The past two weeks I’ve been constantly on the move (or so it’s seemed). First, to the centre of England and a quiet village and a quaint cottage filled to the rafters with family; then a few glorious days in Paris; then Wales; now, the long road home.
One of the things that I’ve noticed is the fragility of routine.
I’ve never been much of one for routine, anyway. If a book or pamphlet or person begins a program by recommending, “It’s best if you try to do this at the same time each day …” (as many books on prayer seem to do), then I am tempted to throw up my hands right away. My days do not seem always to have the same times in them, at least not in the same order! In recent years, though, the practice of the Daily Office has, at least mostly, helped to structured my unscheduable days, and I have come to rest on its routine to keep me tethered to a continuing strand of prayer.
In the cottage, it was possible, if I was the first one up, still to find my quiet corner and begin the day with morning prayer. At the end of the week, though, an investigation of the village church revealed that the one Sunday service would start after we had loaded up the car for our next round of rendezvous. I remembered a high Anglo-Catholic church near to my in-laws, where we would be for dinner Saturday, and on a hunch looked them up. Yes, they hold a weekly Sunday Vigil on Saturday evening! A brisk walk up hill and down dale found me in a congregation of seven, including the Curate, who performed her diaconal duties from her place in the congregation. A spare, reverent liturgy with sufficient ritual to mark its place in the ecclesiastic spectrum, with no added fuss or fervour, it was food for my soul and perhaps, by entering such a small space around the altar, I was able to add some variety to the life of the community gathered, too. Duty was satisfied, and much more besides.
It was in France that my carefully constructed house of cards crumbled. Sharing hotel rooms with the whole family, extra jet lag, late nights and mornings spent climbing towers to gaze over the beautiful city of Paris were none of them conducive to a quiet practice of morning and evening prayer. I downloaded my regular morning prayer podcast whenever I found free wi-fi, but never listened to it, and snatched gobbets of time here and there to consult my i-Pod lectionary app. My prayers were whispered in bed or on the Metro, and I wondered at the way in which my rule of life was being bent and stretched by such a simple thing as going on vacation.
A chance encounter in the middle of a tourist-trampled Notre Dame brought me to my senses. Thousands of miles from home, amongst the saints of the side chapels – Jeanne d’Arc, Denys and Denis – we found a couple of saints from home. We were astonished together, and pleased together, and after that brief encounter I found myself giving thanks for those other saints in my life, especially the ones who touch the lives of the people I love, and the litany of thanksgiving lasted through the next hour of waiting to climb the towers of the cathedral, and through the evening, and recurred like a refrain throughout the rest of our time away, and suddenly instead of chasing my prayer life, I was living in a prayer.
Tonight, I sleep in my own bed, and tomorrow, routine (such as it is) will be re-established. But I pray that it will continue to be enhanced by the gratitude, by the unpredictability and spontaneity that a chance encounter in a foreign land provoked.