In Defense of Routine


Routine is under-rated and maligned. Almost always it’s regarded negatively, associated with boredom and ruts and thoughtless, plodding existence. Of course, routine can be all of these things, but if it is, it’s because we’ve allowed it to degrade into this.

But routine can also offer rewards: it is security and stability, something that tethers us comfortably to the known, to pieces of our life which define and complete us. After weeks or even just days of activity outside of our norms, even if that time was exhilarating and replete with satisfying new experiences, we yearn for the comfort of the usual and gratefully return to its order and predictability.

And, if we let it, routine can shine light on the extraordinary. By giving us a normative frame to live within, it can highlight those things, those experiences, those events outside the frame. The miraculous breaks in upon routine and shatters us and stops us with its lovely difference. Last night, unloading groceries from the back of the car, carrying armload after armload in trips to the house,

I looked up. It was enough to interrupt my shuffling steps. Stars poured down, then sucked back up into the limitless sky and exploded into infinity, depthless and eternal. My small life was a single star. The muddle and frustration clouding my thoughts became the clarity and cold severity of blue-black sky, punched through with sharp points of light. God, so infinitely far away, peered through the holes the stars made.

The miraculous, the sacred, can appear in the ordinary, can inhabit the usual. It is there, waiting for us to notice. God is all around. As Annie Dillard writes, “God does not demand that we give up our personal dignity, that we throw in our lot with random people, that we lose ourselves and turn from all that is not him. God needs nothing, asks nothing, and demands nothing, like the stars. It is a life with God which demands these things. Experience has taught the race that if knowledge of God is the end, then these habits of life are not the means but the condition in which the means operates. You do not have to do these things; not at all. God does not, I regret to report, give a hoot. You do not have to do these things–unless you want to know God. They work on you, not on him.You do not have to sit outside in the dark. If, however, you want to look at the stars, you will find that darkness is necessary. But the stars neither require nor demand it.”

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