There’s an easiness that’s developed with this practice of God-spotting which is a little surprising to me, even after recording 544 incidents of finding God in my midst.
In the home stretch, now, I’ve become accustomed to the feel of the little notebook in the palm of my hand, its cardboard cover a little frayed, bent and worn from the constant in-and- out of my pocket; I’ve established a pattern of recording the times in the notebook early in the day and I’ve refined the entries to a uniform shape of: Time, My Activity, “G in…_____.” It’s become easier, more fluid, and more natural, like any new habit as it becomes ingrained.
The danger- and goal- of acquiring a new habit is, of course, that one begins to lose that wonderful “beginner mind” and operate, instead, on auto-pilot. It’s not a struggle to get out of bed to go to the gym anymore, we just robotically respond to the alarm, trudge to the bathroom, change into our gym clothes, get into the car and, a few minutes later, we are on the treadmill. Without thinking, almost. Or we finish dinner, throw the dishes in the dishwasher and reach for the dog’s leash hanging near the back door as we slip into our shoes. The dog, of course, is as trained as we are; Fido’s own habit of the after-dinner-walk is so ingrained that he is waiting for us at the back door before we have even put the dishes in the sink.
We can’t stay in the new, exciting, invigorating place of beginner mind with a new habit forever. It would wear us down. Habits are habits because we become accustomed to a certain rhythm of behavior that (for good or ill) suits our body-mind-spirit and we can let them become a little less prominent in the forefront of our attention, so that we can focus on other things but still derive the “benefit” of the habit. (Yes, some habits like smoking or overeating do not have healthy benefits, but the bodies of those who smoke or overeat receive these activities as filling a need – nicotine dependency, emotional comfort- even though the “benefit” is not, in the long run, good for us.) In one study, it was shown that overstimulation (of mice) led to increased activity and risk taking, diminished short term memory, and decreased cognitive function. By subjecting mice to an assault of stimulation without an opportunity for them to normalize the activity (form a habit) they exhibited a decline in optimal functioning. (Scientific Reports volume 2, Article number: 546, 2012,D. A. Christakis, J. S. B. Ramirez& J. M. Ramirez) And so, there are some benefits to forming (healthy) habits: we acquire new behaviors that become automatic, allowing us to derive the benefit of said activity without the detriments of overstimulation that wear us down.
I guess that this God-spotting activity has become a habit.
Lenten practices or Lenten disciplines are, in my manner of thinking, not supposed to become automatic. The purpose of a Lenten discipline is to take on a new behavior that will promote our self-examination in this liturgical season that asks us to take a good, long look at ourselves. We’re not encouraged to take on a behavior that becomes normalized so that we can go on auto-pilot, but to consciously discipline ourselves so as to stay aware, to keep watch, to look inward and see who we are. The irony of acquiring my new habit of “seeing” is that, perhaps I have become habituated and less aware of my own activity and, even more ironically, the thing that I’ve been striving to “see” isn’t me at all, but God. Oh, delicious ironies.
Only a fool flaunts his folly. (Proverbs 13:16b)
So. Now what?
I think that in Holy Week- the last week of this new practice- I should change things up a bit. Break the habit. Or expand upon it, restoring a sense of novelty somehow and, maybe, focus a little more on me (in the spirit of self-examination, not the self-indulgence that my mother referred to as “navel gazing.”) Truth telling: Part of my ongoing conflict in life is learning how to integrate my personal narrative of “survivor-independence-strength” (thanks, Mom) with the deep dependence and reliance on God that is encouraged/expected in the practice of our faith. Personal narratives, borne of experience, are deeply ingrained, (like habits) and they are us. Perhaps the central, most difficult challenge of my life has been finding the comfortable intersection of my self-reliance with my faith in God. In simpler terms, our friends in 12 step programs call this “(consciously and willingly) turning our lives over to God.” Oh, sure, I’ve done that on many, many levels… and… every so often, I find myself still keeping Jesus at arm’s length, not always running to the door to open it when he knocks, or failing to ask for help when I need it.
So maybe, the best practice to adopt for this coming week, this last week of Lenten discipline, is to refresh my practice by adding to it, with a focus on letting God in, not just noticing.
Time. Activity. G in _________. How does this change me?_______
I’ll give that a go. In the most profound, confusing, touching, and poignant week of the year for Christians- Holy Week.
My results will not be posted in this Lenten blog series until after Easter. As I come towards Holy Week, my travels will be great -three different churches, three different sermons, a Holy Hike up north and three nights in hotels … (there are a few trinities in there!)
When the stone has been rolled away from the tomb, we will regather in these pages.
My prayers and blessings for a most holy week ahead and a joyful Easter.
*I’m fixing the math on this entry to catch up with the number of God-Spotting incidents recorded. Having written some of these entries before the full week had elapsed, the titles of each post have reflected the work done at the time, but have not been cumulatively accurate for the purposes of the 640 experiment. So, I’m catching up in the numerical title of this post to reflect the 544 scribbles, to date, in my notebook. At the project’s end, I will have 640 entries for a total of 640 hours that I have conscripted to record (between 5 AM and 8 PM) my God-spotting on each of Lent’s 40 days…