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My daughter, Eleanor, turned twenty months old today. The acceleration of her learning and language acquisition stuns me. My husband and I can barely keep up. Part of this includes her penchant for ritual and repetition.
As a bit of background, she’s had a fairly regular schedule for quite some time: wake up at 7am; read books; get dressed; eat breakfast; help Mommy do her hair and makeup; go to the library or pool with Daddy; eat lunch; take a nap; wake up; play with Mommy when she gets home; eat dinner; take a bath; read some more books; go to bed.
Kids need this kind of daily rhythm. Clear expectations, opportunities to play and learn, eating and sleeping at regular times: these are ingredients for establishing basic trust and security, as well as physical healthy and wellbeing.
Lately a dimension of repetitiveness has been added to Eleanor’s daily activities. Like reading My First Book of Girl Power (with accompanying sign language and verbal gestures) twenty times each day. And telling the story about Francie the dog and Dale the snake (whom she met on Thanksgiving Day) for the one-thousandth time this week. And I’m not exaggerating (at least not much).
The stories and activities that pique her interest—those which she seems to love—she wants to hear over and over. And her hearing is not passive; it is highly participatory. I wish you all could see her tell the one about the day that the grasshopper jumped on Mommy’s leg. It includes a screech.
Admittedly, at times, I find this a bit tiring and I simply go through the motions. But the vast majority of the time, I am simply amazed by her intellectual, emotional, and social expansion. Wonder, awe, and curiosity fill each day of my life with Eleanor.
Advent is filled with its own rituals and repetitions: calendars, candles, and wreaths; nativity plays and choral concerts; Christmas caroling and visiting those who are homebound; and specially designed prayer services culminating on Christmas Eve. Congregations and families repeat these rituals year-in and year-out. They become part of the fabric of our faith, indeed of our lives.
Sometimes we rush through Advent’s rituals, if we’re honest. We’re simply checking off items on our to-do lists and trying to keep up with the increased press of daily activities.
There’s an invitation to experience Advent in another way. To slow down. To make room in our hearts and minds for the unexpected. To listen. To watch. To hear God’s Spirit animate old stories for us anew. To participate in that which we love, or more precisely, in the life of the One whom we love.
Having a toddler who does so much of this so naturally and enthusiastically offers me great assistance. She grounds me in the present moment and helps me to see God’s gifts all around us.
Poetry also helps me. I leave you with a Mary Oliver poem with hopes that it might evoke in us a posture of waiting, stillness, openness, and wonder. Perhaps this state of mind might reinvigorate the rituals of Advent for us. Enabling us to slow down enough to relish the rituals so that, through them, the Spirit might fill us with joy and send us out to care for a world in desperate need of a Savior so powerful that he comes to us in the vulnerability of an infant.
On a summer morning
I sat down
on a hillside
to think about God –
a worthy pastime.
Near me, I saw
a single cricket;
it was moving the grains of the hillside
this way and that way.
How great was its energy,
how humble its effort.
Let us hope
it will always be like this,
each of us going on
in our inexplicable ways
building the universe.
from Why I Wake Early (2004)