Every morning is about the clock. My husband is always early. I am always late. My middle child never wants to get out of bed. My son never finishes his toast. The oldest always dawdles with the youngest. Neglected breakfasts grow stale on placemats until suddenly, it’s time to go.
Ideally, we would have time to eat, smile often, and even read a breakfast poem. We never get to it. We’re rarely sitting at the table together. We’re far from a state of collective calm necessary for a poem, a word, or even a regular prayer.
We are really good at keeping rituals of chaos, and completely incapable of keeping rituals of peace.
Outside this morning, with the moon still perched in the navy blue sky, I am rummaging for my keys. To no one in particular and half-heartedly, I ask if we should say a prayer. Right there in the yard, my husband nods and asks a bike carriage full of children, barely visible within their winter wear, if there is anything they would like to pray for. I still can’t find my keys. I push my gloved hand into my bag: no beans. I walk back into the house: searching. I overhear their replies. “A good day at school. For Oma and Opa. Thank you for my Frozen thermos.”
“Do you want my keys?” my husband calls out.
I’m horrible. Always Martha.
“No, I unlocked the door, right? They have to be somewhere.”
Why do you bother initiating prayer if you can’t pause to do it.
A few minutes later, their prayers still in my ear, I bike off. I am glad it is dark and that the street is still asleep. I have time, now, to be quiet. I think about the dichotomy of keys and prayer: the friction between the pressing, practical needs of the moment and my sincere desire for God to be the center of our family life, however chaotic.
“Every day I want to speak with you. And every day something more important
calls for my attention – the drugstore, the beauty products, the luggage”
Last Sunday, all the kids went to Sunday School. We were visiting at a different church, and for the first time in years while worshipping on a Sunday morning, all four kids were in another room, not with us. My husband and I sat next to each other, because we could. He even put his arm around me. We sang “Silent Night,” watched children light Advent candles, and heard a sermon.
Listening to the chaplain speak, I felt joy. The preceding holiday weeks, however chaotic, had also brought their own joy. I had rejoiced after buying a new coat, smaller and warmer than the one hanging in my home closet. I had rejoiced to receive an unexpected gift in the mail from a far-away friend. I rejoice every time my baby now toddles toward me, arms outstretched, calling “Mama.” All these moments, amidst the madness of our day-to-day surviving, have moved me on different levels. But sitting in church yesterday was different.
There, I felt a joy that was deeper: pressed down by an overwhelming peace.
This peace reverberated an unsolicited reassurance that we are not alone.
It vouched for a force of love bigger and stronger than my capacity to understand it.
This epiphany was always within reach, waiting to be claimed by me, and anyone, who would do just one thing: place God in the center.
What does it take to place God in the center?
More donations to the needy? More icons in the hallway? Advent calendars made of wrapped nativity figures instead of cheap chocolate? A page from the children’s Bible each evening, instead of from a library book? More people in our lives who inspire?
Where is God — what forms does he take — when we place him in our center?
I want to know. I am searching. I am the fourth of Eliot’s Magi, passing the summer palaces on the slopes, the terraces, the silken girls bringing sherbet. I am cursing and grumbling with the camel men at the night-fires going out, at the dirt, at the prices. I am sleeping in snatches, and I am searching.
I seek the center. I was there, at the church service, in kairos. The room was wide, the people quiet, the chaplain pacing and inspiring, but blurry: for all of this was just the periphery. Like my husband’s arm, which held me close.
Peace pressed down. It was deep.
© 2014 Anastasia Hacopian
excerpts from“Prayer” by Marie Howe, The Kingdom of Ordinary Time and “Journey of the Magi” by T.S. Eliot