Some things just work in the doing of them. For example: take a really deep and full breath right now. Now take another one. Can you feel your body melt slightly, your heart slow, your head ooze out tensions into your neck? There is a reason practitioners of meditation, prayer, and exercise focus on breathing--it matters.
Keeping Time matters: This week is the beginning of the year, according to Christian tradition. We keep time according to a slightly different pattern from the lunar calendar. The year begins with anticipation of Christ's coming, and Christ's birth. We begin a new year recognizing God is the Lord of our years, and our weeks, and our days, and our hours. We begin the year relaxing into a sense of God's watchful care over all of our moments, keeping time with us.
Living life on God's clock brings real peace. It is relaxing to melt into the solidity of the Christian calendar, the life of weekly worship, the offices of daily prayer.
Prayer is healthy for those who practice it.
Ritual matters: In church last Sunday we had distributed a simple Advent calendar, and our goal as a family is to do the activity for each day. So last night our family blessed each room in our house, per calendar instructions.
We tried to invent a ritual that would make sense to the kids. So we lit a candle and carried it around to each room in the house (having dimmed the house lights in advance). One person said a prayer over each room, prayers to bless sleep, help stay clean, lots of thanksgiving for food and toys. By the third room, even our 22 month old had the liturgy figured out, and so whispered quietly, "God---thank you."
By the end, there was this sense of unity in our family, prayer calling us together in a common purpose. In each room, we made the sign of the cross. We did the cross together. And our oldest had invented a portion of the ritual I will never forget. In an operatic manner, he sang "Aaaaaaaaameeeeeeeen" the way families sing the Amen at the conclusion of the Doxology.
It was somber and hilarious in equal measure.
Keeping time as keeping calm: In a sense, keeping time and keeping rituals are keeping calm and lowering anxiety. The benefit is in the doing of them. Often when we are sad, anxious, depressed, we tend to avoid these habits. We stop exercising. We fail to call friends to talk on the phone. The way out of the hole, the healing that is available, is to step into the routines, and let the givenness of the ritual and prayers lead us to a new place.
This week we are mindful of Zechariah. In fact our mid-week worship will include meditation on his story at the beginning of Luke.
Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside (Luke 1:8-10).
With Zechariah, or at least with the whole assembly of the people praying outside, we give ourselves over to these practices, entrusted to us by God and the communities out of which we are risen, and we trust that in them, God will give us rest.
Do not be anxious. Light some candles. Do not fear. Breath. Find some others to breathe with. Celebrate Advent.