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Imprinting the Day (February 15, 2019)

Many of us, even faithful believers, feel like we don’t have enough time for God or for “spiritual things”. We’re busy enough trying to get going in the morning, preparing meals throughout the day, taking care of all the mundane chores and tasks that are part of living.

I’ve been reading a wonderful little book called “Liturgy of the Ordinary” by Tish Warren Harrison, in which she explores where God is present in all of these tasks and chores. In 11 chapters, she highlights practices to guide us as we seek to discern God’s presence in our lives. She takes us through a typical day—waking up; brushing our teeth; eating breakfast, lunch and dinner; arguments with your spouse or children; checking email; sitting in traffic; calling friends; having tea or coffee; and then going to sleep at the end of the day. She helps us discern God’s presence in all of these very ordinary events and moments.

She suggests that we think about approaching these tasks from the posture of faith. As we learn to see God in every ordinary act, we can deepen once again our desire to love God and our neighbour.

For example, waking up well becomes a reminder that “how I spend this ordinary day in Christ is an indicator of how I will spend my Christian life.” Warming up leftovers is a call to “eat such things are as set before me, to receive the nourishment available in this day as a gift, whether it looks like extravagant abundance, painful suffering, or simply a boring bowl of leftovers”.

The book is filled with wonderful little gems like this, all of which help us live with a greater grace and a more fulfilling faithfulness. How can we live so that we can see God more clearly? Where can we see God as we learn to respond well to losing our keys? Or reconciling after another argument with our spouse or children? Or idling in crowded traffic? Or (grumble, grumble) having to go out and shovel more snow?

One of Harrison’s insights which particularly grabbed my attention was her discussion of “imprinting the day”.

Imprinting is a concept in biology and psychology in which “a very young animal fixes its attention on the first object which it sees or hears or touches, and thereafter follows that object. In nature the object is almost invariably a parent…” (Encyclopedia Brittanica). People who rescue animals have found that if they rescue a baby animal in the wild, that baby will accept the human as its mother. It is said to be “imprinted”. It can no longer live in the wild on its own, because it has come to accept that humans will give it what it needs to live.

Harrison applies this concept to our morning rituals. She writes, “shortly after waking, I used to grab my smartphone. Like digital caffeine, it would prod my foggy brain into coherence and activity. Before getting out of bed, I’d check my email, scroll through the news, glance at Facebook or Twitter … My morning smartphone ritual was brief, no more than five or ten minutes. But I was imprinted. My day was imprinted by technology. And like a mountain lion cub attached to her humans, I’d look for all good things to come from glowing screens.”

Well that got my attention, but only because it sounded so familiar.

So I decided to try an experiment. I would start my mornings differently.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the Examen, a spiritual practice which is used at the end of the day to review the day and give thanks for what happened. I adapted that practice for the beginning of the day.

Here’s how I begin my day now. After waking, I lie in bed and think through what the new day will bring. I imagine the people I will meet, the tasks I need to complete, and the ordinary moments of the coming day. I discern the good moments, as well as the moments of struggle. I try to open myself to every new experience which that day will bring.

I’ve been doing this now since the beginning of Advent. I guess you could call it a “new year’s resolution”, since Advent marks the beginning of a new year in the life of the church.

I wish I could tell you that my new routine has been wildly successful or cheerfully buoyant. I still am not a morning person, and I still am a little grouchy in the morning. But I have begun to notice that, very subtly, my days are being imprinted differently.

I no longer begin the day as a consumer. I no longer have to get my morning fix of instant infotainment. I am discovering that the rest of my day is less pressured, less stressful, less distracted. It’s as if, in re–imprinting my day with this act of worship and quiet, I am telling my brain what to care about and what to think about throughout the day — and it’s not the latest tragedy; it’s not Donald Trump, or the latest scandal for Justin; it’s not the latest juicy tidbit.

I’ve come to realize once again that social media doesn’t care about my soul. I have to care for my soul. Imprinting the day in this new way helps me do that, to guard my soul and know in a new way that God is indeed with me.

Rev. Yme Woensdregt