In praise of routine

Published 3:29 pm Tuesday, December 17, 2019

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By Scott Baker

I love the holidays and the opportunity to catch up with friends and family. I love the festive feeling and the wonderful decorations that festoon yards and homes. What I don’t love is the disruption in my daily/weekly routine. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not a stickler for scheduling every hour of every day, but I do like to have structure.

Some years ago, when I was just starting in parochial ministry, I went on retreat to a monastery in England. During my week there, I had the opportunity to have some time with the Prior of the order. At the time, I was a newly ordained priest and working my hardest to do well in the parish I was serving. However, in my attempt to do a good job, I let slip one of the cornerstones of being a priest — daily prayer. The Prior and I talked about it for some time trying to pin down how I could cultivate a healthy prayer life. He asked me, “Whenever one of your parishioners calls to make an appointment, do you ever stand them up?” I replied, “Never, unless there is a dire emergency, I do my level best to honor that time.” He said, “When you return to America, I want you to make an appointment every day, but not with a parishioner, but with God.” When I returned to my parish, that is exactly what I did. I set aside time to “meet” with God every day. It was just what I need to re-establish a daily prayer routine. By re-imagining the time with God as an appointment to be kept, it helped me to honor it in a way I previously had not. What I realize in hindsight was, the Prior was helping me to live into something attributed to St. Benedict, namely forming “holy habits.”

Since that time, I have worked hard at trying to adhere to a daily routine of prayer and scripture reading. I have to admit, it’s not always exciting, it’s not always inspiring, but there are those days when it is both exciting and inspiring and deeply feeds my soul.

Some years ago, I read a book by Annie Dillard and ran across this quotation. “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days. It is a scaffolding on which a worker can stand and labor with both hands at sections of time. A schedule is a mock-up of reason and order — willed, faked and so brought into being; it is a peace and a haven set into the wreck of time, it is a life boat on which you find yourself, decades later, still living.”

As the New Year dawns and we turn our attentions to our resolutions, in addition to the obligatory diet, perhaps establishing a daily prayer routine will be just as edifying, if not more so. When we get to this time of the year in 2020, we very well may look back and realize that we have indeed established holy habits.

THE REV. SCOTT BAKER is the rector of Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Franklin. Contact him at 562-4542.