I have never been so tired as I was when I stepped on that plane; neither have I been so happy for so many empty seats. I was dreaming of a two-hour nap before I even found my place. Of course, as is usually the case in situations like these, when one is intent on being anti-social and insistent on having earned the right to be so, I found myself not only with a companion, but with an animated, loquacious, first-time traveler.
The young woman beside me had been a child as she watched the events of September 11th unfold and had determined then never to travel by airplane; that is, until today, when events reared a need to break her own rule. She was terrified and excited and inquisitive all at once. She also noticed things I’m fairly certain I have never noticed in all my years of travel, commenting with elation, curiosity, or confusion on every single one of them. By the time we landed, I not only had a new friend, I was wide awake to the disheartening reality of all I fail to see around me.
It would seem that repetition has a way of lulling us to sleep; monotony a way of robbing us of sight, or else leaving us in the stupor of disinterest. Real life examples are readily available. How many news stories do we need to hear about violence or suffering, racial oppression or injustice, before we fail to hear them at all?
For that matter, how many stories about something small but positive do we really take in before we respond in boredom? How many times do we need to sit on an airplane or see the bird outside our window before the marvel of flight simply goes without notice? Like most adults, we learn to tolerate the repetitious by learning to operate on auto-pilot.
And yet, I am certain, even among the most skilled of auto-pilots, there was a time when we found ourselves, like every child, delighting in the monotonous, longing for another minute with grandpa, another page of the story, another trip down the slide. The incongruity is unmistakable.
How can our failure to see be blamed on monotony, unconscious living attributed to the repetitive, when at one point monotony and repetition were not only tolerated but invigorating? Blindness can easily be blamed on the world around us—and there is certainly reason to consider the daily effects of all that bombards our senses—but perhaps this is too easy an answer. Perhaps the scales on our eyes are multiplied not by the many repetitions in life, but by our failure to see life in the many repetitions around us.
Jesus spoke of the kingdom as belonging to the likes of little children, and many have speculated the child’s ability to see the world with wonder as one of the reasons for it. G.K. Chesterton saw the child’s ability to revel in the monotonous as another. The children’s cry for more, reasoned Chesterton, is a quality of the very God who created them.
“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. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical encore.”(1)
For the child on the slide or the toddler with a story, “Do it again!” is far from a cry of boredom or routine, but a cry for more of life itself. This is likewise the joy of the psalmist, the cry of the prophets, and the call of Christ: “Consider the lilies, how they grow…if God so clothes the grass of the field…how much more will he clothe you?” (Luke 12:27-28).
Jesus asks the world to consider the kingdom around us like little children, and thus, something more like God—finding a presence in faithful recurrences, grace in repetition, an appetite for an incredible world in the ordinary one around us. Here, even those within the most taxing of life’s repetitions—the daily care of an aging parent, the constant burden on the shoulders of those who fight against injustice, the labor of hope in a difficult place—can find solace.
“But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope,” said Jeremiah in the midst of deep lament. “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning…’ The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him’” (Lamentations 3:22-24, emphasis mine).
Morning by morning, the daily liturgy of new mercies comes with unapologetic repetition to all who will see it, the gift of a God who revels in the creation of yet another daisy, the encore of another sunset, the discovery of even one lost soul.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1995), 65-66.