We’ve just celebrated Groundhog Day- the annual event in which a Pennsylvania rodent (or marmot, to be more polite) tells us whether we can look forward to warmer temperatures and an early spring, or if we need to hunker down for another six weeks of snow, ice and winter weather. (I believe that this year’s verdict was for snow and ice). And, as that day rolls around each year (which also happens to be an important Feast Day in the Christian Calendar- the Feast of the Presentation) some of us are reminded of the popular film from the early ‘90s with the same name: Groundhog Day. In the movie, actor Bill Murray plays a cynical tv weatherman who becomes trapped in a time loop as he is forced to relive, over and over, the events of the same day, repeatedly. This cycle of repeated events seems to be some sort of cosmic punishment for Murray, or perhaps, a trial by which he is to finally learn a lesson – the lesson of love. It is when Murray finally learns his lesson that the cycle is broken and he is released from the damning monotony and confinement of his time loop. Though pegged as a comedy, the movie has some dark moments and some deep lessons about individual will, altruism, and personal transformation. But it’s the lighter motif of repetition that the movie has become associated with that moves me to write today: the motif of repetition… routine…soul rhythms.
While Murray was trapped unhappily in his loop, some of us seek routine and familiar rhythms and use them intentionally to ground our days. Henry David Thoreau, famous for his two-year stunt of living in a hermitage at Walden Pond and allowing the rhythm of nature to work on him, wrote:
“Routine is a ground to stand on, a wall to retreat to; we cannot draw on our boots without bracing ourselves against it.”
And English poet William Blake (1757-1827) commended a broader routine for his success: “Think in the morning. Act in the noon. Eat in the Evening. Sleep in the Night.”
I am a person drawn to routine. I find comfort in it. And, while the past 11 months of the pandemic may have felt as though we’ve have been stuck in our own personal Groundhog Day movie, the daily rhythms of my life that have persisted through the pandemic have kept me grounded. At first, many of the major blocks of my daily life were interrupted by Covid-19: no more travel, no Sunday visitations, no regular face-to-face interactions with staff or parishioners- but the smaller movements of my day held fast and have been my rock- or, in Thoreau’s imagery, “my ground, my wall.” And so-
An early waking time for me each morning. Prayer, first. The lighting of a candle on the table. Settling into the soft leather chair. A morning dialogue with my three siblings via chat. Suiting up (these days in layers of coats, scarves, mittens and wool hats) and heading outside to breathe in the fresh air and drink in the glory of the sunrise. These are the micro-movements, the routine, the soul rhythms with which I begin my days. And they nourish me.
What rhythms of daily life feed your soul?
There is an argument that routine can lead to stagnation, dullness, despair. Leadership guru John Maxwell claims, ““You’ll never change your life until you change something you do daily. The secret of your success is found in your daily routine.” And so, both establishing a routine but also changing it, and working to temper it from time to time can result in continuing growth and transformation.
This is all to say that routine is something that we create for ourselves, for good: for grounding, for growth, for becoming our best selves.
But those of us with a Christian vantage might remember that it is God, working in us, who can do “more than we can ask or imagine.” (Ephesians 3:20). It is our routine that settles our hearts in order that we might be more open to the Spirit, more ready to listen, more able to hear. In our Anglican tradition, the gift of the Daily Office (Morning, Noonday and Evening Prayer) can provide the structure, the routine that assists us to hear God’s voice in the words of Holy Scripture. In the broader tradition of Centering or Contemplative Prayer, we are drawn into silence, in which the richness of quiet can reveal God’s will for us, and for those of us drawn to the out-of-doors, the solitude that we find on the trail and in the forest can bring revelation and divine insight.
Pull back the covers. Pad downstairs. Feed the cat. Say my prayers. Connect with my siblings. Venture outside.
It is my simple routine that opens my heart to what will be that day, and that draws me into all of the possibilities that God puts before me.
O God of peace, who has taught us that in returning and rest we shall be saved, in quietness and confidence shall be our strength: By the might of your Holy Spirit lift us, we pray, to your presence, where we may be still and know that you are God; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. (BCP 832)