Friday, March 20, 2015

The Day of Small Things

Red letter days are important...
Last weekend it was Mother's Day here in the UK. My kids diligently made cards and gave gifts to my wife to mark the day, and I even managed to get a card in the post to my own mum on time, which hasn't always happened if I'm honest. I had a conversation with my five year old daughter about it in the car a few days before, and she was asking when Daddy's Day was, and why wasn't there a kids day. Father's Day is usually in June, but I had to look up about kids day, and it turns out there are actually two internationally recognised days! One is 1st June and the other is the 20th November.

A look at most calendars and Almanacs illustrates that many days of the year mark something special or significant. Attending a Catholic school growing up, we used to have a special service on St Joseph's day (and mini mars bars at the primary school) since the order of priests who ran the school were Josephites. St Patrick's Day, marked this week, is also popular around the world. Other significant days include national holidays, historical events (like Bonfire Night or Guy Fawkes Night on the 5th November), or anniversaries and birthdays. Even in my mid thirties my birthday feels like a special day, despite the fact that I'm usually at work (a sure sign of being a grown up).
"I think it's really important to celebrate the big and meaningful stuff in our lives..."
In the ancient world, through the middle ages and even in modern liturgical books, significant days were marked in red ink, hence the well known phrase "red letter days" to signify important occasions. I think it's really important to celebrate the big and meaningful stuff in our lives. It's great to have a day to lavish cards, chocolate and flowers to mothers on mothers day. Celebrating wedding anniversaries and major birthdays are milestones worthy of note. It's equally important to have rites of passage marking the transition from childhood to adulthood, although this seems to be something we've lost to a a degree in the West. I'm all for special days.

"Do not despise the day of small things"
One downside of big days is that the in-between days, the normal days can seem bland and colourless by comparison. We often are much less aware of the incremental changes that occur over a period of days. Like when you're growing up and you receive an occasional visit from a great-aunt, who pinches your cheek and remarks how much you've grown. I observe this reaction from wider family when they see my own kids after weeks or months - the change is less obvious to me as it's been a gradual unfolding before my eyes as they've grown.

Celebrating the ordinary is possibly more important than celebrating the extra-ordinary. Cultivating a sense of purpose, awareness and even enjoyment in the daily ordinariness is essential if we are to live fulfilling, rich lives.

Otherwise the danger is that we simply exist in between weekends, holidays and special occasions - instead we're called to truly live each day well.

Regular readers will know I'm a fan of fairly obscure Biblical quotes, and this week is no exception. In the book of Zechariah, the prophet is given a number of visions from God about the restoration of his people, who had been exiled to Babylon. In one vision, he is commanded "Do not despise the day of small things, men will rejoice when they see the plumb line in the hand of Zerubbabel" (Zech 4:10).
"Celebrating the ordinary is possibly more important than celebrating the extra-ordinary..."
Ever since I was a teenager this phrase has stuck with me, and another translation calls it "the day of small beginnings". Sometimes we don't know what out landmark moments, our pivot points are - they just seem like small things, insignificant in the context of a normal day. But like the proverbial butterfly flapping its wings and ultimately causing a hurricane, these small things have a habit of growing into bigger things - like a snowball rolling down a mountain, or a mustard seed, to quote the parable.

Who knows what butterfly effect may occur?
Maybe your week has been distinctly normal. Maybe you've just taken a small step towards or away from something. Maybe something's grown in you in a way you can't even notice. That's ok. 

If you're like me you might have huge dreams and high expectations of yourself, which can make things hard in the interim, when your skill or creativity doesn't match your desire. When you dream of being a tiger but you're just a kitten - or you have eagle sized ambition but distinctly buzzard sized wings. 

Whilst it's important that we dream big, it's ok for dreams to take time to grow, and to celebrate the days of little beginnings and small things in between the red letter occasions. Like tree planting ceremonies rather than grand ribbon-cutting building-opening moments.

What are you celebrating this week? Celebrate others, and cherish them, but celebrate those little things you've also brought to birth. Every day is full of little beginnings to be marked.
"Whilst it's important that we dream big, it's ok for dreams to take time to grow, and to celebrate the days of little beginnings and small things in between the red letter occasions"


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