The Illusion of Ordinary

sun on mist through trees

I recently moved from a very big city in England to an outrageously small town in a remote corner of Canada. This community is home to about 1000 people and its closest neighbouring town is an hour away. But none of this came as a surprise to me when I arrived here, as this town is where I was born and raised.

The city had been such a great place to be Catholic! I found it easy to believe God was doing big things when everything around me was so impressive and dynamic! There were so many beautiful churches, prayer groups of any style you like, and all kinds of brilliant faith and social events. Best of all, I was surrounded by other young Catholic friends who became like family and inspired me to go deeper in my faith. Over time, I began to feel as though my eyes had been opened to spiritual realities all around me which I had until then been oblivious to. I was seeing my prayers answered in powerful ways, and came to know God as a very real Father who was involved in every moment of my life and provided for all my needs with incredible generosity. My sense of purpose in this deeper relationship with him satisfied a hunger that I had previously tried anxiously and unsuccessfully to fill with other things, and I felt more free and at peace than I ever had before. In short, my new understanding of how real God is had caused me to become a very different person, and I didn’t want to go back to the way I was.

When I came back to my hometown, I literally increased the Catholic young adult population by over 33% (the other two members of this demographic being my sister and her husband). So as you can imagine, I could no longer rely on stimulating events and novelties to energize my faith. I also felt the strong pull of my old life, and the expectations of the people who have always known me. I was afraid that in the crushing ordinariness of this spiritual and social desert I’d lose sight of what I’d experienced in England. I couldn’t let that happen. I could not allow myself to slide back into the belief that life is ordinary and boring when I had so recently learned that it’s actually dramatic and miraculous. That would be a kind of death! So I decided if I couldn’t see God in big things, I would have to start seeing him in little things. I asked the Holy Spirit to breathe life into me and my surroundings, and I pleaded with God to show me he was here with me in this little town just like he had been before.

Of course he was here, and even though I should have known that, he was kind enough to reassure me. I had arrived just after Christmas, and at one point my little niece noticed there was a present under the tree with my name on it, so she brought it to me and asked if she could help me open it. She pulled out the gift – a set of Dove body care products. Then at the bottom of the gift bag she found an ornament that had fallen off the tree. It was a dove! I took it as a sign the Holy Spirit had heard my prayer, and was revealing himself to me exactly where I was. I still have that ornament hanging in my room to remind me of this fact.


I gradually became aware that in this little town, God was often asking me to pray for little things and sometimes for little people. At one point in my supply teaching work I encountered a four-year-old girl who was painfully shy. She would rarely speak in class and at playtime would always stand next to the teacher instead of playing with the other kids. When I noticed this I felt really sad for her. The next time I was there I asked God to draw her out of herself, give her confidence and help her to form good friendships with the other kids in her class. Later that day at the end of playtime I was trying to round up all the kids from the playground and get them lined up by class before they went inside, but I noticed three little girls way out at the other end of the field, struggling to walk back through deep snow. At first I thought, “Come on, girls! The whole school is waiting for you!” I sent two older girls to run out and help them. As they got closer, I realized one of them was the little girl I had prayed for. She had been playing with two of her classmates! It was a little thing that felt like a major victory!

I even discovered that God speaks through my least favourite hymns at church. Once during mass I noticed my dad was coming down with a cold, and he was supposed to be going on a long trip the next day, so I said a prayer for him. The next hymn was “Praise to the Lord, the Almighty” – one I find particularly grating. But this time, one of the lines jumped out and resonated with me: “He is your health and salvation”.

The next day I asked my dad how he was feeling. “Fine. I thought I was going to have a bad cold! Weird.”

God has been showing me that he is just as much in the little things as he is in the big, sensational things. He’s been challenging me to look deeper at life in this little town and see that the ordinariness of it is actually an illusion. It often reminds me of the stable in Bethlehem where Jesus was born. Any passer-by that night might have looked at it and seen nothing but a poor family trying to put their baby to sleep in a feedbox-turned-cradle. Only a few people were able, by God’s grace, to see beyond that and understand the disadvantaged child in the manger was actually the Son of God. Don’t be fooled! “Ordinary” is nothing but a thin veil over the supernatural reality of every human being’s existence.


Theology of the Body Symposium – Don’t miss out!

I don’t remember when I first heard of the Theology of the Body (TOB). I think it was about 10 years ago now and it has been slowly (but definitely) transforming how I think and how I live! – This teaching of Saint John Paul II, about love, human identity and sexuality is changing me as a person because it is jam packed with deep and real truths that I need to hear. TOB speaks to me about what it means to be a woman, about what it means to be made in the image and likeness of God and also about how I am called to relate to other women, as my sisters and to men as brothers! It dares me to live with a pure heart – It calls me to a kind of love that understands the brokenness within myself and of humanity and yet longs to move into wholeness and freedom and then it invites me to allow Christ to work within my heart to truly change me from the inside out.
In 2010 and in 2014 I was fortunate to attend two TOB Conferences with Christopher West at the Theology of the Body Institute in Philadelphia (check it out ) and the desire to learn and to share with others grew in my heart. It is not quite possible to construct the exact same experience, but I am helping to run the Theology of the Body Symposium in London from 13th – 17th Jan, which has the same elements as the conference in Philadelphia and will certainly be a life changing few days together:
  • Excellent Teaching
  • Moments for prayer and Worship
  • Workshops to discuss current issues
  • Opportunities to meet like-minded people

In all honesty the reason that I got so much from the conference in Philadelphia is that Jesus is at the very heart! The Gospel message is not about sex and marriage, the Gospel message is about God coming to save us from our sin and to show us how to live fully, joyfully and freely. If you are searching for more of the Lord, if you long to love yourself and others more, if you want to share answers with friends and family, then do consider attending the Symposium. There are still very limited spaces left.

To enquire about booking contact


To register for the Christopher West talk on Jan 13th, St Patrick’s Church, Soho, London 6.30-8pm (doors open at 6pm) send an email to 
Places are limited and registering in advance is required.

One true, good, beautiful world: Bridges between Saint John Paul II’s Theology of the Body and Pope Francis’ Laudato Si’


Our faith proclaims the oneness of all things in Christ. Saint Paul encapsulates this beautifully when he writes:

He is the image of the unseen God, the first-born of all creation, for in him were created all things in heaven and earth: everything visible and everything invisible, thrones, ruling forces, sovereignties, powers – all things were created through him and for him. He exists before all things and in him all things hold together, and He is the head of the body, that is, the Church.

He is the Beginning, the first-born from the dead, so that he should be supreme in every way; because God wanted all fullness to be found in him and through him to reconcile all things to him, everything in heaven and everything on earth, by making peace through his death on the cross (Colossians 1: 15-20).

This oneness means there is a natural order at play in the world. The world was made to reveal Christ – his love for the world expressed through his life, death and resurrection. Again, ‘God wanted all fullness to be found in him and through him to reconcile all things to him.’ The Church talks of a ‘Culture of Life’ for this very reason – the ‘issues’ society likes to deal with individually just cannot be compartmentalised. Abortion, contraception, euthanasia, care of the most vulnerable – sick, elderly, unborn or disabled people – they’re all different sides to the same coin. Our attitude to one cannot contradict our attitude to the others.

John Paul II’s Theology of the Body gave us the tools to understand and communicate that life is gift, and humans have integral worth as persons at all stages of life. Pope Francis appears to make both a departure and a natural extension from this teaching. He has won admiration from within and without the church for not fixating on the controversial ethical issues that people have previously associated with Church teaching, but concentrating instead on injustice, poverty and care for creation. Nevertheless, Laudato Si’ demonstrates an entirely integrated worldview: ‘We are faced not with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution demand an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.’

Francis is able to move easily between social and ecological injustices because he believes they are both expressions of the same sickness – a commodification of all of creation which causes the powerful and the ignorant to use people and nature as means to ends, whether knowingly or unknowingly. He calls us to reassert the createdness of all living things, which protects their dignity and prevents their exploitation. He also wants us to experience deeply the connectedness of all living things, and so to be mindful of the impact our choices make on the rest of creation – animal, vegetable and mineral. This is the Gospel, flowing from the same source as the Theology of the Body. Francis’ call to respect creation and John Paul’s call to respect our sexuality both require a change of heart – a new set of eyes to see things as they are and not as we would have them to be.

This change of heart, if we allow it, has the power to transform the way we see everything. And although Francis does not linger on the matter, he devotes a paragraph to synthesising ideas relating to society, ecology and sexuality:

155. Human ecology also implies another profound reality: the relationship between human life and the moral law, which is inscribed in our nature and is necessary for the creation of a more dignified environment. Pope Benedict XVI spoke of an “ecology of man”, based on the fact that “man too has a nature that he must respect and that he cannot manipulate at will”. It is enough to recognise that our body itself establishes us in a direct relationship with the environment and with other living beings. The acceptance of our bodies as God’s gift is vital for welcoming and accepting the entire world as a gift from the Father and our common home, whereas thinking that we enjoy absolute power over our own bodies turns, often subtly, into thinking that we enjoy absolute power over creation. Learning to accept our body, to care for it and to respect its fullest meaning, is an essential element of any genuine human ecology. Also, valuing one’s own body in its femininity or masculinity is necessary if I am going to be able to recognise myself in an encounter with someone who is different. In this way we can joyfully accept the specific gifts of another man or woman, the work of God the Creator, and find mutual enrichment. It is not a healthy attitude which would seek “to cancel out sexual difference because it no longer knows how to confront it”.

Here, Francis gives us an idea of what really lies at the heart of the transformation we need if we will ever be able to adequately care for each other and this world. Jesus’ first gift to us is our own lives – our very selves. We must first receive this gift in its fullness before we can be a gift to others or receive the rest of creation as a gift. If we take time to contemplate His presence within ourselves, He will enable us to see Him outside of ourselves and to come to know that there really should be no distinction between between our inner and outer lives, between us and them, between society and nature. This should fuel us to take up the challenge Francis has set to all believers – to examine the messages we transmit with our lifestyle choices and to choose a more integrated way of being in the world.


Cosmic masculinity and femininity??!!!“>

Last Wednesday we watched the first of the Humanum video series which was produced by the Vatican after a three day inter-faith conference on marriage and the family. After we watched the video Conal asked us to reflect on Peter Kreeft’s statement that ‘male and female are biological, masculine and feminine are cosmological…The God who invented sexuality invented the universe, the two fit…It’s a happy philosophy, we fit the nature of things’

This caused a lot of head scratching (my own included!) In fact I kept scratching my head and thinking about what it all meant! I hope this can help…!

I think the key word to focus in on to understand this is ‘cosmos’ which is the Greek word for ‘order’. What Kreeft was getting at is that the whole universe (sun, moon, land and sea) is ordered in a way that reflects the complementarity which is present between a man and a woman.

We can see this in the first Genesis account of creation in which God creates order (cosmos) over the ‘formless and empty’ earth (Genesis 1:1) by diving land from sea (Gen 1:9) the day from the night (Gen 1:18) and animals that fly in the air and those that crawl on the ground (Gen 1:20) and so on. Throughout the account this sense of opposite but complementary things working in harmony is bolstered by the constant refrain ‘and there was evening and there was morning- the first/second/third etc…day’

The grand finale to all of this is the creation of humanity.

So God created mankind in his own image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them

It is not by accident that the author of Genesis specifically mentions that God made humans as male and female, reflecting what has gone before in the creation of the world. Humanity is the crown of creation (i.e. the creation goes from the most basic -plants- to the most complex organisms-humans) so we could say that humans are the best expressions of this complementary principle which is running through the universe. Therefore we can legitimately identify this cosmic principle as masculine and feminine. However there is something even deeper going on here since the author of Genesis says that humans are made ‘male and female’ in the image of God. In other words there is something about humans as male and female that reflects God. This makes sense since, as Kreeft points out, the God who made sexuality also made the universe. The creation bears the marks of its Creator.

This is not to say that God is a strange mixture of a man and woman, but that when men and women come together in love as free persons they reflect the fruitful love of the Trinity. The Father loves the Son and the bond of love between them is the Holy Spirit. When a man loves a woman a third person is created, the child, the fruit of their love.

The family therefore is an icon of the Holy Trinity. N T Wright expresses this beautifully in the video when he points out that many scholars read the first Genesis account as God constructing a temple of heaven and earth. When a temple was built in the ancient world the final thing that would be placed inside it was an image of the god that was to be worshipped there. Therefore man and women together are a living image of God.


The Dance


A few weeks ago I was at a performance of Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games. I grew up watching Michael Flatley, and although he didn’t actually appear in this show, I loved watching other dancers who had mastered his brilliant choreography. It was a really inspiring performance, but what made a greater impression on me than anything else was the way masculinity and femininity were portrayed. The men and the women had clearly defined roles with such beautiful contrast and harmony between them. I felt it spoke to a deep truth about our male and female identities that we don’t often encounter.

Lord of the Dance performances generally follow a traditional love story structure. There’s the “Lord of the Dance” (normally the Michael Flatley character) and his army, the leading lady and her friends, the temptress looking to steal the Lord of the Dance away from his true love, and the villain and his minions who antagonize everyone. As the storyline is being set up in the opening scenes, we meet the leading lady and all the women who surround her. They’re beautiful, graceful and they give the impression that they are a group of friends who support each other and enjoy being together. When you see them dancing in intricate formations dressed in gorgeous costumes of every colour, they’re a celebration of life itself. Their beauty is inviting and uplifting, and seems to communicate that all will be well. I felt there was something in this portrayal of femininity that belongs to all women. We may not all be performers in West End stage shows, but I believe this beauty shines through in women who are warm and welcoming to those around them, and use their relational expertise to bring comfort and build community.

As the villain threatens the other characters, the Lord of the Dance springs into action, mobilizing his army to prepare to confront the aggressor and defend the innocent. This part of the dance resembled a military drill in which the men showed off their strength, discipline and bravery, and this thrilled the audience (especially the women) more than any other part of the show! I think what it communicated is that men truly come alive when they have something worth fighting for, and they know they have what it takes to meet the challenge. The women in the audience may not have been fully conscious of this as they watched, but I honestly believe that on some level they felt it. I certainly did!

The Lord of the Dance only begins to run into trouble when he begins to draw a little too close to the temptress. He loses sight of the woman he loves and for the moment is caught up in the charms of the other woman. Then suddenly she steals his belt – the symbol of his manhood – and he falls into the hands of the villain. This is another interesting reflection on male and female relationships. The strength of the Lord of the Dance had been in his integrity, discipline and devotion to the woman he loved. When he gives that up and allows his desires to rule over him, he begins to lose the most important battle of his life. He and all those who depend on his strength are suddenly in danger.

Of course the hero manages to get back on his feet, overcome the enemy and save the day. The ending is predictable, but this story isn’t meant to surprise – it is meant to remind us of a truth about humanity that’s always been written on our hearts but is often obscured. The idea that masculinity and femininity are interchangeable or even meaningless is becoming more common, and many of us are anxious or confused about our male and female identities, but the truth is that God designed men and women not to be at war with each other or blended into a homogenous group, but to come together and allow their differences to lead into a harmonious and complementary relationship –  a kind of dance. I came away from this performance refreshed by the feeling that life really is an unfolding drama that each of us has a definite and valuable role in. Men and women are so beautiful when they know who they are.


Hannah is a teacher from Canada now living in London. She loves meeting new people and exploring different cultures.