Everyday Liturgy: Holy Habits
They say a mother wears an apron and a myriad of hats. I say she wears a collar too. A collar which can never be removed. A collar which cannot be observed by the material world: a clerical collar. For she is a priest in her home, before a congregation of children.
True, she snaps wet sheets onto the line, mashes heaping bowls of steaming potatoes, kneels to scrub the grime that rings the toilet; she cares for a home. And yes, little bodies wiggle up in her lap for tales of Peter Rabbit, press close to study the topography of Israel, follow her lead through the wildflowers to the woods; she cares for minds.
But she never fails to know the essence of who she is: “But you are… a royal priesthood…that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of the darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9-10). While a mother continually changes her hats throughout the hours of the day, her collar remains: she is a priest proclaiming Christ’s glories. She cares for souls.
The Cross rent the veil; the priest now lives openly in the Presence of the Holies of Holies, leading little ones to the altar to worship too. The banqueting table is spread; the priest invites these young persons to come and feast on Him Who is sustenance. There is no intermediary, there is no spoon feeding. She is a priest, serving not only God in this domestic, hallowed place but inviting her children to come and do likewise. As Martin Luther wrote, “all we Christians are priests… as priests we are worthy to appear before God to pray for others and to teach one another divine things.”
So a mother consciously chooses to live out her priesthood as a believer, so that her children might be taught ‘divine things.’ As the Old Testament priest’s days carefully stepped to the beat of His expressed laws, so the New Testament everyday priest thoughtfully orders her days to the divine rhythms of Father’s heart. While the Old Testament High Priest wore the apron-like ephod, the New Testament ministering mother wears apron and holy habits. Holy habits of communing with God, reading and memorizing His Word, prayer, fasting, service, worship. Holy habits of putting on the garment of Christ (Gal 3:27 NEB).
The domestic priest cannot forcibly dress her children in holy habits, for these are not outward mantles of routines and checklists, but the interior attire of the heart. One can only clothe one’s own soul. What is a mother to do? She can faithfully adorn herself with her own ardor for Christ, her own daily, holy habits stirring the desires of her children, all the while thoughtfully laying out threads for young souls to take up in their own life’s tapestry. She prays and fasts and sings hymns and serves and loves and meditates on Scripture before her children. Then she creates space, stillness and opportunity for her children to also enter in. She lives so that each child feeds not on her devotionals, prayers or worship, but from his or her own. She kneels beside her child and helps him gather his own spiritual food with his own hands, rather than simply eating from hers.
“Lazy people take food in their hand but don’t even lift it to their mouth” (Proverbs 26:15). I wonder: do (my) children sit in Christian homes (like ours) with cupped hands, waiting for someone to take food to their mouths, for a priest to spiritually spoon-feed them? (Do Christian parents attend Sunday morning services, then meander home with hands full of food…but spend the next seven days not even lifting food to their mouth?) Bibles on shelves, hymnals on table, prayer journals in baskets. Food is plentiful. Yet there must be purposeful effort to take it up in hand. The familial priest’s holy habits show how one daily lift’s food to mouth.
Yet it is not solely a mother’s life or holy habits that will make her a model for her children. For children to model a believing priest taking up food rather than emulating bewildered, malnourished peers, they need to be close----spiritually, emotionally, and physically close. A mothering priest’s words and routines are critical but insufficient. Unconditional love, support, connection are the necessary, compelling magnets that draw a child close. Close attachment stokes a desire within a young person to be like mama, to take up holy habits too. Modeling, in short, is a function of relationship and heart strings. The mothering priest focuses, above all, not on parenting skills or behaviors, but on relationship—first with God and then with her children. Without an intimate, emotionally-supportive relationship with mother, young people are less likely to take up the holy habits modeled in a home. Why purpose to be like someone from whom he or she is emotionally distant? Thus, in a mother’s daily service before God, relationships—horizontally and vertically—are the paramount priority. “Have time for a walk down through the woods this evening?” “ Can I give you a back rub while you tell me about your day?” “Let’s make popcorn and play a board game together tonight."
Relationship is the essence of our daily reality. Our relationship with God, nourished by holy habits, is the essence of our spiritual (and eternal) reality. Our relationship and connection with our children, nourished by attachment and time invested, is the essence of our mothering reality…and our modeling. Priesthood, mothering, holy habits: they orbit around relationship, the essence of all reality in the universe.
So a mother adorns herself with apron, priestly collar, and holy habits. And there, daily handing out bowls for the Feast, her apron strings ties love knots to young ones gathered around. (Bowls and feasts are nothing without love.) “So, daughter, let’s lay out on the hammock tonight and talk to God under all the stars He knows by name.” “Son, would you like to lead our worship tonight?" "Might you pray for us tonight, dear?” “Anyone have any ideas of what might we do to serve that family at the corner?”
Care to have the next generation of kingdom priests know how to feast themselves with both hands, from their own bowl, wearing their own holy habits? Put on your own collar, take up your own habits, eat from your own bowl.
And love them to His Love Feast.