Carolyn Weber had just endured a turbulent season of life. Everything that had governed her daily activities was turned upside down. She was taking a sabbatical from her job as an English professor; her young daughter and even younger twins were demanding every spare moment; her colleagues in the academy told her that her recently-published spiritual memoir (Surprised by Oxford) was "career suicide." In her latest memoir, Holy Is the Day: Living in the Gift of the Present, Weber reflects on how she emerged from that traumatic period with a deeper trust in God, rooted in a renewed appreciation for the ordinary things of life. "We are all punctuating steps in the dance of the story," she writes, "we are all readers of our skies, learning from burnout, growing in relationship with God and with each other, seeking and being open to the holy in the dailiness of things." Writer Laura Turner spoke with Weber about finding the holy in the mundane.
Why was this the book you chose to write after Surprised by Oxford?
A book sometimes comes and taps you on the shoulder and asks to be written. This book kept tapping. Prior to Surprised, I had always been an academic writer, devoted to what I was researching. Surprised by Oxford was a genre leap, and it opened up for me how I wanted to do more faith-based writing.
I resisted it at first. I had my own version of the Jonah dilemma, wanting to run back to what I knew, the research and the writing. I had other projects on my mind, but God kept tugging on my heart. My editor at InterVarsity Press told me to "write the book that begs to be written," and that gave me permission to listen to what I was being called to write as a form of trusting.
You can't ignore the tapping.
You have worked in universities for a number of years now. How, in your experience, is faith perceived in the academy?
I was given explicit advice when I was going up for tenure from people in academia not to share my faith. Christianity has this taboo quality within the academy, and some of that cultural antagonism is due to Christians being their own worst enemy. But the problem of God in a secular environment is very real. There is a persecution and subtle bias that can lead to a great sense of loneliness at times. I get a lot of emails from other Christian professors in academia about that subtle coercion.
Faith is a line in the sand—people either got it or were freaked out by it. No other name gets people as riled up, or curious, or drawn in as Jesus.
In the face of so much pressure to be extraordinary, it is easy to lose focus on how God is present in our daily lives—in the ordinary. You turn this phenomenon on its head when you talk about the importance of Carpe Deum—seizing God's presence—as opposed to Carpe Diem. How do you think about this dichotomy between the ordinary and extraordinary?
Before I was a Christian, Christian clichés made me really nervous. People often say things that they mean to be authentic, but come across as canned. As a literary thinker, I am wary of thinking in trite ways.
I have, though, come to admire every type of faith—they all glorify God. All of them have ways of being authentic. Clichés have power for a reason; they have become cliché in the best sense of the term because there is a stream of truth at the bottom of them. We are called to be extraordinary, in some ways, as Christians. In other ways, we must be ordinary.