Feeding Time and Other Rituals

This morning I found myself half-awake, bumping into my daughter on the way to the kitchen. I was going to search for a small bowl to use for the stray cat Pixel’s breakfast. Pixel was pressing up against sliding glass door, meowing for breakfast. The night before, my son had washed all the dishes except the ones we were using for the cat. I could see why: they were quite small and seemed so relatively unimportant.

As I hand-washed a cat bowl I realized that, quite clearly, we haven’t yet figured out how to fit Pixel into our morning routine.

After so many years and so many mornings of living together, our family has our morning routines exactly timed. Each of us knows when to wake up, when to shower, when to get coffee or breakfast, weaving past each other with a head nod or a yawn, but never two people in the same spot at the same time. Now, with the addition of the cat, our careful routine has been disrupted.

Bumping into my daughter this morning reminded me how important our routines and rituals are to to the comfort and security in our home.  They provide a foundation I depend upon to connect our family together often in soundless communication, and to free my thoughts for work or meditation.

After everyone else had left the house, and the cat was settled I had a rare moment of free time so I decided to do a load of dishes. The movement back and forth from sink to washer and back as I placed each dish had its own rhythm, both comforting and freeing. It was meaningful repetitive work, fewer cat dishes meant a clean counter and less of that slight hint of canned-cat-food-smell I was beginning to detect. It was comforting work; bringing a rhythm to my thoughts.

Last Sunday we included Celtic-inspired liturgy into our service in honor of the after-wrship study that will start in 2 weeks on Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality by J. Philip Newell.  The liturgy had a distinct cadence, a texture to it; a theme and variation of repetition that cultivated in meaning. The repetitions were comforting, the variations evocative. The Call to Worship was particularly relevant for half-awake, bumbling mornings like today’s:
Celtic Cross

  • Early in the morning we seek your presence, O God,
    Not because you are ever absent from us
    but because often we are absent from you.
    Open our eyes to this moment.
    so that we may know You as the One who is always now.
  • (Adapted from Celtic Benediction by J. Philip Newell)

Scientists are begining to explore how the rhythm of shared rituals, of shared movements, impact our health and sense of wellness. On NPR Morning Edition there was an article on the health benefits of dance. To quote the article:

  • …when the volunteers were taught the same dance moves and heard the same songs as the others, their movements synchronized on the dance floor. Now, afterwards, these volunteers were able to withstand significantly more pain. Their threshold for pain increased…
  • As a social species, being part of a group has survival value. Evolution also may have adapted the brain to experience a sense of reward when we did things with and for other people. Dancing together, especially in the synchrony, can signal that you are actually simpatico with lots of other people.

Our morning ritual is an odd form of synchronized dance. Each of us is aware of the other, timing our movements so as to be both respectful and efficient.

I personally became aware of the importance of rituals; of cadence and texture, when I started knitting.  At its heart, knitting is the same two stitches combined in different patterns and repeated thousands of times. At first it was awkward; my fingers tangled in the yarn the way I bumped into my daughter that morning. Then later, as the act of knitting became so much a part of my hands, it became less about each individual stitch and more about the rhythm of the motions and the texture of the yarn slipping through my fingers.  I began to crave how soothing it was.   I then learned that I paid more attention in meetings if I was knitting, the repetative act kept me from spikes of adreneline or alternately day dreaming or drifting off – it made me aware of more than what was said, but also how it was said. I was less likely to jump to quick conclusions and more likely to listen more fully to the rhythms of the discussion.

Our family morning routine will change with time. We’ll learn that cat dishes have a certain priority for dish washing. Neither my daughter nor I will be in that exact spot tomorrow morning. Pixel will learn the point at our routine when she’ll get fed and will find comfort as she see the clues that the moment of her feeding will arrive.

We’ll eventually find a way to fit the cat into the family’s morning ritual – probably around the time she’ll be ready to go to a new home.