What I didn’t understand is something God reminds us through prayers of his Church: Relationship is not possible without repetition.
“It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself,” wrote G.K. Chesterton in Orthodoxy, “it is probably dead.” In college, I would have subscribed to this supposition. And if that collegian saw my prayer routine today in seminary, which includes a Rosary and the Liturgy of the Hours, he would conclude that I was probably dead.
That conclusion isn’t so unusual. Modern society, Chesterton implies, has an insatiable hunger for the novel. “Am I repeating myself” is a common question driven by a shared fear of social sin; there’s no faster way to lose the respect of your audience than to repeat the same joke or story.
Many people, likewise, critique repetitive Catholic prayers such as the Rosary as boring and lifeless. What do these prayers do but, like a forgetful relative at Thanksgiving, repeat the same story? If Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, why do such interactions with Him seem lifeless?
After articulating this societal distaste for repetition, Chesterton offers a striking rebuttal:
“A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality … they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, ‘Do it again’; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, ‘Do it again’ to the sun; and every evening, ‘Do it again’ to the moon.”
In college, I wasn’t strong enough for the Rosary. I feared the boredom and death which might take the place of fresh experiences. What I didn’t understand is something God reminds us through prayers of his Church: Relationship is not possible without repetition.
A child who loves piggyback rides asks his grandpa to “do it again” because he rejoices in such constant attention and love. Their relationship deepens as their activity repeats. And as they settle down to bed, “am I repeating myself” becomes a senseless question to a grandchild who just wants to hear about the dwarves and princesses one more time.
In prayer, moreover, the relational object of our repetitions is the infinite God. He is inexhaustible; the reciter of ten thousand rosaries cannot exhaust the depths of the mysteries of Jesus’ life. He can only grow closer to the One with Whom he hopes, one day, to say, “‘Do it again,’ to the sun.”
This is part of the series called “The Human Being Fully Alive” found here.