he continued to go to his house…and to get down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise him, just as he had done previously (Dan 6.10)
If it wasn’t for my spiritual director’s collar, she would have face planted in the gutter. Fortunately, the collar was attached to the leash – oh yeah, remember, my spiritual director is my dog. This morning while on our routine walk the sidewalks were icy.
This morning would have been a reasonable morning to skip our walk. The morning light was dispersed by freezing fog looking as if dawn was stalled and needed a push. But the routine had to go on. That is one of the reasons I wanted a dog, to remind me of the routines that I need to be committed to whether I wanted to or not.
In some ways, routines are easy. The habitual rehearsal of that which took place the day before, the season before, the year before. I know what to do and where to go – and usually I know why.
After an Advent and Christmastide of an alternative spiritual practice of devotional reading and using the lectionary, I have returned to using the Daily Office from the Mission of St Claire in the morning, and Divine Office at night.
Routines are Easy
Routines have a goal. They are headed somewhere. Routines are about routes, pathways, the beaten path. The beaten path where the grass lays down, the rocks smoothed by friction, where the way is clear. These routines, these pathways are easy. The resistance is not from the route, but whether or not to get started and to keep walking.
My morning routine: first, get some coffee, quietly. Second, sit in my comfy chair and read my morning devotions. Third get more coffee, maybe some oatmeal. Read and think. More coffee. Sit. Pray. More coffee. Get lunches packed and send my wife off to school (she’s a teacher). Every morning, more or less, this routine centers my day. I find often that when the routine is broken, I feel off center. At best, I feel like I may have missed something – an insight, a word of wisdom, a revelation. At worst, I feel adrift, like an irretrievable moment has left a hole in my day, from which drains imagination and resilience.
Routines are Hard
In the morning as I practice my routine walk, geese fly overhead. Nearly every morning. Don’t know where they’re headed, or where they came from. What did they do all through the night? And where?
But when the sun’s light is at the goose-alarm-clock angle, they stir and they fly over. Some land in alfalfa fields near the high school. Others land in the river, or suburban ponds. Every day, like clockwork, set by the daily rhythms of the sun. It doesn’t seem to matter what the weather is like, but the geese are dedicated. Watching a goose flopping its big flipper-feet one step at a time to break the ice, swimming and nibbling on the grass below. That poor bird must have been at least a little bit chilly.
Sometimes routines are hard to stay with. Bright, shiny, new things can catch our attention and distract us. I am easily side-tracked. Daily tasks, picking up things, cleaning the kitchen, playing with the dog; reading emails and magazines and books and blogs; sometimes just wanting to nap or hit snooze on the alarm. Other times the challenge comes from opposition: budget woes and unemployment, depression and lethargy, doubt and unanswered questions.
Routines are hard. The word route comes from the Latin “rupta”, or to rupture. Sometimes sticking to routine is hard and requires breaking through something: ice, drowsiness, distractions, disappointments.
Routines are Easy and Routines are Hard
As the winter season moves forward, my routine adapts. Spiritual practices can vary, creating or accentuating “seasons of the soul.” I’m not sure where that phrase came from, but there are seasons in which my spirit is fed by a new routine. Sometimes, I am inspired by returning to a previous routine that feels like returning to a familiar comfortable chair. Even now, I have a reminder set on my calendar to for the third week of November. At that time I will make preparations for my Advent and Christmastide practices. I know that some seasons of the sould are scheduled. But others emerge unexpectedly.
Returning to the routine does not feel like giving up. In a culture that values the new and the innovative, sometimes we lose sight of the well-worn and the familiar. In a culture that values head-strong pioneering, not following anyone’s path, and doing “your own thing,” routines, especially those established for centuries feels counter-cultural. So be it.
While the year is still new, find your new routines. May they be both easy and hard. Challenging and familiar.