Were everyone employed in points concordant to their natures, professions, and arts, commonwealths would rise out of themselves. — Sir. T. Browne
Routine is the high art of God. He created the world so that it would form in a cycle. The planets oscillate around the sun; the seasons blend into each other; Monday forever follows Sunday; men rise up from their infancy, repopulate the earth and return to the mother we call nature. But there lies a certain disdain in modern thought regarding routine. We see it as a hindrance to creativity, a call to redundancy, a mundane, monotonous and endless cycle that only reminds us of the inevitable death awaiting us. The truth of the matter is that routines are a beautiful gift from our Lord. It is in routine that productivity happens. Routines keep us from temptation, they allow us to properly use the time wisely as we are called. Routines, if used appropriately, will cause us to use our specific attributes for the highest glory of God in ways we cannot do outside of routine.
I pen this now for I lament the coming break that routinely occurs at this accustomed time as it destroys the glorious routine I once had just moments ago. This semester I have been more productive than any time before, and I attribute the reason primarily to routine. The key to a good routine, however, is to fill that routine with various breaks. The problem we often get into is the lack of scheduling breaks, and so we work our tails off without any end in sight, get distracted, stop working and eventually waste the day away. However, if we were to consciously schedule in breaks, the workday would be broken up itself.
For instance, I arrive at the office at approximately 6:30. I stick to a strict one hour lunch. My one our lunch is the most important part of my schedule. I will never deviate from it so long as I live. It is more important than any class I take and any class I will ever teach, for it is a class in itself. We Americans do not value the Lunch. We shove our food in our mouths so quickly in order to be more productive. We eat at our desks and toil while we work. But this is not how it should be. Lunch ought to be revered as sixty minutes out of an eight or nine hour time period that can be devoted to good conversation and fellowship. And this itself is a sort of production, one that is of higher value than any other production that takes place throughout the work day.
For the relationships are eternal in which we invest time and money, in which we confess our loves and dreams, in which we abdicate our concealed selves — the soul’s cloister. I may read every book written, but if I have not invested in people I am no better than a computer full of information.
This post is about routines, though. I cannot help but refer to one of my favorite writers on this topic.
Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. — Chesterton, Orthodoxy
About midway through this semester I had fully established a routine. Every morning I pulled into the parking lot at approximately 6:30 AM, got out of my car in the same fashion, and strolled to the office with the same joyful spring in my step that was fully prepared for whatever disaster may accompany the day. On my way in, I would take a good survey of nature, knowing full well I would not get to drink of her wine or eat her fruits until I released myself from my dudgeon later that day. I began noticing how the sun shines at a certain angle through the windows of a certain room in our campus library — how a greenish hue is created that looks absolutely beautiful. I noticed how as the sun began sleeping in, the windows were now lit up from the inside — how this too had its own beauty. I noticed how certain trees make one last gasp of life depicted in the vibrant colors they give off just before they die and how others solemnly accept their fate without a procession of colors. I noticed how as the days grew shorter, the nights grew longer, and the stars would stay out and allow God’s children to revel in their frosty purity for just a few more minutes each day. I noticed how after the trees gave up their ghosts, a morbid beauty shined through the lifeless branches onto the backdrop of a heavy, grey sky. I mused on how autumn reminds us of our death — how one tree can remind us of our mortality. I mused on how many souls missed out on this because of a lack of routine and a lack of awareness.
The routine helps me see this gradual change in the very little scenery I am able to take in each day. While it is difficult for us to recognize changes in our surroundings we see everyday, when we do notice the change, it has an odd affect on us. I may walk by a certain tree every morning, and find out that one morning it suddenly has no leaves. I have set mine eyes upon it every day, and every morning I noticed how the sun hit it in such a way and at such a time each that the leaves seemed to embrace the morning with a dance. But one morning they are all seemingly gone at once, and this simply calls to attention my utter lack of awareness — how I may have thought I was paying attention when I wasn’t. For the tree had been losing leaves each day, I just happened to notice this when the change was complete.
Routine can draw our attention to this. If we allow it, if we so use it correctly, routine can draw our attention to the gradual changes which take place in our world. We need, of course, apply this to people above all. People are constantly changing: gradually getting older, gradually obtaining knowledge and wisdom, gradually falling in and out of love, gradually becoming holier, gradually becoming more evil. Man does not stay put very often. We do not recognize in ourselves how much we have changed in the past hour until three weeks have passed us by, and the same can be said for our inability to recognize this in our relations surrounding us.
Routine gives us a false sense of control in which we can track the changes we see. My nephew may some day grow into that head of his; he will be able to read some day. I will miss the small moments that lead up to these conclusions; my sister will not. A routine helps us see how certain people act in certain situations, how they have changed in reactions to events. It is a false sense of control, for man ultimately controls very little in his world. It is when we attempt to control everything that we lose control. By giving up control of the big things to the creator of this world, I empower myself to focus my controlling powers on what little I have been given from my Father. And I can say a silent prayer that I have been given so little, for if I was given much more I would crush myself with that power. But though we are ultimately not in control of our routines, we are in control of taking notice. If we fail to do everything else, we can at least open our eyes.
I end on break. Bittersweet because I will be far less productive these four weeks. Bittersweet because everyday is different. I have more time to compose silly blogs and less time to control my thoughts into anything coherent. But the break has one big advantage. It allows the soul rest and reflection; It allows rest in which one can appreciate the changes production has wrought in him; It allows one to open his eyes and look inwardly and assess the big questions in reflection. Perhaps then this sad dialogue on my love of routine only shows my excitement in a break from studying. Studying is only good insomuch as it allows us to increase our love for humanity. If it does not do this, we have merely sinned and grown old. I trust that maybe Chesterton is on to something. Maybe my love for routine shows I’m far more youthful than my routine shows.