I like to think of myself as an organic, spontaneous person; someone who thrives on the unpredictable. In my mind, I am a routine rebel, unbound by established patterns and repeated ways of doing things. As much as I wish this to be the truth of who I am, it’s not the whole truth. I’m a creature of pattern and I find real comfort and safety in routine and repetition. I get pretty uptight when I have to deal with huge amounts of change and unpredictability. But where my love for the spontaneous and unpredictable truly lies, is in the midst of my structure and routine – in the small, subtle things that are often barely noticeable.
At the early learning center where I work, routine is everything. There is a time to arrive, a time for journaling, for circle rug, sharing, outside play, snack, centers, and, of course, a time to go home. Because we are grounded in a routine, in a pattern, there is a huge amount of safety built in, which allows us – children and teachers alike – to embrace and enjoy the spontaneous and unpredictable.
Since we are an Episcopal school, once a week we all go to chapel. Chapel is my favorite time of the week and something I really look forward to. We all file into a really old, beautiful part of the church that wraps us in the warm wood of answered prayers and deep abiding love. Memories often swirl through my awareness of sitting in that same chapel with my own children when they were in school there many years ago.
We all sit down on the pews and we have a set routine: opening song, simple liturgy, two centering songs, story, prayer, two more songs. Now, helping 14 four-year olds to sit prayerfully and contemplatively amidst a whole room full of other young children is not an easy task. It’s so tempting to put on the policeman hat and try to keep the kids in line, as it were. But, what I’ve discovered is that, instead of policing, if I authentically, wholeheartedly get into it the chapel experience myself, it radiates outward and the kids feel it. Often, the children start looking at me and become quiet because I look a bit different than I do in the classroom. When I pray, kneeling down on the kneelers with the children, I sit back on my heels so I’m the same height as the children hold my palms upward in a position of openness to surrender and infinite possibilities, close my eyes, and get into it 100%. I do it for real.
This week in chapel, in the midst of the normal routine and pattern, something beautifully spontaneous happened. It was small, probably not even noticeable to anyone else in the room, except for me and a boy in my class, sitting to my left.
As we were kneeling on the kneelers in the prayer portion of the service, I was struck by the fact that he was actually responding, “Lord, hear our prayer” with clarity and feeling, instead of the typical comic or quiet voices children often use. I’m there next to him, kneeling on his level, palms up, eyes closed…and suddenly I feel a tiny little palm resting right in the middle of my left palm – the hand associated with receptivity. Not a “Hey, Mrs. Garrett, what are you doing?” kind of touch, but a deep, warm, connecting touch.
Then, I felt it again during the Lord’s Prayer: his right palm (the hand of giving) on my left palm (the hand of receiving). Then, eyes still closed, still in the vibe, I put my right hand on his, and he put his other hand atop mine. Wow, it was amazing. After a moment or two, he took his hand off and we disassembled our hands…eyes still closed. It was a deep, meaningful connection between two equal children of God, despite the fact that one of us is 4 and the other one is 48. No words. Just a brief thing. But, such incredible, beautiful, unpredictable spontaneity arising from a deep sense of authenticity in both of us. I don’t think anyone else in the whole room noticed. I love that.
I find the more I let myself really lean into and appreciate spontaneous happenings like these, within the safe microcosm of structure, the more I’m able to flow in the swirling macrocosm of chaos and not become so overwhelmed. It was a huge moment for me. From now on, every time I turn my palms up in a position of surrender, I will remember the huge gift he gave to me, wrapped in the subtle package of a tiny hand gently placed on mine.