Seven years ago, my mom, daughter and I went to France. It had been on mom and my list of places we wanted to visit, and mom suggested that my daughter should come with us.
Overall it was a great trip—especially considering we had a 13-year-old, a 43-year-old, and 70-year-old travelling together. We were there in September so Paris was not as crowded as it might have been.
There were many highlights (and a few lowlights) to our travels together. One of the great things was that mom had arranged for us to stay with an American friend of hers who was living in Paris. Thanks to her generosity we were only a bus-ride away from central Paris. Each day, we would get up and see the sights while the friend was off at work. We had to stick together because mom had the key to the apartment, I had the cell phone, and my daughter could speak French.
September in Paris is a lot like September in the Pacific Northwest. It can be rainy and cold or bright and sunny; but there is always an undercurrent of cool air, even on the warm days, just to remind one that winter is not far off. We had packed accordingly, but once Mom’s friend saw our gear, she suggested that we get scarves to keep ourselves warmer. Apparently, the French wear scarves a lot more than we do (or at least my family). We wear scarves in the winter when it’s really cold, but it hadn’t really occurred to us that they could be worn year-round and that they would make such a difference.
It was a revelation. If I was chilly, I could wrap my scarf around my neck and suddenly I would feel much warmer and more comfortable. If the wind was blowing, I could wrap the scarf over my head and ears.
By the time we left France, all three of us had acquired the scarf habit.
Since that time, I have acquired more scarves.
It is a tiny thing, but it has made my life more comfortable. Just today, I was feeling chilly, so I wrapped up in a small silk scarf a friend gave me for Christmas. It is a wisp of a thing, just perfect for a spring day where it’s not quite warm enough out unless I was working vigorously in the yard. Even so, it kept the chill off easily.
A regular spiritual practice can be like wearing a scarf. It doesn’t have to serve the same purpose throughout the year (or even throughout the day).
The habit of doing it regularly makes it easier to adapt to changing conditions. It also doesn’t have to be a big production. A ritual of prayer can be as simple as pausing for a moment to be fully present, or it can be a habit of giving thanks for the little joys of life. Like a scarf it can be warming and comforting, and can help take up the strain of daily life.
I know I have sometimes fallen into the idea that there is a right way to have a daily spiritual practice and evolved complex rituals and rules for myself. What I found, over time, was that those rituals and rules got in the way of daily contact with the divine. Now, instead of waiting until I have time to get out my prayer book and a candle (and whatever else I felt was necessary at the time to pray properly), I pause and pray in the moment. I give thanks for the flowers that are opening on my apple trees, or I share my worries and concerns with God.
In the past, I limited my use of scarves to very cold winters and didn’t see a use for them during the rest of the year. Then I learned how much better life could be if I embraced them year-round.
As with my scarf use, I learned it was comforting to connect with the divine every day. I didn’t need to wait until Sundays, or the and the big seasons in the church, or follow a complicated prayer ritual a home. I could wrap myself in God’s love and grace and be comforted.
Kristin Fontaine is an itinerant Episcopalian, crafter, hobbyist, and unstoppable organizer of everything. Advent is her favorite season, but she thinks about the meaning of life and her relationship to God year-round. It all spills out in the essays she writes. She and her husband own Dailey Data Group, a statistical consulting company.
© 2019 Kristin Fontaine