From the moment the kids stagger into the kitchen 15 minutes behind schedule already, we careen toward our 7:30 departure like a puppy skidding on hardwood floors.
There’s the constant prodding for the kids to fix their own breakfasts, the sudden discovery of homework assignments left undone, waffling plans as they study the school lunch menu, heated debates about clothing choices, permission slips thrust in our faces, as my wife and I battle to get ourselves ready for work.
To this oasis of calm we recently added a three-month-old miniature schnauzer whose morning exercise involves sneaking into bathrooms to unwind entire rolls of toilet paper.
If you’re a parent, you’ve probably seen this movie before.
Adding one more task to the to-do list.
I recently bought a book of short reflections by Fr. Thomas Keating, a contemplative prayer guru and monk in Colorado. It provides a brief page of readings and scripture for each day of the year, all focused on improving our prayer lives. My plan was to start each day by reading it. As you might imagine, morning’s not the best time.
But neither, really, is afternoon or evening. So my wife suggested we get the whole family on board. And for the past few weeks, that’s exactly what we’ve done: spend the last two or three minutes before we stumble out the door – usually to loud, baseless complaints from my son that he’s going to get a tardy slip – wrestling with the wisdom of Fr. Keating’s Daily Reader for Contemplative Living and the wads of toilet paper in the schnauzer’s mouth.
During one of our first mornings doing this, we discussed a well-known passage from John 15:5: “I am the vine; you are the branches…” Keating writes: “The chief thing that separates us from God is the thought that we are separated from Him … We fail to believe that we are always with God and that He is part of every reality. The present moment, every object we see, our inmost nature are all rooted in Him.”
To make this a little more understandable for the kids, we discussed how some of the vegetables in our backyard garden never grow while the rest can’t flourish without the vine. After about 90 seconds of discussion, my 10-year-old son summarized it this way: “He’s the vine. We’re the tomatoes.”
I like the tomato image better than a branch actually, and the vivid contrast it offers to our perpetually distracted lives. It calls to mind long summer evenings and the sleepy chirp of crickets and the promise of slowly, quietly growing from the smallest of blossoms into greater fullness than we ever thought possible.