List-making as prayer

Lists are my life.  If it weren’t for them, I’d be in serious trouble.  Before our recent trip back east, I had several notebook pages filled with everything we could conceivably need to take along, including the essential items it’s all too easy to forget (Luke’s stuffed doggie and Matthew’s blankie, to name two crucial ones).   Every Friday finds me studying the pantry and freezer, chewing on the end of a pen, getting ready for the weekly pilgrimage to the grocery store.   I make to-do lists for my classroom and lists of items to buy for Christmas gifts.  I list and list and list some more, and thanks to all of these scribbled pieces of paper, I manage (more or less) to hold our family’s physical life together.

But lists can also do wonders for my spiritual life.

Last week, I happened to crack open the book Praying with Therese of Lisieux, which is a series of writings by and reflections on the life of this very popular saint.  I bought the book years ago, even before Matthew came along, and I’d forgotten how much depth it has.  For one thing, St. Therese is popular for a reason: her entire philosophy was that you don’t have to be doing huge, splashy things to lead a life of spiritual richness.  The little actions of daily life are a chance to practice holiness, if you do them with a spirit that recognizes that very fact.  It was good to re-read excerpts of her writings, and to think about how they can apply to my life as a mom.

The author of the book, Joseph F. Schmidt, includes lots of great reflection prompts as well, and one in particular really resonated with me.  He suggested writing a litany of thanks for all the ways that God shows himself to you through other people. (A litany is a prayer written in list form, with repeated responses —  an old tradition in Catholicism.)  This prompt was like spiritual catnip to me.  I could not wait to get cracking.

It was very easy to write, honestly.  Here’s an excerpt:

For Scott, who willingly helps me with the techie side of my blog, thank you.
For Dad, who always modeled patience, thank you.
For Mom, who cheerfully watches the boys, thank you.
For Matthew, who is the embodiment of earnestness, thank you.
For Luke, who gives me sweet sweet hugs, thank you.
For Grandma, who gives and gives, thank you.

I went on and on, and it felt good.  The exercise was simple, it was meaningful, and it really did get me thinking about all the different ways that I see God’s presence in my life.   God doesn’t show up in tongues of flame or doves or columns of light; not for me, at least.  But he/she does show up in the actions and words of the people I know.  Those are all signs of love, after all, and that’s what God is:  pure love without end.  (I may not know much about God, but I do know that.)  And  it is awfully nice to craft a list that is not about packing or buying or replenishing the shelves, but about refreshing my spirit, giving thanks where thanks is due.

To read a few thoughts on another kind of litany, the Litany of the Saints, click  here.

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