In his Friday column last week, David Brooks points to “an invisible current of dread running through the world. It messes with your attention span.” And then he adds: “I don’t know about you, but I’m mentally exhausted by 5 p.m. every day, and I think part of the cause is the unconscious stress flowing through us.” Yes, this thing is messing with us.

Be patient, that’s one of the things I am trying to learn. Henri Nouwen says that “being patient is difficult. It is not just waiting until something happens over which we have no control: the arrival of the bus, the end of the rain, the return of a friend, the resolution of a conflict.” No, there’s a deeper patience that requires us to do something while we wait.

What can we be doing these days? Perhaps, Nouwen suggests, “patience asks us to live the moment to the fullest, to be completely present to the moment, to taste the here and now, to be where we are. . . . Be patient and trust that the treasure you are looking for is hidden in the ground on which you stand.”

I’ve been thinking about routines in this way. Usually we grouse about routines. We want to break out of them. But I have come to feel our routines these days could be a new source of treasure. We need rhythms, rituals, patterns, expectations. Could it be that the routines we are creating right now will become restorative, healing, enriching? Maybe lasting?

I was reading Donald Hall the other day, the New England poet I like so much, one of the poets I hosted on campus when I was a professor. In this particular poem, Hall tells the story of having a simple dinner with his wife Jane.

In June’s high light she stood at the sink

     With a glass of wine,

And listened for the bobolink,

And crushed garlic in late sunshine.

 

I watched her cooking, from my chair.

     She pressed her lips

Together, reached for kitchenware,

And tasted sauce from her fingertips

 

“It’s ready now. Come on,” she said.

     “You light the candle.”

We ate, and talked, and went to bed,

And slept. It was a miracle.

Really, just a simple dinner, a regular routine, could it possibly become a miracle? Sharon and I have come to regard our dinner time, cooped up as we are, as a highlight of our day. We love the planning, the preparing, the cooking. We sit down to eat. We give thanks. We eat more slowly, sometimes even in silence. Our dinners have become a sacrament.

What routines do you have these days? Might they become sacraments too? I am fully aware, by the way, so many of our friends are eating alone. We pray for them. I am aware too some parents have to corral all the energy of restless children at dinner time. But whatever the routines you have discovered, nurture them, turn them into little rituals, find the miracle that may reside there.

I am reminded of that ever-so-familiar Psalm 23, where, travelling through the valley of the shadow of death, God leads his children gently up to the green pastures, beside still waters. And then, amazingly, he sets a “table before me in the presence of my enemies.” A table, dinner time, a routine. I’d never quite seen it that way before.

We’re always hearing about enemies in the Psalms. But suddenly, here in this familiar Psalm, I realized we too are living in the presence of an enemy right now, a fierce adversary that kills by the thousands, separates us from loved ones, violently disrupts our lives, frightens us into anxiety. It wears us out.

But then, here it is, dinner’s ready. Here is the table spread out for us. Sit down and give thanks. Eat slowly, even in silence. It may become a miracle.