Ours is a culture ever seeking the new, ever anew seeking the new, each generation believing that they, for the first time, are seeking while the past are encumbered and encased in the traditions which were, to them, perhaps new, but now have been revealed to be but the same repetition of the old routines reenacted again, but not afresh.
Dull drudgery is certainly an evil if it is indeed dull and drudgery. But how often do we desire to cast off the old and cast our vision and efforts towards the horizon not because of any inherent or inherited dullness or drudgery but because our expectations have shaped our experiences? How often do we miss the newness of the old, only to find the new nothing but the same weariness of ages?
Consider those bright new horizons. Horizons are in one sense real. They are the terminus of our senses. We cannot see beyond them, so afar is the realm of our imaginations. But progression towards the horizon reveals a regression of the same. The horizon ceases to be the horizon the moment we approach. There is always a new horizon. And a new. And a new. And a new. An old, tired cycle.
Nor is our experience, jaded as it may become, new, though each generation of counter-culture trends believes it to be, each disaffected soul believing in his individuality to possess the only realization, the new realization, of this fact.
Yet Solomon (and not Solomon alone) foresaw and foreswore this. “There is nothing new under the sun. . .The sun rises, and it also sets, and it returns again to the place of its rising.” The pattern of the sun becomes the image of futility. “What has been is what will be.” Man strives after the wind. Days and seasons, youth and age, growth and change, all reveal but the changeless progression of nothing.
So all is drudgery, all is dullness. Or all is life. For Solomon may have lamented to cycles and seasons. The Father exults in them. He calls them as witness, He creates them as witness, to His unchanging purposes and unfailing love. He declares that as long as the seasons endure, Springtime and harvest, so long will his love and his faithfulness endure. G.K. Chesterton writes that perhaps “we have grown old, and our Father is younger than we,” that it is not the earth or the universe that has worn out, but us. Were we but to have the childlike endurance and exultation in monotony of our Father, all would be ever new.
All very philosophical. But what practical? I’ve thought about this both considering the exodus of youths from traditional churches and the new attraction and conversion to the same by many young evangelicals. Why do the first leave? They have the traditions, the liturgies, the inhabiting of space and time and the tempo of the church calendar. Why has it become dull? Because it is dull, or because they have ceased to see each church day as one which is not routine, but rehearsal? Rehearsal of what is past, rehearsal of the long years and generations now gone, but in the ceremony now present, and rehearsal of the future, of the coming King and the being-established kingdom. Each word, each gesture both old and new, meaningful not in the moment because of the moment but because in the moment they participate in a timelessness. And to the second, it is precisely this timelessness that has been so lacking in their experience. It is they who find each week, each day, each prayer, anew in recitation, in rehearsal, each day, each week, each moment.
And what of marriage? We hear, and perhaps we experience, marriage and family life becoming that dull drudgery, now just not our own experience, but yoked to another, plowing a field and reaping only weeds or worse, a barren expanse. It is not that romance is not needed, new infusions of passion. But why are those often absent? Because we forget. We forget so easily that each day, I rehearse my marriage vows, rehearsing back to what I proclaimed that day and what was proclaimed over me in injunction and benediction and rehearsing ahead to the great marriage supper of the Lamb. I miss that doing the laundry participates in the service of Christ to the church in ages past, in ages forward, in eternity.
And even our vows. Unlike many today, our vows were not our choice, although we chose to have a traditional service. Our vows, unlike many of my friends, were not those we wrote or those we chose from an internet site listing various ones. Ours were those in the Episcopal tradition, ones which, as I said them, resonated with men having said them for hundreds, and some form of them, for thousands of years, ones which partook and partake of the original ordination of man and woman in the garden. Power rested in knowing that the vows I took, I took in the company of men who had lived their truth, loving their wives in sickness and health and all circumstances, dying to self daily and perhaps dying mortally to protect and preserve their families. Power rested in knowing that, God willing, many more generations will proclaim the same, and I am bound to pass on that same witness.
The rhythms of life matter, both those we find ourselves bound to—eating and sleeping, rising and working—and those to which we bind ourselves—familial, church, school, national. These matter because we are creatures of rhythm, creatures who may strive to create new rhythms but find that all we can and must and may due is to live in, enliven and be enlivened by, our participation, individually as members of a humanity extensive throughout time and space, filling the Earth with the glory of God, as the waters cover the seas.