Wednesday, March 15, 2006

I'm still busy this week trying to catch up from all of last week's dress rehearsals and shows, with Papa Rooster gone all week, and my mother coming tomorrow!

So here's a little more from Kathleen Norris in The Quotidian Mysteries--building on the idea of work and routine as worship:

...I read recently...of a study that monitored the habits of married couples in order to determine what made for good marriages. The researchers found that only one activity seemed to make a consistent difference, in terms of the ability to maintain a stable, happy, long-lasting relationship, and that was simple affection, the embracing or kissing of one's spouse at the beginning and the end of each workday.

Most significantly, as Paul Bosch, the author of the article, reports, "it didn't seem to matter whether or not in that moment the partners were 'fully' engaged or even sincere! Just a perfunctory peck on the cheek seemed to be enough--enough to make a difference in the quality of the relationship!" Bosch comments, wisely, that this "should not surprise churchgoers. Whatever you do repeatedly...has the power to shape you, has the power to make you over into a different person--even if you're not totally 'engaged' every minute!"

I wonder if we might substitute that "peck on the check" for some of the prayers that a religious community recites daily... No human being can pay full attention to the words that he or she is praying every single day, and apparently this is how God would have it. Sometimes, particularly at crisis points in our lives, we feel these words with our whole heart....But all too often, I pray these magnificent prayers with only half a mind, one half yawning and...the other half dwelling on the fact that my feet hurt... As for the words that I am dutifully saying, I might as well be praying in tongues, and maybe I am. And maybe the prayer is working despite myself.

It is a paradox of human life that in worship, as in human love, it is in the routine and the everyday that we find the possibilities for the greatest transformation. Both worship and housework often seem perfunctory. And both, by the grace of God, may be anything but.

...What we dread as mindless activity can free us, mind and heart, for the workings of the Holy Spirit, and repetitive motions are conducive to devotions such as the Jesus Prayer or the rosary. Anything is fair game for prayer, anything or anyone who pops into mind can be included.

The Jesus Prayer is "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." I have lately fallen into the habit of muttering a quick version of it--"Lord, have mercy"--under my breath when I am stressing out because we are late or I can't find something I'm looking for. It is much better than ranting at my kids! I have wondered, at times, should I stop saying it because I'm not really thinking about what it means? Could it even fall into the category of taking the Lord's name in vain? Yet I have sensed it changing me, transforming my stress into peace.

The Lord's Prayer is always a profound prayer, even when prayed with a baby squirming in my arms and a toddler whispering loudly in my ear. And the simple invocation, "Come, Holy Spirit," which I often breathe as I head to the basement to break up an escalating argument among my boys, may not guarantee peace or great wisdom on my part, but does it change me? Undoubtedly.

Also, isn't it encouraging to think that such a small thing as kissing your husband when he walks in the door can have such a great impact on your marriage? Similarly, the little rituals we form with our kids--whether it's a story at bedtime or a prayer before meals or an inside joke--must also be powerful relational bonds.

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