traditions

Sundays Are For Dancing

There has to be a day for dancing. Everyone needs a day for letting go and letting down, for getting up to get down. A few months ago I wrote about traditions, how they can be hard to form and to keep, how they interfere with convenience and normalcy, and how they’re absolutely essential. I mostly meant traditions around holidays, but I’ve been seeing the need for traditions around other things lately.

I need a tradition around sabbath, for one.

After I returned from my first trip to Israel (I’m sorry I can’t stop talking/writing about it), I had a renewed respect for the beauty and necessity of the sabbath. Our family very easily falls into the variable routines of errands, projects, and binge-watching Netflix throughout the weekend without taking the care to cultivate a sense of indispensability toward true and meaningful rest, the kind of rest that's so much more than time not beholden to the job that pays the bills. What I saw in Israel was that rest takes work. I saw the table set with care and precision, guests welcomed with hospitality and joy, and liturgy kept with faithfulness, and I recognized the considerable intentionality behind every nuance.

They were resting on purpose.

Karen and I began trying to reclaim our sabbath. We picked a day (Sundays seemed to work best for us) and developed some ideas. We would not work on any projects around the house or run any errands on Sundays, and at the end of the day our whole family would share a special kind of meal, keeping the kids up a little later and making the time count. None of these ideas became hard and fast rules, and that may be why we enjoyed our new routine for two glorious weeks before it dissolved away.

But God kept whispering, and my resolve has returned.

I was on a plane the other day, and there wasn’t a plug for any of my electronics, all of which were down to their last 5 percent. I was belted in for a few hours with no distractions except SkyMall. I had to sit still, something which Leonard Bernstein would tell me is not a bad idea now and then:

Stillness is our most intense mode of action. It is in our moments of deep quiet that is born every idea, emotion, and drive which we eventually honor with the name of action. We reach highest in meditation, and farthest in prayer. In stillness every human being is great.

In all that stillness I got to thinking about what I would want a perfect Sabbath to look like. Instead of starting with particulars I started with the feelings, the themes, the values that I hoped would characterize the day: Laughter. Fun. Peace. Holy space. Play. Listening. Noticing. Wondering. Decreased speed. Increased attention. These were a few of my words.

Then I started adding the things: Breakfasts of omelettes, coffee or tea, and a little something sweet. Reading. Adventures and explorations. Long bouts of daydreaming. Writing. Music and quiet. Lunch in the sunshine. Naps. Games. Prayer. Picking out produce. Meal-making. Wine. Dinner by candlelight. Campfires. Ignored bedtimes. And, of course, dance parties; our kids love dance parties. These things became a menu of sorts, a choose-your-own-rest of all those things I wish I’d done every time I click off the TV at the end of an evening. These are things that feed my soul and feed a sense of connectedness with the people who are my tribe.

With these themes and things in mind we’ve begun endeavoring to reinvigorate the sabbath around here. God knows we need it.

Memory Makers

"What was your favorite Christmas gift you ever received?"

How many times have I been asked this perennial ice-breaker of the season that feels both safe and on-point at the same time? I've never had a satisfactory answer, so I've always hated the question.

I remember a fair number of gifts I was given in my childhood, but once I subtract all the ones that I was given on days other than that one day, the remainder can be counted on my fingers (my preferred method of doing math anyway.) When the qualifier of "favorite" is added to the equation, the number falls to zero. I just can't remember that many gifts.

On the other hand, I have scores of Christmas moments that play in my memory in the soft tones of sepia.

The day we skipped school—on what should have been a snow day anyway—to pick out our Christmas tree. The snow was heavy and deep as my family and I traipsed through the fields, and it incited us to snowball fights followed by cocoa in the barn as they baled our white pine, the variety my dad has always loved best.

Sitting beside the fire in the family room feeding album after album to the record player in the corner, the music of choirs, and orchestras, and the Chipmunks filling our home with Christmas cheer.

Painstakingly weaving together ribbons of red and white peppermint-flavored cookie dough into the shapes of candy canes so that Santa and all the Benoits could enjoy the memories that float back only when beckoned by taste and smell.

Sitting in the pew on Christmas Eve singing songs… filled with words… about a story… that made my head spin.

And Christmas mornings with my family and aunts and uncles and cousins and friends-who-are-family in a circle that pressed against every wall of the room, a sea of humanity and joviality among waves of piled presents.

So there were presents. Lots of them. The gifts just aren't what I remember best. I remember moments: the feelings, the people, and most of all, the traditions. My mom and dad were great keepers of traditions. I know this now that I have children of my own because I've learned that keeping traditions does not happen by accident. Traditions are chosen and they are kept with diligence. Rarely are traditions easy or natural, and they are never found in the shortest distance between A and B. Now and then a tradition may be something we've stumbled into, but even then we must have the presence of mind to recognize what's begun and the determination to carry it forward.

Likewise, I believe that childhood itself is not something that happens by accident. Part of the job of being a parent, I think, is to cultivate and protect childhood, and one of our tools is tradition. We are Memory Makers, and we wield a magic wand of… well… magic. Because what else can we call what happens when we invoke a moment and a whole host of wonder, and laughter, and joy come galloping on, the cavalry of Christmas past? I want my children to remember so much more than presents. I want them to remember their Christmases and their whole childhoods as peace met with wonder and mystery because that's what I believe God meant for all of life to be.

A few weeks ago, Karen and I had the chance to make a new tradition with our family, though in one sense, we were reviving a tradition. Growing up, my family and I always went out to a farm in the country to cut down our own Christmas tree. As one of my favorite childhood memories, I'd always dreamed of continuing this tradition with my own kids, but since the experience lacked some of its Currier and Ives charm in the arid climate of southern California we'd set the idea aside.

But this year, on the snowy day after Thanksgiving, we traipsed out to a farm about forty-five minutes away and began a new tradition. What made the day even more special was that we were able to share it with the ones who had taught it to me, my mom and dad. I was reminded again that traditions require a little fortitude. There's no arguing the fact that hunting for a pine in the frigid cold and cutting it down yourself is not the most expedient method for finding a Christmas tree, but the horse-drawn wagon, the most perfect tree there ever was, and the sheer joy on the faces of my kids as they dashed through the snow assured me that the work was well worth it.