Cultivating Rituals of Stillness in a Booming, Banging, Buzzing Life.

Back in the 1980’s, David Elkin warned that, like the planet, our lives are heating up too much.  He noted that our children are too hurried to properly attend to an inner life.  The corrollary to this problem:  parents’ frenziedlives.  Already jam packed with professional demands that tilt the work-life balance, parents’ lives rotate like planets around the sun of their harried children’s activities.  And for most American parents, that list of activities knows no boundaries.  Allow me to present a five-hour slice of life from an old journal that still holds up as an accurateportrayal of the modern parent’s life.  In the words of Robert Kegan, most American parents are in over [their] heads.    

Dad’s Journal March 4, 2011:

Lizzie and JH (first and sixh grade respectively) off today (teacher’s inservice).  Lisa gone to a conference.  JH and Lizzie at day-long play-dates at friends’ houses.  Off work at five.  Traffic added half-an-hour to my commute.  Called, while on the road, to re-arrange pick-ups.  By the time I arrived to pick up Annalise (my high school freshman who did not have the day off), it was 6:00 PM.  Couldn’t find her anywhere.  Called her cell phone to discover she had gotten a ride to a friend’s house.  Would have been nice to get that heads up!   Out of time, I let her know that I would pick her up after John Harry’s basketball game, and asked if she could beg dinner from her friend’s mom.  Picked up John Harry on one side of town, took him to his game through a torrential downpour on the other side of town, going as fast as I could because I was late on account of the traffic that snagged me up earlier.  He changed in the car, and ate the car-dinner I had packed on ice that morning.  Got a call from Lizzie’s friend’s mom letting me know of some mischief that Lizzie, and her seven-year old friend had gotten into that required more emotional intelligence from me than I could scare up at themoment.  I promised to call back later and sort through it.  During the game, some adult misbehavior that resulted in child misbehavior had me biting my tongue, because, after all, we adults are supposed to set an example.  When the game was over, I packed a disappointed basketball player into the car (in the last several seconds of a close game, he gave up a game-losing turnover).  Rushed to another part of town and picked up Annalise.  At one point, I looked back over my shoulder, and noticed two children feverishly pecking the keys on their cellular communication devices.  At their age, these phones are supposed to be nothing more than the equivalents of walkie-talkies, allowing me to safely keep tabs on them.  To them, this technology represents a necessary connection to a common brain shared by scores of texting teenagers.  If I sever this connection, they warn me, dire consequences, up to and including, social death could occur.  I severed the connection and collected their phones.  A silence that was not golden accompanied us the rest of the way home.  Since our house was on the pathway to picking up Lizzie, I dropped off my despondent cargo.  With a sense of parental shame, I schlepped Lizzie into the house five hours after leaving work—way past a seven-year-old’s proper bedtime. After tucking Lizzie into bed, I called the play-date mom.  Took a brief history of the seven-year-old mischief.  Thanked her for narcing on my daughter.  Constructed a provisional plan of logical consequences.  Headed off to bed to get some sleep so that I could start the process over again the next day.  

No Country for Young Men and Women 

In my religious tradition (Catholicism), most of the classical spiritual literature was written by celibate men and women presumably for celibate men and women.  Since the 1960’s there is a greater awareness on the part of contemporary spiritual writers of a lay readership.  Based upon my own experience, the audience for such books, articles, and podcasts would be people who are single, or who have already raised their kids.  For example, spiritual masters like Cynthia Bourgeault, Thomas Keating, and Basil Pennington recommend two twenty minute periods a day of Centering Prayer, one in the morning, one in the evening.  Just where do they think a mom or a dad of school-aged children is going to dig up that kind of time? 

Spiritual Exercises for School-aged Families

This week, I would like to offer some useful spiritual hacks for moms and dads who are trying to develop intimacy with God in their families.   These ideas were forged in the kiln of my own busy family.  I offer them to you in the hope that you can rework these recipes to make them fit your own individualized experiences.  

The Morning Offering on the Way to School

This ritual started in pre-school and continues to this day whenever my kids, who are adults, happen to be in the car with Lisa and me.  

Opening Prayer 

“God, you have given this day to us.  

We want to give it back to you 

We know you are the source of all our joy.”

Starting from the youngest family member proceding to the next oldest, etc…., each family member addresses God in this manner:

“God, what I am looking forward to today is (anticipated happy event)”

“My challenge that I’ll need your help with is (anticipated challenge of the day)”

Closing Prayer 

(Paraphrased from Richard of Chichister’s 14thCentury Prayer)

“God, give us eyes to see you more clearly

A heart to love you more dearly,

And the will to follow you more nearly

Each and every day…

Until that day when we are re-united with one another,

And united with you forever.”  

This morning ritual provides hand holds and foot holds for dinner time conversation as in, “How did that thing you were looking forward to go?  Or how was that challenge you were worried about?”

Bedtime Prayer

(Hand on head)  “Bless John Harry’s mind that he might know you.”

(Hand on eyes) “Bless John Harry’s eyes that he might see you.”

(Touch Lips) “Bless John Harry’s lips that he might always speak his truth.”

(Touch Heart) “Bless John Harry’s heart that he can know your love.”

(Touch Arms and Hands) “Bless John Harry’s arms and hands that he may do your play and work.”

(Touch Legs and Feet) “Bless John Harry’s legs and feet that he might go where You would lead.”

End of Vacation Popcorn Prayer

At the end of each vacation, our family has circled up.  A parent leads prayer by saying, “God, thank you for such a great vacation, bring into our consciousness moments from this vacation to savor.”  Family members are invited to speak out memories from the vacation that were fun, or funny, or beautiful, or tasty, or adventerous, etc….  These mini-prayers come out in no particular order, like popcorn hitting the lid of the pan as they pop.  Conclude with the Lord’s Prayer, and hugs around.  

The Yearly Family Session

From the time that our oldest was three years old to the present day, we carve out two hours once-a-year.  The first twenty minutes of this ritual is dedicated to reflection and writing.  Because the rest of the time revolves around each person taking turns telling the family member “who is up” the new gifts we have seen in him or her over the past year, as well as asking their forgiveness for something that occurred, over the last year.  The session generally ends with something akin to a Sign of Peace.  

An especially meaningful episode of this ritual took place in the Boundary Waters between Minnesota and Canada.  To escape the mosquitoes, we paddled away from shore and tied canoes together on a sunset evening.  I’ll never forget when my deep hearted son expressed how much he would miss his big sister as she left for college the next week.  His sharing took all of us to a deeper place.


It seems to me that human beings naturally gravitate toward creating rituals around what is important.  By engaging in these daily and yearly rituals a kind of muscle grows over time to see the sacred right in the midst of booming banging buzzing unspeakable holiness of your family’s life.  

One Reply to “Cultivating Rituals of Stillness in a Booming, Banging, Buzzing Life.”

  1. Such a beautiful reflection and truly meaningful suggestions of ways families can take time to reflect and get in touch with what truly matters so much in our over-scheduled, way-too-busy lives. Thank you for some lovely, thoughtful ideas to deepen connection and faith in families!

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