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Monotony and Memory, Ritual and Remembrance

"Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, "Do it again"; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, "Do it again" to the sun; and every evening, "Do it again" to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we."
—G.K. Chesterton,

A few years ago I was honored to co-host a baby shower for a dear friend. I was responsible for collecting and displaying quotations that would apply to parenthood. Amid truths and sentiments, Chesterton’s words stood out as revelation. I imagined God raising the sun each morning, making the world every day through repetition, through ritual, through monotony. Our culture rejects monotony. We value excitement and change. There aren’t many Hollywood films depicting life after the adventure or the climactic kiss. I have let this color the view of my own relationships — with my husband, my children, and my God. I have spent considerable amounts of time and money trying to create lasting memories with my family: trips to Disneyland, a visit to an aquarium, and on one particular summer afternoon I made my husband drive for an hour searching for the most serene spot to picnic. Ironically, I wanted it to feel natural, picture-perfect enough to scrapbook.

Shortly after I read that Chesterton quotation, I was made aware of the beauty of monotony. We were driving home to Nashville after visiting family in Chattanooga — a 2-hour drive that we do fairly often. The moon was out, the kids were asleep in the back, and all was silent except for the hum of traffic as I held my husband’s hand and laid my head against the window. I tried to count how many trips we’d made like this when suddenly, the sweetest thought dropped into my heart. This is what I’m going to remember when I die. Not Disneyland or the birthday cake I spent 6 hours making, but this. The darkness, our daughters’ breath, the lines and creases of my husband’s hand . . . these are the things I will have memorized without even trying, and these things will burn brighter than any picture framed by stickers on acid-free paper. Our little family is built on the mornings spent driving to school together and gathered around the table at the end of the day.

A couple of years ago we began looking for a new church. We weren’t sure what exactly we were looking for, but we leaned toward something informal — maybe just a Bible study, or perhaps a house church. Certainly not the sort of place where Communion is served on silver or where the priests wear robes — or are even called priests. We, along with much of modern America, had become skeptical of such ritualistic congregations, which in our minds were undoubtedly spiritually “dead” places. However, the very first church we visited on our journey was our last — and it was Anglican. I sat through the service with tears knowing we had found our home. It is joyful and Spirit-filled, and yet, a place some may find monotonous.

An argument I’ve heard against liturgy and weekly Communion is that it becomes ritualistic, but I have found that it is the ritual that builds us. Our drives between Nashville and Chattanooga never change: the landscape is the same, the miles are the same, but our family is built in the monotony, holding hands and driving through the stillness. Each Sunday I share Communion with hundreds of other believers and millions of saints before me. Despite how easily I tire of the dishes or the laundry, my heart is being made and remade by the One who raises the sun and the moon every day. Week by week my soul is renewed, the church is strengthened, and just as Jesus commanded to “Do this in remembrance of Me,” memory is created through monotony.

Photo: Josh Crews

Flo Paris Oakes is a singer/songwriter, novice gardener, and backyard chicken farmer. A California native, she now lives in East Nashville, TN, with her husband and two daughters.

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  • Response
    This time last summer, when we were eagerly waiting the birth of our third son, I foolishly thought to myself, "Now's not the time to set schedules, to be confined to a routine. I need to be flexible, spontaneous! I'll have a newborn, after all!"

Reader Comments (6)

Beautiful. Tears came to my eyes. What a wonderful reminder of what is truly important... and that we can cease our striving to make every family moment "perfect" and just enjoy the daily routine of being together.

July 26, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterkirsten

I love this. You are spot on about the value of ritual. For some, it can be deadening (as can those three-chord songs sung in "worship centers" on Sundays), but for the rest, it gets grace a little deeper into our bones.

July 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJudith Hougen

Thank you for writing this. That quote by Chesterton took my breath away. I can hardly find space to believe that monotony is beautiful, but I will start trying. I live in W. Africa, and the majority of my life happens within a 10 mile radius of my home. There is almost nothing to distinguish one day from the next. Yet I have two two-year-olds who seem to thrive here, just like Chesterton said. Oh, to be more like them. This is so helpful. Thank you.

July 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterCara

Such inspiring words and such a great reminder of what is true.

July 27, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterDesignsbyStephie

So much truth and beauty here. Thank you.

I suspect the observance of communion is actually more meaningful when taken weekly rather than monthly or quarterly. How could meeting Jesus at the table, simultaneously singly and in community, get old? It's as steady and renewing as hand-holding.

August 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterLaura

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