Routine Holiness

On 30 April 1993, four years after Sir Tim Berners-Lee had developed a technology to help physicists around the world share information, the European space agency CERN, where he worked, made the software public domain. Thus, what we think of as the world wide web (and less accurately, the internet) became part of geeky consciousness. It took time to become popular, but the speed at which it has developed since is astonishing — and that for many is the problem. We live in a world where change has become routine, and the speed of change seems ever increasing. Thanks to the web and the new communication technologies to which it has given rise, we are more than ever aware of these developments; but we still have the same intellectual and emotional power to process them all.

After a certain age, human beings are not very good at speed — or change, for that matter. Although we may deny the fact, we tend to be creatures of routine. From what we eat for breakfast to where we sit in church (if we go to church, of course), there is a certain predictability about us. Routine requires less effort and makes for a calmer kind of life. Those who mock it are usually much younger, not yet ready to assume the greyness of their elders; but for those of us who look at our thickening waistlines with barely a twinge of regret, there is a certain comfort in routine. It is what our life is.

I was thinking about these things, and the fact that today is May Day, the feast of St Joseph the Worker, and wondering how much routine there must have been in the hidden life of Jesus in Nazareth. The regular round of work and prayer, the routines of family and village life, formed Jesus as a person, made him the man we meet in the Gospels, richly human, gloriously holy. For most of us, work and family life dictates the shape of our day, and the holiness we strive after is attained (or not) through the fidelity and generosity with which we accomplish the everyday tasks laid upon us. The element of routine is not to be despised. Just like the www.protocol, it can open us to things we never dreamed of, things into which even angels long to look. And if you are asking yourself how change itself can become routine, remember Newman’s wise observation, that the Church must be constantly changing in order to remain the same:

In a higher world it is otherwise, but here below to live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.

(Development of Christian Doctrine)