I try to articulate to the friar the thought that has been forming in my brain each day on the Q train.
Praying is just the acceptance that I will wake up each day and do the same things. But each daily task—saying my prayers in the morning sunlight or gloom of rain, making breakfast, walking to the train at a fast clip, reading another book on Merton or the shape of God, looking up from my book as we cross the East River via train, telling a panhandler I don’t have any change or buying him breakfast, going to mass, late, at the homily! breathless and annoyed, but still there, cleaning my room and my face before bed—are marked with this incredible urgency.
Not the urgency of running late, but the urgency of meaning. Each small nugget of daily living matters so terribly. The ability we have to create our days, the sheer impossibility of our own power in the creative act—not just in obvious examples, such as writing this post or having sex—but in the actions less associated with creativity, are dazzling. Creation is being made each day, and it is of the small bits of cosmos we are adding to it.
None of these actions are getting me anywhere. Well, sort of, I suppose. I hope that at the age of eighty, I will still have most of my teeth, because I have brushed them diligently. For so long, the positive outcome: having teeth late into the day of the human life—is only seen as a preventative, almost negative motivation, even if it consists of a positive action. I.e., to commit to this daily action of teeth-brushing so that I do not get cavities. It’s a positive action undertaken for a negative result (no cavities) it’s hard to see that it leads to a positive identity, but, eventually, I suppose it does. Hygiene is like sculpture.
But each day—how does one begin to express the mystery of a day? I try to explain it to the brother, but I can only summon up the meaning I am trying to convey by pointing to the pink sunset hitting the apartment building I have never seen before.
What’s a day? A mystical little container of experiences. It is sometimes made up of Events, and those are easy to understand (sometimes). Events are the building blocks of narratives—and we read and write a lot of those! We understand how events accumulate to create a narrative with a beginning, a climax, and a resolution.
One line of our life runs through our day in this narrative—its the history into which we have been born without our asking, a submersion into its streams we cannot reverse or halt.
But another aspect of our day is eternal, continuous, it’s not Event but Routine. It’s all the small actions that we do that won’t further our career or achieve a certain outcome, but that makeup most of our day. Routine: “a short succession of busy nothings” Jane Austen called them. And yet these moments are filled with something greater than just nothing, they are suffused with presence, with substance and abundance.
In fact, each moment, each present, is rife with this peace and communion, this union with God that is present in the earthquake, in the tidal waves of events and climaxes, conversations, and loves that occur in our lives. But each moment is also present with silence, with the voice of a God who is quiet, who is an endless presence and communion.
And the actions of our daily routines are perhaps not so routine as imagined. They are maybe our steps in the perichoresis that is God. They are small vertical gateways to the eternal.