The Blog of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship

November 22, 2016

Sanctuary and Savoring

Sanctuary and savoring
By: 
Tish Harrison Warren

For the time being, I’m ignoring the toys and socks strewn across my living room to sit on my couch and drink tea. I pause to notice and to savor the dark tea rippling against the bright white of my favorite mug, the twisted branches of late-winter trees outside the window, the warmth of the steam against my face, the dwindling light stretched in long rectangles across the floor.

In our house, quiet moments like this are rare. In order to embrace them, tasks, distractions, and pestering worries have to be willfully set aside.

After God finishes each creative work in Genesis 1, he declares his creation “good” and lavishly gives us free reign to enjoy its goodness. It is no accident that the psalmist enjoins us to taste and see that the Lord is good—not simply to reason or confess that God is good, but to taste it. My body, this tea, and the quiet twilight are teaching me God’s goodness through my senses. I’m tasting, hearing, feeling, seeing, and smelling that God is good.

Pleasure is our deep human response to an encounter with beauty and goodness. In these moments of pleasure—of delight, enjoyment, awe, and revelry—we respond to God impulsively with our very bodies: “Yes, we agree! Your creation is very good.”

*****

. . . As busy, practical, hurried, and distracted people, we develop habits of inattention and miss these tiny theophanies in our day. But if we were fully alive and whole, no pleasure would be too ordinary or commonplace to stir up adoration.[1]

I have to learn the habits of adoration intentionally—to get out of my head and stop to notice the colors in my daughter’s eyes or the sound of rain on our back porch. Part of me—the Taskmaster General in my brain—can feel guilty about the moments when I slow down to enjoy the beauty around me. Tea and an empty hour can feel frivolous or frittering. I feel guilty about not doing something more important with my time, like laundry or balancing the checkbook or meeting my neighbors or working or volunteering or serving the poor.

Those are, of course, important things to do and good and necessary ways to use time. But it takes strength to enjoy the world, and we must exercise a kind of muscle to revel and delight. If we neglect exercising that muscle—if we never savor a lazy afternoon, if we must always be cleaning out the fridge or volunteering at church or clocking in more hours—we’ll forget how to notice beauty and we’ll miss the unmistakable reality of goodness that pleasure trains us to see. We must take up the practice—the privilege and responsibility—of noticing, savoring, reveling, so that, to use Annie Dillard’s phrase, “creation need not play to an empty house.”[2]

*****

. . . Dostoyevsky wrote that “beauty will save the world.”[3] This might strike us as mere hyperbole. But as our culture increasingly rejects the idea and language of truth, the church’s role as a harbinger of beauty is a powerful witness to the God of all beauty. . . .

Being curators of beauty, pleasure, and delight is therefore an intrinsic part of our mission, a mission that recognizes the reality that truth is beautiful.

These moments of loveliness—good tea, bare trees, and soft shadows—are church bells. In my dimness, they jolt me to attention, and remind me that Christ is in our midst. His song of truth, sung by his people all over the world, echoes down my ordinary street, spilling even into my living room.


[1] C. S. Lewis, Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer (New York: Harcourt, 2002), 89-90.

[2] Annie Dillard et al., “The Meaning of Life, The Big Picture,” Life Magazine, December 1998, www.maryellenmark.com/text/magazines/life/905W-000-037.html. Thank you to Marcia Bosscher for this reference.

[3] Dostoyevsky puts this line in the mouth of his protagonist Prince Myshkin in The Idiot. Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Idiot, trans. Frederick Wishaw (London: Vizetelly & Co., 1887), 407.


Taken from chapter ten, “Drinking Tea: Sanctuary and Savoring,” in  Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren. Copyright (c) 2016 by Lutitia Harrison Warren. Used by permission of InterVarsity Press, P.O. Box 1400, Downers Grove, IL 60515-1426. www.ivpress.com

Tish Harrison Warren writes regularly for The Well, Her.meneutics, and Christianity Today. Her writing has also appeared in Churchleaders.com, Anglicanpastor.com, Christ and Pop Culture, Art House America, Mere Orthodoxy, and the White Horse Inn. She is a priest in the Anglican Church in North America and works in Graduate and Faculty Ministries for InterVarsity. 


You might also be interested in these resources:

The Attentive Life: Discerning God’s Presence in All Things

Holy Is the Day: Living in the Gift of the Present

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