Raise your hand if you have been looking forward to something. Maybe a trip or a quiet night at home or a new beginning or a visit from a friend.
Oh, you, too? Same!
It seems like we are always scanning the horizon for what is next. This time of year is especially a whirlwind for families. First, we were counting down the days to fall break, and now it’s a mad rush to secure Halloween costumes. The holiday toy catalogs are already rolling into our mailbox in a steady stream, and on retail shelves, the skulls and pumpkins have been replaced with wreaths and ornaments.
I have heard it said that something like half of the joy we derive from a vacation is in the planning and anticipation of its arrival, in the build-up. My husband and I recently had an opportunity to get away for a few days, and we spent the weeks leading up to the trip researching and discussing hiking options, dining options, biking options. The trip itself was lovely, but those evenings of planning were their own little mini-escapes, too.
It’s that time of year when we look forward to pulling the decorations out of the attic (or perhaps shopping for new ones) and filling the house with signs of the upcoming celebrations. But what about when the mantle is bare and the only decor on the coffee table are legos and sticker books and a half-eaten bowl of Cheez-its? (How long has that been there anyway?!)
And what about when the circumstances of my life are just ordinary? No exciting plans, just another lunch to pack, another library book to return, another stain to scrub. Do I pause then and say to myself “hey, this is pretty good!”
Every now and then, something ordinary breaks through the monotony of daily rhythms and takes my breath away. Just this morning, during our very routine school drop-off, my eyes filled with tears as I watched my child walk inside. A totally ordinary moment, a daily occurrence, was flooded with significance and great, big, breath-catching love. What causes that shift, I wonder? Why is it that every now and then, my heart is open and attentive enough to fully notice what is before us and to allow it resonate somewhere deep within.
This season of our church year, the seemingly never-ending Ordinary Time, offers a similar invitation to soften and soak in the words we pray every week and likely take for granted. It has been a long while since we fasted for Lent and feasted for Easter. Advent is still a month away. It would be easy to lose a little spiritual steam this time of year, when there’s not a special reason to tune in more closely.
What if, instead of getting swept up in the cultural rush to look ahead, we choose to slow down and stay present, to pay closer attention to what is before us right now. How might we be surprised by the words of the same old liturgy?
As is true for many long-time Episcopalians, I know most (if not all) of the Rite II liturgy by heart. Even so, one practice I have found that helps cultivate my attentiveness is opening my prayer book and following along, word for word. With children next to me in the pews, I point to the words on the page as we read. This simple habit helps me stay present in the liturgy. It keeps me actively focused on each word, rather than scanning the announcements page or finding the next hymn or otherwise letting my mind wander. (And, as an added bonus it is a gentle invitation to the children on either side that these words are available to them, too.)
These days my family is often pulling into the church parking lot on two wheels and racing to get everyone inside. When I finally land in the pew, often a little late, I tend to jump straight in with the liturgy. I usually forget that the prayer book actually invites me to take a breath on my own before I join in with the congregation and to pray for attentiveness and a heart ready to praise,
O Almighty God, who pours out on all who desire it the spirit of grace and supplication: Deliver us, when we draw near to you, from coldness of heart and wanderings of mind, that with steadfast thoughts and kindled affections we may worship you in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. —Prayer for Before Worship, BCP p. 833
This is my prayer for these last few weeks of Ordinary Time: Lord, let this be a season of softening into the present moment rather than rushing ahead. Let me seek and find God amidst all the words and moments and people and places I take most for granted. Let my heart be open enough to be fully experience all the moments of grace and mercy and love along the way. And let my soul be moved to praise you in all these ordinary days.
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