restoring of the ordinary can address these same problems. And can have extraordinary fruits.
David Jones (English, 1895-1974) was a painter, poet, and commentator on human life and culture. He was convinced that a central challenge of our age is that our current context tends to undermine something natural in us: that we are a kind of ‘artist’ in all that we do. Jones uses the word ‘artist’ in a wide and rich sense. In all truly human action, we have an eye for the beautiful, we do something ‘gratuitous.’ We recognize a deeper meaning and connectedness, and we express this or give sign to it in countless ways.
So the most ordinary and mundane of doings and makings can be shot through with transcendent meaning. For us men, this is ordinary; or it should be. And it is an extraordinary gift—right before our eyes.
This means that perhaps the most potent natural response to the challenges and hardships of our day is to reinvest in the ordinary things of daily life. To do them with care. To make them beautiful, in the deepest sense.
Holidays—especially holy-days—are days set apart. We might best observe them by making them our starting point for reclaiming the ordinary. Here are a few ideas.
Recognize the realm of food preparation, serving, and eating as a primary candidate for doing what is ‘gratuitous’—that is, for going beyond the merely ‘utilitarian’ or necessary. Maybe we resurrect that family recipe that was set aside for lack of time or interest. Is it perhaps special napkins, or some traditional table adornment? This connects nicely with home decoration as a way of making our spaces come alive. And there are many seasonal things (actual, concrete things) that point to higher realities and unite us in observing them—such as an advent wreath or calendar.
In each of these, there need be no extravagance. Where there is love and a vision of deeper things, simple things can be made artfully to signify (and make present!) those deeper things. A good intention here can go much farther than an ‘artistic flare’ exercised as mere display.
We can be confident in the power, literally the ‘significance,’ of the little things we do and make—especially together—each day. Days that are set apart are really opportunities in which to intensify and highlight the richer aspects of what we do every day. Here we might discover the ordinary power of the good, of the truly human, even in the most difficult of times. We wish you a wonderful Thanksgiving!
Check out our growing library of videos to help you rediscover the ordinary. Here is Sofia’s easy how-to for the beautiful Advent Wreath seen above.
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Husband, father, and professor of Philosophy. LifeCraft springs from one conviction: there is an ancient wisdom about how to live the good life in our homes, with our families; and it is worth our time to hearken to it. Let’s rediscover it together. Learn more.