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Words I Just Finished Reading

The Kitchen House
The Atomic Weight of Love
We're All Damaged
The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles
Wishful Drinking
News of the World
The Forgotten Garden
Out of My Mind
The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life
There Is No Good Card for This: What To Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love
My Not So Perfect Life
Ella Minnow Pea: A Novel in Letters
Killing Reagan: The Violent Assault That Changed a Presidency
The Lost Wife
Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church
Anna and the French Kiss
Little Bee

Julie's favorite books »


Routines and Rituals

This is my cabinet.  It needs to be organized. 

Every few months, I organize this cabinet.  I pull everything out onto the counter and make a terrific mess.  I sort through all the accumulated detrirtus: old pictures, expired medications, lone envelopes, Maui postcards from 2014 (which I failed to send but, for some inexplicable reason, am unable to discard).  It all comes out.  I sort it all into happy little bins, and then put it back in.  I call Mando into the room and demand that he compliment me (once now and at least twice later in the day; all compliments should be spontaneous declarations with appropriate emotion).  I show the kids, too.  LOOK WHAT MOM HAS DONE.  Speak of my greatness, children!   

So I live with my lovely, organized cabinet for about a month.  Then it starts to slip.  A few more medications, a few more postcards, more Band-Aids (because only the useless teeny-tiny ones remain in the multi-pack), essential oils, stamps, paper clips: they furtively sneak their way into the cabinet.  Every item is a tiny, precise arrow shot into my organizational armor.

And then items start falling out at me and I am shocked (naturally).  How did this happen?  If the falling-out happens during certain – ahem – emotional times, then I yank everything out and start organizing while muttering darkly about “having to do everything around here.”  The children are beginning to learn how to disappear at these times.  During the rest of their waking hours they’re verbally assaulting me by saying Mom over and over; when I’m talking to myself and giving small, whispered speeches about my thankless role they slide quietly into their rooms.  If one starts to approach the other one does the loving, brotherly thing and says, “Dude, not NOW.”  They sort themselves out (for the important life skill I’m imparting, boys: you’re welcome).  

But as I was staring at the cabinet the other day, I was thinking about how many tasks I do every single day.  And the answer, of course, is a lot.  Routine is king.  Get up, make breakfast, go to school, exercise, work, grocery shop, practice piano, do homework, YES BRUSH YOUR TEETH, go to bed.  Get up and do it again.  The items on the list shift but the pattern remains: our lives are full of standard, ordinary patterns, days packed with mundane tasks requiring time, attention, or energy.  Rarely do these tasks present themselves and prove to be exciting or inspiring.  Their fixedness and predictability is an anchoring force, but their inescapability can transform them into a seemingly pointless weight, preventing us from sailing.

Rituals, on the other hand, are steeped in meaning and beauty.  Rituals are treated as sacred and solemn; rituals are worthy of our precious time and energy.  They, too, are performed as part of a prescribed order, but they are richer and deeper; rituals invite us to depth, to beauty, to intimacy, to wisdom.  I’ve always been in love with the lighting of candles.  To stand in the quiet murmured hush of the nave, watching the votives flicker and thinking of the prayers and heart behind each tiny flame: it’s magic to me.  It’s the sacred made visible, a thinning of the veil.  If rituals are that for which we long, then routines are that for which we settle. 

But what if I could transfer some of that magic?  What if I could see the mundane as sacred, too?  What if I could believe that even the lowest of tasks is holy and worthy?  What if I could transform my routines into rituals? 

Most items on my list (emptying the dishwasher, cooking the eggs, doing the laundry) require little brainpower and even less heart.  But if the tasks require little, does it necessarily follow that I should bring little?  What if I put some heart into those tasks?  I don’t mean superficial, pasted-on happiness (“Look at me emptying the dishwasher and having so much fuuuuuuun!”).  I mean inviting in meaning by believing the truth: this task is worthy of my time and energy.  It’s worthy because emptying the dishwasher means I have clean water, and a family to feed, and money to purchase food in a grocery store.  It’s a sign of comfort and safety and abundance.  If it’s a ritual, then I should accord it attention, and gratitude, and heart.

Because if I’m not careful, I could spend time despising these routines until, one day, I could find myself without the one of the anchors that give rise to that very monotony: health, safety, security, peace.  I would ache for normalcy.  I would long to have the energy, or the time, or the strength to clean out that cabinet (and for that to have been the big task of the day).  I would find out that I had despised that which I could’ve been treasuring all along.

I have a friend who’s working her way through a difficult diagnosis, and she said this to me last week: “You have days you feel awful.  But you have days you feel good and, I tell you, you don’t let them go to waste.” 

So I won’t let my good days go to waste.  I’ll bring some intention and beauty to these days: I’ll turn on some music, or listen to my audiobook, or pray for my people while I empty the dishwasher.  I’ll light a candle, not just in the church, but in my home.  I’ll turn my face to the sun at every opportunity.  I’ll invite the Spirit, transforming routine into ritual, and I’ll honor this normal, lovely, precious life.  

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