All too often I hear people making a sharp distinction between the spiritual and the worldly.
Fifty years ago today, on October 13, 1964, Madeleine Delbrêl died in France. For many years she and groups of women lived and worked in Ivry, a working-class city near Paris. These communities of contemplatives living in the world were, as she called them, “missionaries without a boat,” immersed in the lives of their neighbors, many of whom were Communists.
She felt a call to live in the world. As she wrote in We, the Ordinary People of the Street,
Christ does not provide his followers with a set of wings to flee into heaven, but with a weight to drag them into the deepest corners of the earth. What may seem to be the specifically missionary vocation is in fact simply what it means to be embraced by Christ.
Despite any apparent contradiction, we diminish and falsify our love for Christ and the Church wherever we diminish that which draws us to the world and enables us to plunge ourselves into it. This is what the love of the world means, a love that is not an identification with the world, but a gift to it.
That love let her see the grace that comes in responding to the ordinary in daily life, in recognizing God coming to us in every moment:
Each tiny act is an extraordinary event, in which heaven is given to us, in which we are able to give heaven to others. It makes no difference what we do, whether we take in hand a broom or a pen… Whether we are sewing or holding a meeting, caring for a sick person or tapping away at the typewriter…. Is the doorbell ringing? Quick, open the door! It’s God coming to love us. Is someone asking is to do something? Here you are! It’s God coming to love us. Is it time to sit down for lunch? Let’s go — it’s God coming to live us. Let’s let him.
This awareness of God in the ordinary let Madeleine open herself to her neighbors and show them God’s love.
Though I find ways to do this now, living in town and going out to the countryside, I am looking forward to moving out to a rural village where, I pray, I can be present to the people, recognizing God’s presence there and responding in love.