Saturday, 19 September 2009

Kathleen Norris on Repetition and Perfunctory Behaviour in Marriage and Church-going

More from her Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and A Writer’s Life (Riverhead Books, 2008):
And what of the “dead times” in a marriage, when the romance has faded, and “happily ever after” seems a cruel sham? The rock musician Lou Reed once said that repetition was “fantastic,” because it was “anti-glop.” His is an aesthetic concern for shunning the mushy and mawkish by employing repetitive sound, yet the insight might apply to marriage as well. For repetition resists the glop of sentiment, and also tests the spirit. It is easy to fall in love over a meal in a restaurant, where someone else does the cooking and the cleaning up; it is hard to tolerate, much less love, the person who shares our kitchen, bath and bed. How does repetition turn relationships stale and lifeless, so that a once beloved face becomes an object of scorn? What is it about repetitive acts that makes us feel that we are wasting our time? Although it is easy to dismiss our daily routines as trivial, these are not trivial questions, any more than sloth is mere laziness without spiritual consequence. p186

…a recent study that monitored the daily habits of couples in order to determine what produced good and stable marriages revealed that only one activity made a consistent difference, and that was the embracing of one’s spouse at the beginning and end of each day. Most surprising to Paul Bosch, who wrote an article about the study, was that “it didn't seem to matter whether or not in that moment the partners were fully engaged or even sincere! Just a perfunctory peck on the cheek was enough to make a difference in the quality of the relationship.” Bosch comments wisely, that this “should not surprise churchgoers. Whatever you do repeatedly has the power to shape you, has the power to make you over into a different person—even if you’re not totally ‘engaged’ in every minute.”

So there. So much for control, or even consciousness. Let’s hear it for insincere, hurried kisses, and prayers made with a yawn. I may be dwelling on the fact that my feet hurt, or nursing some petty slight. As for the words that I am dutifully saying — “Love you” or “Dear God”—I might as well be speaking in tongues, and maybe I am. And maybe that does not matter, for it is all working toward the good, despite myself and my most cherished intentions. Every day and every night, whether I “get it” or not, these “meaningless” words and actions signify more than I know. pp187-188