Tuesday, August 19, 2014

second nature

At my very last "girls' night" in Crawfordsville with the other young to youngish Orthodox wyves, which was conducted mostly on my floor amidst boxes of books and dishes, I suggested for conversation the topic of Habits. I had recently re-read Fr. Thomas Hopko's 55 Maxims for Christian Living, and noticed that the word "regularly" shows up a lot (in addition to words like "practice," "discipline," and "always,") and then noticed that even where it doesn't, of course it's implicit that all these imperatives ("Be," "Do," etc) are progressive and so the reader should understand that these things are to be done as a matter of habit.

With new beginnings in a new home on my mind, I was reminded then of a saying that Fr. JB of XtS in Chicago attributed to some Gregory or another during a homily when we visited last fall. I can't quote it exactly but the gist of it was that although every day is a good day to make a new beginning, there is no time more perfect than autumn to start a new good work in Christ. Something like that. So I suggested that we talk about habits generally, and specifically what we'd like to begin anew this fall. I was naughty and beset by many moving woes, so I didn't do the homework and think about the habits I wanted to start, and we just talked about the 55 Maxims, which was good. But now we're here in our new home, mostly settled in, and I'm ready to start laying some track.

It seems to me that human beings are mostly made of habits and that is why it is so exciting to think about starting new ones. It's like a makeover. You really can make yourself into the person that you want to be. Is it Aristotle who points out that when we know how to do something effortlessly through practice, we call that our "second nature?" I don't remember. I like that because it recognizes that we have two natures-- the raw material given to us at birth, and the form into which we can sculpt that material.

Enough babble. I'm a bear of very little brain right now so I'll just tell you the habits that I want to start this autumn.

1. Baby/Family routines: We've found that Scott Maximos is much happier when we do the same thing every day. This is how the day is shaping up for him:
  • Matt changes his diaper when he wakes up. Daddy is a little goofier than Mommy about this so it's a fun way to start the day.
  • Prayers, which Bubs actually seems to enjoy. He likes to look at the icons and listen to our voices.
  • Nursing while Daddy reads the Bible
  • The rest of the day is spent in little naps, nursings, accompanying me in the kitchen or sitting on somebody's lap while reading. We try to get in a big nap in the morning and one in the afternoon. The more he sleeps and nurses, the happier he seems to be.
  • A bath with Mommy after dinner, pajamas and a big long nurse while Daddy reads something out loud. I was having a bit of trouble following Tristram Shandy by ear since it is famously composed of about 95% parenthetical digressions. Matt picked up a Trollope novel yesterday at a bookstore so we'll try that. Bubs falls asleep and we sneak away. I nurse him throughout the night when he grumbles but he doesn't wake up much.
That's it.  It's amazing how much easier it is to take care of him and get other things done when we follow this routine.

2. Yoga: It's dumb, whatever, but I'm starting to feel like a senior citizen in my knees, and yoga is pretty gentle on the joints. I went to a yoga class every day for one semester in college and it was the first time I ever felt fit and strong and brimming with health that was over and above my youthful vim. It's the only workout I know how to do, so that's what I'm going to do, damn the torpedoes. We have a sweet little patio in a green jungly yard where the baby likes to sit and watch me wiggle clownishly. I can do a little every day and counteract some of the effects of gravity on my spine, which have been exacerbated by baby toting.

3. Learn some dang French: This is ridiculous. I am 26 years old. It's time. Two of my younger siblings are fluent or conversational in another language (in my defense, that is because they spent time in their target countries,) and it makes me extremely envious and, as you can see, defensive. I'm going to do a little Duolingo every day (I only stopped because of a computer problem at work last year,) and surely there is some website that hooks up language learners for conversation? If not I will Skype my Francophone bro, although I think we know each other so well that I'd probably understand what he was saying in any language. One other idea is to learn Deutsch along with Matt, but I do not need to add another smattering to my collection.

That's probably enough new habits. Somehow this short list doesn't express everything that I want to be. The grandpa we're living with noted that I am always doing something in the kitchen and asked me if I was an ambitious person. I said that I wasn't ambitious in the sense of moving forward or upward, but that I was dead set on maintaining peace and equilibrium in my life. There are a lot of little habits which cultivate serenity and balance, which are probably best summed up in those Maxims above, but which are invisible and interior.

Crying baby, bye!


  1. Spending a lot of time in the kitchen has the potential to contribute to the peace and equilibrium of everyone in the household. I would like to cultivate the habit of giving myself enough time to do my kitchen work at a pace less than frenetic, which also helps the right kind of prayer.
    I really appreciate your reminders about habits, and Fr. Hopko's maxims. God help us!

    1. When we were planning this move we knew that the kitchen was on a different floor than the rest of our living quarters, so I thought perhaps it would keep me out of the kitchen, but so far it hasn't. Sometimes I try to listen to podcasts in order to get more out of the time I spend there, but even when it's silent, I do some of my best thinking in there. You're right about the importance of the pace-- if I think ahead and prepare things a little bit at a time throughout the day, it's less of an overwhelming and gargantuan task at dinner time, which in turn makes the whole day a lot more peaceful and balanced for everyone in the house. And I think that spiritual work or thinking should proceed in the same way-- small bites, much chewing.