I don’t think I’ll ever again approach the morning peck-on-the-cheek or half-hearted daily goodbye hug quite the same. Not since Kathleen Norris, through Acedia & Me, helped me be more cognizant of the power of routine (pp.187-8):
“For any of us, affluent or not, it is by means of repeating ordinary rituals and routines that we enhance the relationships that nourish and sustain us. A recent study that monitored the daily habits of couples in order to determine what produced good and stable marriages revealed that only one activity made a consistent difference, and that was the embracing of one’s spouse at the beginning and end of each day. Most surprising to Paul Bosch, who wrote an article about the study, was that ‘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 was 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’ in every minute.’
“So there. So much for control, or even conciousness. Let’s hear it for insincere, hurried kisses, and prayers made with a yawn. I may be dwelling on the fact that my feet hurt, or nursing some petty slight. As for the words that I am dutifully saying — ‘Love you’ or ‘Dear God’ — I might as well be speaking in tongues, and maybe I am. And maybe that does not matter, for it is all working toward the good, despite myself and my most cherished intentions. Every day and every night, whether I ‘get it’ or not, these ‘meaningless’ words and actions signify more than I know. Repetition…helps us to be more honestly and fully human. It knows us better than we know ourselves.”
I shared this knowledge with my husband the other morning. His response: “Great, I’m off the hook then!” That’s right, Buddy. Be as insincere as you want. The grace will come despite level of enthusiam.
In this same vein, every morning when I drop off my youngest three kids at school, they each get a quick blessing on the forehead. At some point early on, they began blessing me back. There are mornings when, in my groggy state, I almost forget. In fact, more often than not THEY are the initiators of the blessing now. Lately, in this dry winter weather, the girls and I especially have become prone to shocking one another in our blessings. Now that’s power for you! We laugh about it — who will produce the largest shock, or will the shock even come ? — and even this seems to help set the tone of the day. Sometimes, in fact, this simple action seems to change the very energy of the morning from bordering on negative to something more lighthearted. And I sense that if not for this little forehead crossing, everything about the day could turn for the worst.
So I believe in what Norris has revealed here because I have experienced it. She’s right about church, too, which is one of the reasons I love Mass. There are times when I really don’t feel all that excited to go, but something happens there, even in the quiet spaces, that changes me, makes me better, more grace-filled than when I entered. I don’t always have a perfect follow-through when I leave, but at the very least, I’ve experienced that bit of hope that helps me believe that, somehow, in the routine of worshipping I am slowly becoming transformed.
Have you hugged your spouse today? Have you blessed your child? As for me, from here on out, I am going to try to be even more intent about both of these.